Tigers take Manhattan – A recent graduate reconnects with the LSU spirit

Mike’s habitat is in Baton Rouge, but he has a timeshare in New York City.

On Saturday nights each fall, an enormous inflatable tiger sporting a familiar and bright purple jersey stands guard along bustling 33rd Street in the shadow of the Empire State Building.

This tiger guards a bar called Legends, and since 2008, the place has become enveloped in purple and gold as New York’s Tiger fans turn out en masse to get a remote taste of Death Valley.

A few years ago, co-owner Liam McGreevy, a thick-accented Irishman from Belfast, met a group of passionate Tiger fans looking for a new home on game day, and he offered up his place.

Four years later, a Saturday night at Legends comes with Southern rock and a menu of Louisiana favorites: alligator, gumbo and poboys. And, of course, the Tigers. The game is projected on huge screens throughout the bar’s three floors.

In between tunes like “Callin’ Baton Rouge”—the bar collectively joins Garth Brooks in singing about “a girl from LOUISIANA!”—the LSU fight song can be heard from the street. It pumps through Legends’ speakers from the iPod of Tim Gaiennie, a 2004 LSU architecture graduate who works as a senior design manager for Equinox Fitness.

Gaiennie is the chapter president of the LSUNY Alumni Association and a Legends regular. As he tells me how LSUNY chose the bar, a ?never-ending line of Tiger fans passes by, greeting him with a fist bump just as they might if he were tailgating on the parade grounds.

Gaiennie serves as the bar’s “unofficial DJ,” and his rules are clear: “I don’t take requests or complaints.”

This visit to Legends is my first, as the Tigers trounce North Texas in this season’s opener. I’m still new to New York. I graduated from LSU in May, and a small part of me is jealous of my friends who are back in the quad and the parade grounds for another semester.

For all of Manhattan’s diversity, opportunity, culture and late-night food, the one thing it is missing is a place to see 92,000 of your closest friends.

I have to admit that, though I’m an LSU man through and through, I’ve never felt fully invested in the football team. It’s just not my thing.

But after a few touchdowns and perhaps a few too many of Legends’ $5 hurricanes, New York City feels remarkably like Baton Rouge.

As soon as the game ends and I step outside, I’ll see throngs of strangers whose primary concern is that I don’t get in their way. But inside Legends, we’re all wearing the same colors, we’re all cheering at the same time, and we all know how to spell “geaux.”

I’ll never be an LSU student again. I’ll never dash past Tiger Stadium hoping I make it to class on time. I’ll never start the day by seeing the real Mike splash around his pool. I’m 1,400 miles from all that. But there is somewhere I can go for the most important part of LSU—the feeling of a collective spirit that is unmatched anywhere else.

At Legends, the love for the Tigers is so infectious that co-owner McGreevy is planning a trip to Tiger Stadium soon. He’s never been to Baton Rouge or an LSU home game, but it sounds like he already knows what to expect.

What he tells his 21-year-old son about the LSU crowd sounds just like home: “The girls are beautiful, but the thing is, they only want to watch football.”