FOXBOROUGH — Andy MacIntyre, 59, the co-owner of a family business that makes engineered plastics, has his man cave set up just how he likes it.
The wall-mounted goat’s head wearing a red Tom Brady jersey, the five televisions, the row of lockers, the arcade game, the pizza oven, the cafe tables, the airy and pleasant portable toilet for the ladies (with a privacy tent), the bar (of course), and (for some reason) a golf cart.
“I had no idea of the scope or magnitude of his operation,” MacIntrye’s old high school buddy Cliff Jackim said Sunday, a rookie at the rocking pre-game party.
Oh, by the way, MacIntyre’s man cave? It’s in (and spilling out of) a self-storage unit. A short stroll to Gillette Stadium. And it’s far from the only cave on the premises.
On home-game days, Guardian Self Storage turns into a tailgating hotbed. It’s a makeshift garage-city, a Burning Man of sorts on Route 1, where the air is perfumed with sausage and cigars, and the art installations run toward Lynda Carter “Wonder Woman” posters.
Guardian is a modest facility with rows of low-slung, ground-level units and wide, roll-down doors. But by 10 a.m. last Sunday — hours before the Patriots would fall to the Baltimore Ravens in the home opener — more than 20 of the storage units were in tailgate mode, and the action had spilled out onto the facility’s small roads.
There were grills and griddles and corn-hole games, picnic tables and sizzling beef and bowls of guac, and tents and generators and sound systems, American flags and red Solo cups, and, except for one group of women discussing a friend’s in vitro fertilization challenges, nothing but talk of football, football, football. And Patriots jerseys, as far as the eye could see.
It is safe to say that this is tailgating taken to its highest form — freed from the constraints of the vehicular world from which it sprang — and its origin story is worth recounting.
The spark came in a frozen parking lot near the stadium on a January night in 2004, where fans were partying ahead of the coldest game in franchise history. At kickoff, it was 4 degrees.
“The beer froze before it hit your mouth,” is how MacIntyre — yes, the engineered plastics guy — recalls it.
With the minus-10 wind chill taking a bite out of his fun, he glanced over a fence at a self-storage facility next door and had an epiphany that would change the course of tailgating history.
“We could build a cave over there,” he said, peering through the dark at Guardian Self Storage. Where others saw merely a place to park life’s leftovers, MacIntyre recognized a utopia.
By the time the next football season dawned, he and his buddies had rented themselves a sweet situation: a 10-by-15-foot shelter that they outfitted with a TV, a bar, and a couch. (The goat’s head wearing the Brady jersey, the expansion to larger digs — and the merch, in the form of hoodies and T-shirts with a cave logo, available for a donation — would come later.)
Many who gazed upon this Eighth Wonder of the World decided they needed one, too. This included a financial planner named Jay Williams, who on Sunday was thrilled to give a tour of his 10-by-15 kingdom.
“Here’s the Farrah Fawcett poster,” he said, grinning. And here are a 50-inch TV, chafing dishes, and clear plastic curtain strips, like they use in meat lockers, to keep the place cozy in bad weather.
He stepped outside his own man cave and gestured to the soaring antenna that the man in the cave next door had erected. “The ingenuity,” he said, nearly overcome with admiration.
Some tailgaters rent their units just for the football season, but others, Williams among them, would rather pay year round to guarantee they won’t get shut out next year.
In his case it’s $2,800 for the year, (plus $50 for game-day parking) but the storage unit fee is split among four guys, and not only does that give him a pre-game tailgating base, but a living room in which to wait out the dreaded post-game traffic — all while enjoying a second football game on his TV.
Wait — is this even legal? Well, Part I, Title XV, Chapter 105A, Section 2 of Massachusetts General Laws concerning self-storage facilities states: “An occupant may not use a leased space for residential purposes.”
But the law remains silent on whether an occupant may or may not decorate said leased space with an AstroTurf rug designed to look like a football field or display a towel of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell with a clown nose.
Although the fantasy football village is in full swing on home-game days only — that’s eight regular-season games this year, not counting any playoff appearances — the feeling of community is palpable.
Joe MacDonald, 62, a retired chef and truck driver, met his second wife at the self-storage facility, when her niece brought her along as a guest, and MacDonald took one look at the petite blonde and told the niece, “I’m going to be your uncle.”
MacDonald, who has upsized and downsized and upsized again into various units over the years, is now the unofficial “mayor” of Unit 43, which he rents with 20 others.
The “members,” as he calls them, pay $150 a year, and guests, who are numerous, make donations — for propane, paper plates, and, a couple of years ago, when the old grill “crapped out,” a new one.
“I keep a separate bank account just for this place,” he said.
Kristen and Bryan Campbell, a nurse and a retired firefighter, became such good friends with their self-storage neighbors that they combined their units into a “double wide,” and not only do they feast together on game days, but they recently went to a college graduation party for the other couple’s son.
“We’re like family,” Bryan Campbell, 62, said, hugging Alex, the graduate.
As Kristen Campbell, 52, pointed with pride to a posted menu designed specifically for Sunday’s Ravens game (featuring a Baltimore specialty called pit beef), she was asked if she ever imagined herself playing host in a self-storage unit.
No, she said. “It wasn’t something you could foresee.”