UNC fans celebrate after Luke Maye's big shot to beat Kentucky
As legendary play-by-play man Woody Durham so often admonished the Tar Heel faithful, Saturday night’s Final Four game against Oregon is as good a time as any for fans to “go where you go and do what you do.”
But if you’re headed to Franklin Street or Chapel Hill for the game this weekend, where exactly should that be?
Here are a few of the classic choices for the game, which is scheduled to tip off at 8:49 p.m. Saturday and will be broadcast on CBS.
▪ Dean E. Smith Center, Skipper Bowles Drive: Where better to cheer on the Tar Heels than at their home court? UNC’s hosting a watch party at the Smith Center on Saturday night, the culmination of an all-day event that starts with a volleyball tournament – UNC plays Duke at 10:30 a.m., Virginia Tech at 2 p.m., and UNC-Greensboro at 3:30 p.m. – and ends with showings of both Final Four games starting at 6 p.m. If you’re not already in the Dean Dome watching volleyball by then, doors open at 5 p.m. for UNC students and staff and at 5:30 for the general public. Entry is free and open to anyone. Parking is $5 at the Manning, Bowles and Craige parking lots starting at 3:30 p.m.
▪ Varsity Theater, 123 E. Franklin Street: Few things say “Franklin Street” better than the Varsity Theater’s marquee. Behind it on Saturday – and potentially Monday – will be a broadcast of the game on the silver screen. Tickets cost $5 and go on sale Friday. They can be bought at the door Saturday while supplies last. Owner Paul Shareshian said he sold about 200 tickets for the national semifinal last year and almost twice that for the title game.
▪ Top of the Hill, 100 E. Franklin Street, third floor: At the intersection of Franklin and Columbia streets, this venue boasts a ceiling-is-the-roof view over downtown Chapel Hill and unbeatable proximity to the heat of things in the event of a big win. So in-demand are seats at the restaurant and brewery that Top of the Hill hands out tickets to patrons on a first-come-first-served basis and requires that they purchase $20 worth of food and drink throughout the night.
“We anticipate that the line may begin forming as early as 2 a.m. (Saturday morning), when Top of the Hill bar closes,” their website states. “Top of the Hill is absolutely not responsible for monitoring this line.”
As a result, this might not be the place to watch if your whole Saturday isn’t completely free.
▪ Italian Pizzeria III, 508 W. Franklin St.: IP3, as it’s better-known, is a little pizzeria with big bona-fides among UNC fans. The walls and ceiling groan under the weight of autographed UNC jerseys and photos of UNC players with the restaurant’s friendly proprietors, Angelo and Vincenzo. The pizza’s as reasonably priced as it is delicious, but two words of warning: Angelo sometimes brings out an air horn or whistle to blast in celebration at key moments. If you want a seat, your best bet is to be there no later than two hours before tipoff.
▪ Sup Dogs, 107 E. Franklin Street: This specialty hot dog joint is a relative newcomer on a block full of Franklin Street’s more storied institutions, but its prime location and irreverent atmosphere have vaulted it into the top tier of game-watching venues. Students regularly line up to get in for UNC-Duke games, and ESPN will be broadcasting live from the restaurant Saturday night. Manager Zach Owens advises fans to get in line around 4 p.m., which is when the restaurant typically starts seating fans for a night game.
▪ Hooker Fields, South Road (after the 2 Chainz concert): As celebrated as UNC’s Final Four berth was on campus, it caused an immediate crisis for some UNC students who had been planning to go to the Jubilee celebration – capped by a 2 Chainz show – that same night. Graciously, organizers have combined the two events on the student recreation fields next to Carmichael Arena. The show’s tickets range from $15 for UNC students to $40 for the general public. The viewing party after the show is free. 2 Chainz performs at 8 p.m., and the game starts streaming at 9 p.m.
▪ Carrboro: While you might not be as close to the heart of campus and downtown revelry, you’ll still have your choice of great sports bars – Tyler’s Restaurant & Taproom and Hickory Tavern, for instance – and parking’s easier here than in downtown Chapel Hill. There’s a five-level parking deck next door to Hickory Tavern and plenty of surface parking around downtown – all for free. And if you have kids or desire a less rowdy atmosphere for any reason, you’ll be a safe distance from most undergraduate tomfoolery.
▪ Your friend’s place: If your friends are still in college or otherwise live in easy proximity to Franklin Street, this might be your most painless and cheapest option. Driveway parking is unbeatable, and with chips, dips and beer available in the kitchen, you’re less likely to wake up Sunday with a curious dent in your bank account.
Aye, there’s the rub. Chapel Hill is an old-style college town designed in the pre-automobile era. Anyone who’s tried to park there knows this. Plus, parking will be prohibited on Franklin, Henderson and Rosemary streets after 3:30 p.m., and police will begin towing cars parked on the street at 7 p.m.
But there are a number of paid parking decks close to downtown and on campus.
Parking in many campus lots typically goes unenforced on weekends and after 5 p.m. on weekdays. But Randy Young, spokesman for UNC’s Department of Public Safety, said folks should expect special restrictions Saturday night, especially on north and central campus closer to downtown. Check move.unc.edu for specifics.
If you park closer to South Campus, take the free circulator bus (the P2P, in campus parlance) that runs every 15 minutes between Skipper Bowles Drive and Franklin Street. Again, Young said, that bus’s route might have to be adjusted in the event of a major celebration on Franklin Street.
“We’ll have special signs up alerting people to parking restrictions,” he said. “Just read those, and you’ll be fine.”
Off campus, towing companies will surely be out in force to take advantage of a great business opportunity Saturday night, so don’t park in private lots downtown and assume you’ll be fine because it’s just this once.
If you’d rather avoid that headache altogether, Chapel Hill Transit, Chapel Hill’s free bus service, operates a number of late-night Safe Ride routes. The T, J and G routes will be modified Saturday night to include pick-up and drop-off points close to the heart of downtown. Visit tinyurl.com/CHTSafeRide for more information.
Look, we’re not jinxing anything here. But if for any reason Franklin Street is overrun with people celebrating Saturday night, here’s what to expect:
Chapel Hill police typically close down the intersection of Franklin and Columbia Streets, as well as those a block away in each direction. Traffic on the 15-501 Bypass and N.C. 54 going toward Interstate 40 will be heinous, and as a result, it’ll probably take a while to get out of town. Be patient.
Chapel Hill Police Department spokesman Josh Mecimore said he hadn’t heard about any businesses deciding to close early Saturday, as they sometimes do on Halloween, but he said officers will on hand to make sure folks behave themselves.
Even though you might have seen fires on the street in the past, police would prefer that you refrain from setting any yourself. All other laws regarding public conduct – open container laws, for example – remain enforceable.
Street signs mounted on lampposts have been removed before big games in years past to protect against theft; the signs have since been moved to the traffic signal cables that span the intersections.
“The pedestrian signals were removed last year for the championship game,” Mecimore said. “Every year we learn new lessons about what works and what doesn’t. I don’t know if they’ll be removed this year, but we try to keep people off of the posts, because if someone falls from that height, they’ll be seriously injured, as will the people they fall on.”
As for Monday night? A curious question – not sure why you’d ask. We’re certainly not looking past Saturday night yet.
But if you should find yourself drawn back to Franklin Street on Monday night, be sure to save this information and keep an eye on town and university websites for further updates.
Henry Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan