With an average of 273 days of sunshine annually, it's tough to imagine anyone in Bakersfield spending an afternoon indoors, let alone with a large sheet of ice. Since the Condors of the ECHL flew into town, many Californians felt the weather was overrated in comparison to the excitement experienced inside Rabobank Arena.
If you've been away from Bakersfield for a bit, both the names Rabobank Arena and the Condors may seem foreign to you. The arena opened as "Centennial Garden" and the team was formerly known as the Bakersfield Fog until 1998. The team was originally affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks, but began a partnership with the Minnesota Wild before the 2010-11 season.
The 10,000 seat arena was constructed in 1998 at a cost of roughly $38 million. The naming rights were sold to Rabobank in 2005.
The arena itself is owned by the city of Bakersfield. While hockey has been in club form since 1940, Bill Cosby has been roaming the earth since 1937 and was given the nod to open the arena on October 2, 1998 as the arena's first performer.
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On a Saturday afternoon in which the Condors were competing with the NFL playoffs for sports fan affection, I was pleased to see all of the concessions open and bustling.
Some of the more common stadium fare included a hot dog ($4), nachos ($4.75), chicken buffalo ($6.50), chicken tender ($6.75), foot long corn dog ($4.50), fried chicken sandwich ($5), french fries ($3), garlic fries ($4), and kettle corn ($6).
For those interested in Mexican fare, "Chili Peppers" offers a taco salad ($5.50), supreme nachos ($5.50), wild monster nachos ($9.75), chicken burrito ($4.75), taco plate ($4.50), fiesta fries ($4), chili cheese fries ($4), fried burrito ($2.75), or taquitos ($3.50).
At "Franks A Lot," the hot dog lover can get a foot long Chicago (chili dog or charro $7), foot long hot dog ($6.50), or frito boat ($2.75).
Possibly named after the game the team was hosting this very year, the "All-Star Grill" had options such as cheeseburger ($5), pizza ($6.75 personal pie), big dog ($6.50), kicking chicken sandwich ($4.25), the cowboy burger ($6.50), kid's meal ($3.50), ice cream cone ($4.25), or an ice cream cup ($4).
The "City Deli" offers fare such as hot & cold turkey, ham, roast beef, and pastrami sandwiches ($6.50), green salad ($4.75), chicken Caesar salad ($5), peanuts ($3.25), candy ($3.50), or a chipper basket ($3).
If the kids are clamoring for some of their favorite treats, try "The Kid's Stop." Cookies (2 for $2.50), large candy ($3.50), small candy ($2.50), pretzels ($2.75), chips ($2), churro ($2.50), and cracker jacks ($3) are all available.
In beverage form, fans can have soda (kids $1.75, small $2, medium $3.50, large $4), bottled soda ($3.50), bottled water ($3.50), orange juice ($3.50), ICEE (medium $2.75 and large $3.50), or coffee ($2).
Options for the older fans include bottled beer ($7), draft beer ($7.50), large Corona ($12), call drinks ($7.25), margarita ($8), or wine ($5.50). Some of the beer choices at the $7.50 size include Bud Light, Coors Light, Heinenken, New Castle, Modelo, Tecate, and Firestone (local).
The afternoon started out with one of the more exciting player introduction pieces that I've seen in all of sports. A video montage appeared on the scoreboard, the lights dimmed, and the fog machine started spraying. After the montage, fans heard AC/DC's "Thunderstuck," which I know is a bit aged, but few songs do a better job of pumping up the fans. Even better was that the fans were cheering "Con-Dors" in lieu of "Thun-der" as the word "Condors" appeared in white lettering on the LED ribbon surrounding the arena. Fans would then be treated to "Welcome to the Jungle" before the first drop of the puck.
The Condors offer two mascots, Colonel Claw'd and Baby Cal. Both spent a significant amount of time up and down the aisles at the arena. I was particularly impressed by Baby Cal, perching on many of the railings during the game, although I would be curious if OSHA would be so impressed. The two spend an equal amount of time antagonizing the fans from Ontario.
