Virginia Tech's football team has spent the past few winters playing in El Paso, New Orleans and Orlando. This year, they'll be much closer to home, heading to Annapolis on Saturday to face the University of Cincinnati in the Military Bowl. For Virginia Tech's huge fanbase in Northern Virginia, it's a great chance to experience the atmosphere of a bowl game without having to buy plane tickets.
On Friday night, there are two pregaming events in downtown Annapolis. A Gallery Walk stops at 11 art galleries and antique shops, with Maryland wineries offering tastings at five locations. Meanwhile, 10 bars and restaurants are teaming up for the Crawl to the 2014 Military Bowl, with discounted Budweiser and Bud Light and various food specials. (Deals vary by location and time, so check the official schedule for details.)
Saturday kicks off with a 5K race through historic Annapolis, starting at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at 8:15 a.m. Registration is available on-site from 6:30 to 8 a.m., and costs $50 with a souvenir T-shirt and $35 without. It's followed by a parade, which begins at the City Dock at 9 a.m. and winds from there to a huge (and free) tailgate outside the stadium. Kickoff is 1 p.m.
Those are the official activities, but because many fans will be making a weekend out of the game, we feel compelled to recommend some additional dining and drinking options.
Factors Row opened last year on the historic but often-touristy Market Street, which faces the City Dock. The newcomer has made a name for itself with a great selection of Maryland and Virginia oysters, and a seafood-heavy menu that includes "Old Bay rockfish and chips," catfish tacos, shrimp and grits, and lamb sliders. The daily happy hour, which includes $1 oysters from 3 to 7 p.m., is prime time to visit, and there's a solid choice of craft beers. (26 Market Space; www.factorsrowannapolis.com.)
Chick & Ruth's Delly is the most popular restaurant in Annapolis, if the weekend lines are anything to go by. Tourists, midshipmen and locals are happy to wait for the all-day breakfasts, with a choice of 20 omelets with homefries or grits, or dozens of speciality sandwiches and burgers, many of which are named for local politicians. After all, you are in the state capital. (165 Main St.; www.chickandruths.com.)
Dry 85, which celebrates its first birthday on New Year's Day, is the city's top whiskey bar, offering more than 100 bourbons and ryes, including special bottlings you'll find nowhere else, while 17 taps pour local craft beers and shots. The food is hearty, especially at Sunday's Bacon Brunch, where pork stars in every dish. (193B Main St.; www.dry85.com.)
Eastport, across Spa Creek from downtown, is the historic home of shipwrights and sailors. One of their principal hangouts is Boatyard Bar and Grill, where you'll find a top-notch raw bar, great rum drinks and a stellar crabcake. (The first lady has even been in to try them.) The food and the nautical decor are worth the walk across the drawbridge for dinner or brunch. (400 Fourth St.; www.boatyardbarandgrill.com.)
Quick bar advice: Those looking for a great Irish pub should head to the cozy Galway Bay. If your taste runs to wine, Red Red Wine has all the flights you'll need, and reds and whites on tap. Level makes stellar cocktails to pair with inventive small plates, and Davis' Pub is the quintessential neighborhood dive with friendly regulars, canned beers and surprisingly good bar food, starting with the jumbo pretzel smothered in crab dip.
Finally, because it's the Military Bowl, we must mention that the U.S. Naval Academy is open for visitors daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, though everyone 18 and older must show a valid government I.D. You're free to look around the U.S. Naval Academy Museum (closed today, open Saturday and Sunday), or the Chapel, where John Paul Jones is buried in the crypt. For the full experience, register for a guided tour, which costs $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and $8 for children in the first through 12th grade.