Two friends and I had the pleasure of helping to usher in the opening of a new era in New York area soccer — the opening of Red Bull Arena on March 20th. The match was an exhibition versus Brazilian club Santos. This post mainly serves as an introduction to our new world of Red Bull Arena for those used to the good ol’ days at a mostly empty Giants Stadium.
Red Bull Arena
First, the stadium is absolutely wonderful. A team so historically poor in form as the Red Bulls are lucky to have what is being referred to as the best soccer only stadium in the US. Is it? I don’t know, but it’s a fantastic stadium and I’m very excited to be a season ticket holder.
That said, attending a Red Bulls match at Red Bull Arena is completely and totally different from attending a match at Giant’s stadium. Your memories of past matches needn’t die, you just need to completely reset your expectations. Red Bull Arena is an urban stadium. It’s located on the southern edge of Harrison, NJ near a narrow river, but for all intents and purposes it’s basically in downtown Newark. The primary consequence of this is that there is no parking lot, so obviously the days of tailgating before a match are over.
I know that losing tailgating is a big loss for a lot of people. It’s possible that a tailgating culture at the new stadium will emerge, but I just don’t see it. All of the available parking options are private ground lots in Newark, street parking (good luck), or garage parking at Newark Penn Station or the Harrison PATH station. None of these places are expected to be tailgating friendly. But all is not lost. Remember, this is an urban stadium, so there are actually places to eat and drink within walking distance of the arena.
The arena is located in Harrison, which is a fairly small NJ city with a heavily South American influence. We didn’t spend a lot of time there for reasons that I’ll outline below, but I’m sure it has some great pre-game options, especially if you’re coming to the game via the PATH. Right across the river, about 1 mile from the stadium is the Ironbound district of Newark, which is a thriving ethnic neighborhood bustling with numerous restaurants, many of which are heavily influenced by the neighborhood’s Spanish and Portuguese foundations. It seems like the parking lot scene will migrate to this neighborhood. It’ll take some time to find the right places to hang out, but I think it’s worth everyone’s efforts to get acquainted with it.
Getting there from upstate NY
New Jersey is a mess to drive in. By all means visit http://www.redbullarena.us/ and make your own decisions. The important thing to remember is that Harrison itself is a small town with a one-lane road running from 280 East to the stadium. Traffic is strongly recommended to stay away from the stadium itself, so we really didn’t see much purpose to driving to Harrison. Instead, we took 280 East to Newark, drove about a mile to downtown and then parked in a garage. Knowing what we know now we will avoid the garages and stick with the cheaper ground lots. The better parking and drinking options appear to be in Newark, so we think it makes sense to drive there instead of Harrison. We encountered no stadium related traffic 2 1/2 hours before the game in Newark, and no post-game traffic issues either.
Another possibility is a combination of car plus train. This would involve either driving in to Jersey City and taking the PATH to Harrison, or taking NJTransit from Newburgh to Secaucus, and changing to a line that goes directly to Newark Penn.
No more rambling.
- Go early. If the game is at 7:30 try to be parking at 5pm. Unless you’re taking a train, the days of getting there 5 minutes before the game are over — it takes some planning.
- Accept that the days of tailgating are over. Find some good spots in Ironbound and let other Upstaters know.
- Skip the free shuttle. The arena offers a free shuttle from Newark Penn and the Ironbound to the stadium. Skip it. The traffic around the stadium is awful and it will take almost an hour to get to the stadium from Newark. The walk is about 10 minutes.
- Bring your own water in, as they have NO WATER FOUNTAINS. I’ve heard that some security guards aren’t aware that water bottles are allowed, but I imagine that situation will improve with time. And the water must be sealed, so no Nalgene bottles.
Please share your thoughts or let me know if you have any questions!
A scene from the Ironbound.
The beer garden, BBQ, and kid’s zone.
The atmosphere is so much better than Giants Stadium.