When attending the Stanley Cup Final as a visiting fan, there are some essential tasks to be completed, like booking travel and snagging tickets. If that latter task comes up short, there's always the chance to hit one of the two cities involved in the series, and marinate in the hockey hype among the locals.
The Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues provide hockey cities with their own traditions, sights and smells. And beer. Lots and lots of beer. Here's a look at what you'll discover if you hit the road to the Stanley Cup in Beantown or the Gateway to the West.
Arena traditions: The Bruins have one of the best pregame traditions in the NHL with their "fan banner." It features a giant Bruins flag that's passed around the lower bowl of the arena by the fans. (Hence: "fan banner.") It also features a series of Boston luminaries who wave a fan banner flag, from local sports icons (Pedro Martinez, Julian Edelman) to Boston natives (Aly Raisman) to inspirational figures such as survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing.
The other fan-centric tradition is the blaring of Bon Jovi's classic "Livin' on a Prayer," which oddly has become to the Bruins what "Sweet Caroline" is to the Red Sox. D.J. Bean of NBC Sports Boston found the tradition strikingly ordinary, considering the ubiquity of the song: "The culprit here is the Garden for making this happen, but just as much blame falls on the shoulders of the fans for participating and thus perpetuating it for multiple games. They should know better."
Arena eats: Bruins fans will tell you that the TD Garden concessions are nothing on which to splurge, outside of the occasional loaded nachos. But Sportservice, Delaware North-owned food operator for the arena, is sending in some ringers for the Cup Final: The Doughnut Burger at Big Bad Burger is "a double cheeseburger sandwiched between two glazed doughnuts with bacon, fried jalapeños and crispy onions." (We've had it ... it's filling.) The Cheese and Steak Hot Dog at the Frito-Lay Test Kitchen is "a footlong, bacon-wrapped hot dog, topped with steak and cheese." (We've had it ... it's messy.)
Arena area hangouts: The Greatest Bar (262 Friend St.) is four floors, many TVs and a booming sound system. The Warren Tavern (2 Pleasant St.) has stiff drinks and a legacy that dates to Paul Revere. Sullivan's Tap (168 Canal St.) is a glorious cash-only dive bar with pool tables in the back. The Fours (166 Canal St.) is a sports bar where you can order "The Bobby Orr," a.k.a. hand-cut charbroiled steak tips with melted cheese on a roll. Bodega Canal (57 Canal St.) has an exceptional coconut margarita. For pregame and postgame pizza, Halftime Pizza (115 Causeway St.) is an institution.
If it's strictly good eats you're looking for, the North End is just a 12-minute walk from the Garden. It's a labyrinthine neighborhood that houses Boston's Little Italy, filled with iconic local restaurants and delectable pastries, like Mike's Pastry (300 Hanover St.), home to a world famous cannoli.
Breweries: Night Shift Brewing (1 Lovejoy Wharf) opened up an outpost near TD Garden, bringing killer craft brews within walking distance. Trillium Brewing Company (50 Thomson Place) is the gold standard for local brews, with a dizzying selection of IPAs. Tree House Brewing Company (Charlton, Massachusetts) is your brewery for a pilgrimage, as it's an hour away from the arena but has a following that demands you take the journey. We would be remiss if we didn't mention the Sam Adams Brewery (30 Germania St.), which is very popular, as anyone who has visited it can attest for better or worse.
St. Louis Blues
Arena traditions: Going to a Blues game, it's best to apply the "little old lady at church" rule, i.e. find someone who seems to know what they're doing and follow along. It starts with the national anthem, as retiring singer Charles Glenn brings it to its big finish with "the land of the freeeeee, and the home of the..." That's where the fans bellow "BLUUUUUUUUES!" in unison where "brave" is usually found. It's stirring. Glenn occasionally makes an appearance during the game to belt out the team's official theme song "When the Blues Go Marching In," a sing-a-long that dates to their nascent franchise days in the late 1960s.
When the Blues go on the power play, you'll see "The Power Play Dance," as fans thrust their arms up and down in the air -- think the Daniel Bryan "Yes!" chant, but without the finger pointing. There's "The Towel Man," a.k.a. Ron Baechle, who leads the crowd in counting how many goals the Blues have scored before tossing a towel into the stands. (His jersey reads "Towel Man, 123.")
There's the full-throated rendition of John Denver's "Country Roads" in the third period, which is actually a tradition that started this season during a blowout win over Nashville, when the arena played the song and the fans kept singing it during play. Finally, there's "Gloria," the team's victory song this season. The Laura Branigan 1980s pop classic plays after wins, and the fans shout out the name of the song when it arrives in the song. (The rest of the lyrics? Not so much.)
Like we said, find the Blues equivalent of that little old lady in church. This is, like, an NCAA basketball game's worth of traditions.
Arena eats: There are a couple of outposts of famous local food spots inside Enterprise Center. Lion's Choice makes a towering roast beef sandwich. Sugarfire Smoke House brings some award-winning BBQ flavor. Brews of the Lou offers a sampling of local craft brews, a.k.a. the lifeblood of the local beverage scene.
Arena area hangouts: OK, here's the reality of the St. Louis Blues' surroundings. There aren't really "arena area hangouts." The arena is located in a part of town that is bereft of outstanding pregame and postgame options, as most of the land is consumed by government buildings and Union Station's train yard. Hence, the Jack Daniels Barrelhouse inside the arena actually remains open hours after the game so fans have a place to hang.
Instead, your best bet is to take the 10-minute car ride to The Hill district where you'll find all manner and sort of options, many of them terrific Italian red sauce spots. Pappy's Smokehouse (3106 Olive St.) is about a half-hour walk from the arena, and that could come in handy after gorging on some of the best Memphis-style BBQ in the city. Hi-Pointe Drive (1033 McCausland Ave.) is a burger institution. And if you're in St. Louis and haven't sampled Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (6726 Chippewa St.), well, the locals will tell you that you aren't doing it right.
Breweries: This is beer country, and we're not just talking about the Clydesdales at the Budweiser Brewery Experience (1200 Lynch St.), which is worth a trip at least once for the spectacle of the thing. No, we're talking about a multiplicity of different breweries. The great 4 Hands Brewing Company (1220 S 8th St.) makes some solid IPAs and killer stouts. Urban Chestnut Brewing Company (4465 Manchester Ave.) is only a seven-minute drive from the arena and also has a full kitchen. Center Ice Brewery (3126 Olive St.) is exactly as it sounds: a hockey-themed spot that actually has dasher boards surrounding their fermentation tanks. It's a four-minute drive from the arena. Schlafly (2100 Locust St.), an iconic local brewery, has a tap room that's about a five-minute drive away. Seriously, try any brewery in St. Louis and you'll do fine.