A fan’s guide to watching a hockey game at The Joe

The Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit is the oldest hockey arena in the NHL.

It’s more than a hockey game. It’s an experience. It’s a consumption of history, the legendary-aura absorbs your bloodstream as you step through the doors, smell the stale beer, intake the freshly-baked Little Caesar’s Pizza and the scent of ice.

It’s Joe Louis Arena, the house Stevie Y built, where Patrick Roy was mocked, where Claude Lemieux was beaten, where Nicklas Lidstrom played to near-perfection.

This is where Steve Yzerman scored an epic double-overtime winner, where Darren McCarty scored a magnificent Cup-clinching goal, where Scotty Bowman put on the skates for one last dance with the Stanley Cup.

Hockeytown. Loaded with history, loaded with memories.

Here’s a guide for those heading to The Joe.

LOCATION
On the corner of W. Jefferson Ave. and Steve Yzerman Dr. It’s along the Detroit River, next to Cobo Hall.

FACTS
Opened on December 12, 1979, when the Red Wings lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues. It’s the second oldest rink in the NHL. For years, the capacity was 19, 875. Now, it’s 20,066.

A MUST-SEE
The Gordie Howe statue. It’s located inside the west entrance, which is now fittingly called the Gordie Howe Entrance.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Budd Lynch’s voice echoing through the rafters. Rest in peace, Budd.

PARKING
We recommend the “cheat method.” Park for free in Greektown Casino, play the cheapest slot machine you can find, hop on the People Mover, then head to Joe Louis Arena. Afterward, you can validate your ticket. Or, you can park near a downtown restaurant and find the nearest People Mover location. This seems to be a popular idea among Wings fans.

The Joe Louis Arena tunnel is convenient – but packed if the game remains interesting until the final minutes (or heads into an overtime/shootout).

TICKETS
Plan ahead. Typically, the Wings post sellouts. Our recommendation: Call the Joe Louis Arena box office weeks in advance at (313) 396-7575. Or, you can try this website: redwings.nhl.com

LOCAL BARS
There’s three bars within walking distance of the rink: Anchor Bar (Fort St.), and Cobo Joe’s and Post Bar, both located on W. Congress St.

Nemo’s Bar, located on Michigan Ave. (near the old Tiger Stadium location), has a shuttle service to The Joe.

The best post-game Red Wings bar? Without a doubt, it’s Post Bar. There’s a good chance you’ll bump into a few Red Wings there, too.

NEARBY RESTAURANTS
You don’t need to know anything else except these magic words: Lafayette Coney Island. Get yourself a chili dog (or three) at the authentic establishment, then head northeast 1/4-mile toward the People Mover’s “Michigan Avenue” station, located on the corner of Cass Ave. and Michigan Ave.

There’s also dandy Greektown restaurants such as Fishbones, New Parthenon, Pegasus Taverna and Pizza Papalis.

Hockeytown Café (Woodward Ave.) and Cheli’s Chili Bar, (Adams) are both located across from Comerica Park and have shuttle services to Joe Louis Arena.

BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE
The Joe’s final row in the upper level is still a quality seat. (There’s 24-27 rows, depending upon the section). It’s inappropriate to call it a “nosebleed” seat in comparison to modern-day NHL rinks.

Here’s why: The Joe, which was built in 1979, is the oldest rink in the NHL. It’s structure aligns the seats on more of a vertical angle, more upright in relation to the ice surface. (Our guestimation: 42-degree angle).

Conversely, a modern-day rink includes more luxury suites and concessions. Thus, the seats slope further and further away from the ice surface. (Our guestimation: 30 degree angle.)

Our pick for best seats in the house: Anywhere in sections 109/209 to 120/220. That’s the end of the rink where the Wings shoot twice.

WORST SEATS IN THE HOUSE
The bend of the boards in the corners of each offensive zone provide an obstructed view for the first few rows in the lower level. (This applies to the following sections: 103, 104, 111, 112, 117, 118, 125, 126.)

In those sections’ opening rows, it’s tough to see the other end of the ice. But that’s likely to happen inside any NHL ice rink. The benefit is your head doesn’t absorb a 90-mph piece of rubber.

FOOD
Little Caesar’s Pizza is a must for any first-timer. It will be the best darn Little Caesar’s pizza you ever devoured. It’s piping hot, crispy and mouth-watering. (Mike Ilitch’s ancestors must’ve made delicious pepperoni.)

One suggestion: Do not place it on your lap while eating in the seats. You will sweat while eating, no joke.

Eat at one of the standing, circular counters in the concourse. You cannot miss them.

Besides typical stadium food (hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, etc.), there’s also a Buffalo Wild Wings (Section 126) and Hockeytown Grill (126), where chicken sandwiches and burgers are served.

BATHROOMS
This is a critical note: If you plan on drinking alcohol during a playoff game, plan on missing parts of the game. That’s a fact. You will miss action since the bathroom lines are ridiculously long. It will take an entire intermission to wait in line and use the restroom.

Our recommendation: Leave your seat in the final 30 seconds of the period and bolt toward the bathroom. With this method, you will not miss much action.

ALCOHOLIC DRINKS
If you decide to drink, here are your options: Molson Canadian on tap. That should be all you need to know. Take advantage of your location, Detroit: This is one of the benefits of being a 3-wood’s distance from Canada.

Other notable beers: Guinness, Bell’s and Leinenkugels.

There are two bars between sections 110-112 that serve hard liquor and mixed drinks.
Margaritas and wine are also available – but those aren’t hockey drinks!

BEST TREAT
A cherry-dipped, soft-serve, vanilla ice cream cone at Mike’s Inside Scoop (Section 112). You might faint at first sight. They also have banana splits and many rich flavors.

SMOKING SECTIONS
You must go outdoors: Use the Gordie Howe Entrance behind Section 203 or the entrance behind section 217.

There’s more maneuverability outside section 217, and you can view the Detroit skyline.

Outside Section 203, you can gaze across the Detroit River at Canada.

A MUST-DO
Peer toward the rafters and look at the 11 Stanley Cup banners.

There’s also six legends of yesteryear whose jerseys are retired: Steve Yzerman (No. 19), Terry Sawchuk (No. 1), Alex Delvecchio (No. 10), Ted Lindsay (No. 7), Sid Abel (No. 12), Gordie Howe (No. 9).

OCTOPUS RULE
If any object is thrown inside the arena, that person will be booted from the game and could face charges.

This is where we must post a mandatory blasting of the Florida Panthers, who chucked 10,000 rats per goal in the 1996 playoffs. It created a slow death toward the soon-to-be extinction of our historic tradition: Tossing octopi.

Shame on you, Florida Panthers. You didn’t know the difference between icing and off-sides, but when that goal light flashed red, you threw toy rats. Sickening.

Octopi tossing always should be allowed. Ice doesn’t get ruined; it gets scraped.

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About Bruce Mason

Bruce Mason's work has appeared on blogs such as allpuck.com and obnoxiousfan.com. A Detroit native, he worked part-time at the Detroit News in 2006-07, freelanced for Crain's Detroit Business, and is now a five-time award winning writer at a daily paper in Idaho.