During the final two minutes of the first period, the "McMuffin Madness" was announced and all fans would receive a free McDonald's egg mcmuffin if a goal was scored. It was a interesting sequence as all fans were on their feet, reacting to every play in hopes of a goal.
During breaks, members of the staff rode around on the ice in a golf cart with a slingshot attached to the back. This would quickly bring the fans to their feet as that very slingshot was delivering t-shirts to a few in the arena.
My favorite segment was the "Chuck-A-Puck" contest where fans purchased pucks that I assume were made of foam because at one point during the night a helmet was placed at center ice and all fans tossed their pucks towards the helmet in hopes of being closest for a prize. Again, I assume OSHA was not in attendance because I would imagine a few of these pucks would inadvertently fly in a direction not intended and cause some problems.
The only part of the entertainment that I wasn't very impressed with was the "mascot races" segment that was shown on the video scoreboard. It received relatively little crowd reaction and wasn't much more than the mascots running around. They should take some notes from "Bango" of the Milwaukee Bucks on how to make these segments entertaining.
While Bakersfield is a bit away from some of the major markets in California, it is still the 11th largest city in the state and has a variety of entertainment to enjoy.
Probably the most notable site is Buck Owen's Crystal Palace. After 5 PM, you can get dinner as well as check out the sights on the facility. You'll see the Bakersfield Arch, bronze statues of country greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Elvis, and some vivid colors on the exterior of the facility.
While you are in town, you may also want to check out the Fox Theater, Bright House Networks Amphitheater, Red Mill Park, or the sculpture at the Cancer Survivors Plaza.
As far as food goes, my first recommendation would be to go straight to the Padre Hotel. Beyond observing the beauty of this historic hotel, there are food options for every palate. The Belvedere is clearly for the upscale customers while Brimstone offers hardwood floors, billiards, music, televisions and pub food. The Prairie Fire, which is a second floor rooftop bar, has firepits, cabanas, and a warm breeze for patrons to enjoy. Also on site is a coffee shop known as Farmacy and a lounge called Prospect, offering small plates and great drinks.
Another popular spot is the Wool Growers Restaurant, one of the many places to get Basque food in Bakersfield. Here, you'll start with the bottomless soup, bean, and salsa before getting treated to some of the favorites including the oxtail stew or beef tongue.
KC Steakhouse is another local favorite for the carnivores, offering live jazz and blue music while you enjoy your meal.
If you're looking for some Mexican food, the Mexicali Restaurant offers some of the best around. They offer dishes such as Mexican pizza, tostadas, chicken flautas, but everyone seems to love the margaritas best.
Goose Loonies has become a popular spot as they offer framboise, a very enticing fruit beer for the patrons. Some of their more popular food dishes include the pitas/hummus, Santa Fe chicken salad, suicide wings, gyros, and falafels.
Lastly, I should mention Mama Roomba as it's a popular Caribbean-style restaurant in downtown. The locals caution to make reservations before arriving as seating is tough to come by. Some of the favorites here include the tri-tip with chimichurri sauce, calamari, sweet potato fries, and tortilla soup.
The fans were engaged from the beginning, likely because the Southern California rivals were in town. While the cowbell has become a cliche in sports, the Condors fans had them in large numbers and used them tastefully throughout the contest.
The player fights certainly received the most fan engagement. When a fight had ended there was a roaring applause often provoked by a Condors player as Offspring's "Smash" played over the PA system.
After every goal, fans would jump to their feet and participate in singing the "Hey song" as the team celebrated. When they were not celebrating goals, you could hear them chanting "Let's Go Con-Dors!"
As the clock counted down for the final moments, it appeared that all fans were on their feet to show their support.
While Bakersfield is not quickly accessed from the Los Angeles or San Francisco markets, it's not far from Interstate 5 and easily accessed from Routes 99 and 58.
The arena itself sits downtown, but I experienced little traffic congestion going to or coming from the game.
When you enter the arena, you'll be greeted by a sizable concourse (only one) that leads down to the lower level seating to a staircase to the upper levels. The upper level has horseshoe shaped seating, broken up by a wall that hangs banners. It seems that they could have opened up the arena here (where the wall is situated) and allowed fans a view from the concourse. The lower level encircles the ice and is broken up by the Budweiser 5-Hole Suite immediately behind one of the goals.
