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Official Review by Jonah Berman, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
When one thinks of Harvard, there are a number of things that likely come to mind before basketball. History. Intellectualism. Famous alumni (a kid named Gates went there, and a kid named Zuckerberg, too. They both dropped out, but did okay for themselves). East-coast, highbrow, blue blazers and boat shoes. Whatever images the school in Cambridge conjures up for you, in 2012 there's a little secret I'd like to share: within these hallowed halls lives a darn good basketball team. Tommy Amaker has quietly built a very strong program since taking over in 2007, and Lavietes Pavilion, a compact and cozy arena, offers great value for your sports dollar.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food and beverage at Lavietes leaves something to be desired. There's a small food stand located at the end of the bleachers, with limited options: burgers, dogs, pretzels, sausage, popcorn, nachos and candy, in the $3-$5 range. It'll suffice if you simply need a snack to get you through, but my recommendation is to take advantage of the great options located nearby before entering the arena, which I'll get to later.
Lavietes Pavilion feels like a glorified high school gymnasium, and while that may sound like a knock, it's not. There's bleacher seating on both sides of the court "" no seats behind the baskets "" that goes up 21 rows (through row U). This creates an environment where even if you're seated in the last row, you feel like you're right on top of the court. This makes it a pretty frenzied place during a tight game, as the fans are packed together and there's a collegial feel among the crowd. It additionally allows for plenty of fan/player/ref/coach interaction, and for those who like to hear coaches yelling at their players and what's going on in the timeout huddles, a courtside seat will allow for this.
Okay, so Lavietes has an unfair advantage here, but it happens to be situated a very brief walk from Harvard Square, one of the more bustling areas in greater Boston. It's an excellent spot for eating, shopping, and people watching. If you're headed to a basketball game, it's likely going to be cold outside, but bundle up and take in the neighborhood; it's worth it. Stroll through Harvard's campus, pop into the COOP for some university apparel, check out Burdick's chocolates, watch the street performers "" there's more to do than can be listed here.
Eating and drinking options are aplenty; you can check out a comprehensive list at the official website of Harvard Square. My personal recommendations? Stop in at Tommy Doyle's, which features 3 floors, plenty of TVs for game watching, rotating taps, and plenty of solid pub food at good prices, including Irish specialties like Corned Beef and Cabbage, Irish Stew, and Shepard's Pie.
If you're fiending for a solid burger, Charlie's Kitchen is your spot. Get the famous double cheeseburger for $5.25 and wash it down with one of 18 beers on draft. Your other game day option, well-worth considering, is the Crimson Pub, a lounge situated in Dillon Field House directly next to Lavietes, open on game days only. The Crimson Pub offers catered RedBones barbecue (some of the best in Boston, if you ask me,) $5 Budweisers, two flat screens and leather couches.
To this writer's surprise, the Harvard fans came out in droves for their team. Now, the game in question was the start of Ivy League play, against rival Dartmouth, during a very successful season, but still "" on this January Saturday, the arena was sold out. Many alums were decked out in their Harvard gear, and they were engaged and loud throughout. Not a huge student presence on this occasion, although a small section did launch into a few cheers.
To be clear, Harvard, the university, is located in Cambridge, MA. The Briggs Athletic center, and Lavietes Pavilion, are located in Boston, MA, a short walk across the JFK bridge from Harvard. That being said, you can take the "T"s red line to Harvard Station, and walk from there; a number of bus routes also go right by the pavilion. If you're driving, the arena is right off of Soldiers Field Road, with easy access to points east and west. Bathrooms on each side of the bleachers were plenty for this smaller venue.
Tickets go for $20 for adults, $10 for youths and students. For your proximity to the court and the current quality of the team, I say it's well worth the money. In a down year for the program, perhaps less so, but in 2012, you'll feel your money is well spent.
There's an aura to Harvard, like it or not, that just breathes history. Strolling the campus and taking it in (be sure to rub the John Harvard statue's shoe for good luck) is an experience in and of itself. The convenience of Harvard Square and the chance to see D-I basketball up close combine to earn this venue a few extra points.
As long as Boston College continues to struggle, Harvard will be the hot college basketball ticket in town. In 2011 they shared the Ivy championship with Princeton; in 2012, there's a good chance they'll take it outright and earn a trip to the dance - which would be their first since 1946. Get the tickets while you can.
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