Now’s the time to make plans for Super Bowl

By Helen Anders - Special to the American-Statesman

Feb. 5 game in Houston will bring a variety of fun festivities to town

At this point, nobody knows who’ll be in Super Bowl LI, although those of us who live in Texas are certainly hoping to have a dog in the hunt. However, those of us who’ve been to Super Bowls know one thing’s a certainty: If you’re in Houston on Feb. 5 or the week preceding it, your biggest challenge — aside from buying tickets — will be getting around.

So, Houston’s light rail system immediately becomes your best friend. Not only can you take the red line from downtown to NRG Stadium, where the game’s being played; you can also ride the rails to other destinations.

You might not be attending the game, of course. Thousands of people flood Super Bowl cities just to be part of the energy and to enjoy the fan festivities. Regardless, the first thing you’ll want to do is secure a hotel room, once the city’s hotels decide to release their rooms for the first weekend in February. They haven’t as of this writing. If you look online, everything appears to be booked up. But that’s not the case. Expect those rooms to show up as available later in December or early January, and when they do, they’ll be expensive. Expect to pay three times a room’s going rate, which should put you at $400 a night or more, even for something very plain.

In for a penny, though: If you’re springing for Super Bowl tickets, you want a great experience. Book a good hotel downtown and use light rail and the whole thing should be effortless. New hotels include a really sharp, tech-focused Aloft, where a stock ticker rolls above the check-in desk, your car is valet-checked and retrieved via phone text, and two public computers sit in the lobby, which also has an exceedingly well-stocked snack alcove. The 168 well-designed, sleek rooms include desks, plenty of electrical outlets, a fridge, coffee pot, safe and, in the roomy bathroom, Bliss products in dispensers. There’s also a rooftop pool and, off the lobby, a friendly bar and a pool table.

Or try the luxurious new Marriott Marquis at the north end of the George R. Brown Convention Center, fondly known as the GRB. The 1,000-room Marquis will feature a Texas-shaped lazy river and infinity pool, as well as a spa, fitness center, rooftop restaurant and, of course, a sports bar. At the ground level, you’ll find a tree-lined patio space overlooking 12-acre Discovery Green park, where you’ll be able to dine al fresco at one of five currently under-construction restaurants, including Grotto (Landry’s Italian), Bud’s BBQ and Pappadeaux.

Stay at either of these hotels and you’ll be a quick walk to both Discovery Green and the GRB, where all the Super Bowl sideshows will be based.

The GRB will be home to the NFL Experience, filled with interactive games that kids love — find out how far you can pass a ball or take a whack at making a field goal, for example — along with exhibits and autographs signings. Tickets aren’t available for this event yet, but last year, it cost $35 for adults and $25 for children.

Next door at Discovery Green, always a fun place to go with the family for its playground and dog park (along with ice skating during winter), you’ll find Super Bowl LIVE, a free family-friendly event with music, food, games and attractions including a NASA-themed amusement park. The star-attraction ride will put you in a virtual reality headset during a space-themed ride that will include a 90-foot drop. Expect long lines, but, dang, it’ll be fun.

This ride, Future Flight, and the rest of Super Bowl LIVE will be available Jan. 28 through Feb. 5.

So, there’ll be plenty to do and eat, even if not everybody in your party has tickets to the big bowl. Speaking of eating, it’s always a hot ticket in Houston, and it’ll certainly be a competitive sport this particular weekend.

Houston’s dining scene is wonderful and vast, but let me mention two spots I know you’ll love. In the realm of Old Houston, Brennan’s is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017, and there’s no better place for a big, fancy brunch. You might work your way (as I did recently) through a mimosa, truffled eggs with crème fraiche, rich turtle soup, tender pork ribs and the signature bananas Foster. You’ll need a nap between this feed and the game.

You can take the red line Metro from downtown to Brennan’s by getting off at the Ensemble stop and walking seven blocks, but you might want to see if you can grab a cab or Uber, since you’ll be dressed nicely.

For dinner, you can’t beat Underbelly on Westheimer Road (use Uber or a cab). James Beard Award-winning owner-chef Chris Shepherd turns out a mean braised goat with dumplings, among other things. He’s a master of all things pig, so it’s always safe to eat in that direction (candied pork belly, for example). Whenever you’re reading this, it’s not too early to book a reservation for Super Bowl weekend at this or any other Houston restaurant. Tables are already filling.