The arena has 11 upper level suites on the east end above all other seating and 15 suites on the lower level that surround the ice.
The scoreboard is 4-sided with a video screen in middle. Aside from that, simply the penalty tracker, score, shots on goal, timeouts, and time remaining are shown. A video ribbon also surrounds the arena above the first level.
The parking is plentiful south of the arena for $5 and has easy in and out access. If you are willing to walk a bit, you can probably find some free spaces. Separating the arena from the parking is a group of railroad tracks. There is a footbridge that crosses over the tracks, but many of the trains that passed that day seem to go by quicker than it's worth to climb the stairs to cross the bridge and climb down the opposite end.
The venue offers six restrooms, but unfortunately most are rather small for a newer arena. While they seemed to handle this day's crowd just fine, I would assume they would quickly backup during any concert.
The inexpensive parking coupled with the reasonable ticket prices make this a very sound investment. Upper level seats run for $8-$11 and lower level seats go for $16-$24. There are price tiers depending on the day of the game, with admission being up to $3 higher for Friday and Saturday games.
Other offers include the "Tickets and Grub" promotion where fans get two tickets, two hot dogs, and two sodas for $25 (or two turkey sandwiches for $3 more).
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games, fans can purchase a $25 ticket to the "Red Riot Zone." This gets fans a lower level seat in section 101, a hat, banner, and t-shirt.
Any of these offers can be a great value as the Condors seem to be one of the best attractions in town!
Rabobank fares very well in terms of extras as there are many things to observe in and around the arena on gamedays.
In front of the arena, fans will find Centennial Plaza. On warmer days, a fountain will spurt jets of water into the air for children to enjoy. If nothing else, it's a great photo if you are able to catch the water in mid-air. Also found here is a stage, engraved bricks commemorating the city's centennial (1998), artwork, and sculptures in a large fountain.
In the concourse, fans can find a variety of items to keep them entertained. The Condors Kids Club offers a bouncing castle, prize wheel, and miniature hockey rink.
Throughout the concourse, fans could fill out applications to win seats on the glass. This was open to all fans and when the winner was announced, he was shown on the video board.
When you enter the main entrance, to your immediate left is a beautiful glass atrium with views of the outside plaza. If you need to get away from the game, it's a great place to hangout and check out the weather outside. There is also an area known as "The Space Between," which appears to be a small pub removed from the hustle of the concourse. Another great place to get away and have a drink!
Before you cross the railroad tracks, look up and take a gander at the street sign. With a green background and white text like a normal street sign, you'll see KOĐŻN Way, complete with the backwards "R." The band "KOĐŻN" is from Bakersfield and their 2006 World Tour began at Rabobank Arena. You'll also find a plaque in front with images of the band members.
At one end of the arena, you'll find a wall with the Condor logo (photo above) and retired numbers from the franchise. The players shown here include Paul Willett (16), Paul Rosebush (17), Glen Mears (26), Jamie Cooke (28), Steve Dowhy (74).
Fans can spend a few minutes or even a half hour perusing the Bob Elias Kern County Hall of Fame. This display, which stretches seemingly 100 feet, honors athletes from all sports that have made their mark in Bakersfield. Roughly 180 plaques with photos and commentary are on display. The west concourse pays homage to some of Kern County's founders and famous contributors including Charles Napier, Caesar Chavez, Buck Owens, and Kevin Harvick.
Rabobank Arena hosted the 2011 ECHL All-Star Classic.
While Bakersfield continues to grow, the Condors remain one of the top entertainment options in central California. For a very reasonable price, you can check out the Condors and even the Division I basketball Cal State Bakersfield in the same day.
My recommendation would be to try and catch a game against their Southern California rival, the Ontario Reign, but surely any game will leave fans fulfilled.
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.
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620 East 19th St
Bakersfield, CA 93305
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Bakersfield, CA 93301
2800 Buck Owens Boulevard
Bakersfield, CA 93308