So many bars, so little time before last call. And yet, undaunted, SI's (Pabst) blue-ribbon panel set about the task of determining the best sports bars in America. First, we convened a nationwide nominating committee of some 100 staffers, correspondents and certifiably reliable bar aficionados to begin the process. ¬∂ Some suggested places were eliminated early because they failed to meet our definition of sports bar: a place that first and foremost caters to sports fans. Other joints made the first cut by virtue of how often, and how passionately, they were nominated. Then the panel went to work. Where any doubt existed, a panelist was dispatched to check the place out and render a decision. ¬∂ Given the nature of the subject, this list surely won't go unchallenged, and if a worthy watering hole has somehow been overlooked it is a certainty that you, the sporting barflies of America, will let us know. And if your case is convincing? Well, maybe we'll have another round.
KEY TO SYMBOLS [TV] Number of TV screens [[FB] Football [B] Basketball [H] Hockey [BB]¬†Baseball] Cable and satellite packages [DB] Number of draft beers [BT] Number of bottled beers
1 The Fours, Boston
THOUGH SOME swear by the Cask 'n Flagon, this is the choice of Boston insiders, from sportswriters to assistant coaches all the way up to team owners. By virtue of the Red Sox' miracle season in 2004 and the Patriots' second straight Super Bowl appearance, The Fours finds itself at the white-hot center of the sports universe. Tim Colton purchased the place in 1980, when it was little more than a 30-foot bar with stools, and it soon became a hockey hangout favored by Bruins legend Ray Bourque, who would come by with his teammates after games. (Back then members of the Canadiens and the Penguins would often come in for lunch since the bar was right across the street from the old Garden.) Today the bar has evolved into a two-story sports mecca, with more than 200 pieces of Boston sports paraphernalia on its walls. Center stage is a tribute to the holy trinity of the last great Celtics teams: game-worn jerseys of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. Parish's white singlet strikes a discordant note, though, with Bird's and McHale's green jerseys. "His original one got stolen," says Peter Colton, who joined his brother in the business in '89. "One night Parish's agent came in, and when we told him what happened, he had Robert sign a jersey and send it over, but he sent a white one."
February 7, 2005
[TV] 18 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 22 [BT] 30
2 Ricky's San Leandro, Calif.
DURING THE Oakland Raiders' 13 years of exile in Los Angeles, from 1982 to '95, Ricky's was the Penelope of sports bars. "We kept the torches burning," says owner Ricky Ricardo Jr. "All those years we never missed one Raiders game. One time there was a game on Ku Band, and we couldn't get the frequency, so we rented a dish for $1,000 to pick it up." When Oakland beat Minnesota in Super Bowl XI in 1977, the bar recorded the game on three-quarter-inch tape and replayed it three times a day for several weeks; one afternoon a bunch of Raiders players even came in to watch.
[TV] 80 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 10 [BT] 40
3 Nemo's Detroit
WHEN THIS Detroit standard-bearer opened in 1965, it was across the street from Tiger Stadium, near the Lions' offices and only minutes from Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings play. Only the Red Wings are still nearby, but the bar thrives. When the Tigers migrated to Comerica Park in 2000, Nemo's bridged the distance by buying some old school buses to ferry patrons to games and bring them back for a postgame quaff. The bar's loyalty to the Red Wings has also paid off: It was the first place owner Mike Ilitch brought the Stanley Cup when Detroit won in 1997.
[TV] 12 [DB] 10 [BT] 21
4 Major Goolsby's Milwaukee
A CITY institution since 1970 and once tabbed "Milwaukee's mother of all sports bars" by the hometown Journal Sentinel, Goolsby's is a major hangout for Bucks and Marquette hoop fans, thanks to its location a block away from the Bradley Center. Ticket holders crowd the place after games for the two-drafts-for-the-price-of-one deal. Like any place where athletes and booze mix, Major Goolsby's has had its memorable encounters, most notably in 1986, when Reggie Jackson, then with the Angels, scuffled with an autograph hound. (A disorderly conduct charge against Jackson was later dismissed.)
[TV] 20 [FB][B] [DB] 10 [BT] 30
5 McDuffy's Tempe, Ariz.
THE FOLKS at McDuffy's have an impressive claim to fame: Since opening in '88, the bar has shown every NFL and NCAA men's basketball tournament game. Given Tempe's population of relocated citizens, McDuffy's goes out of its way to secure NFL preseason games, soccer and college hockey--in particular the games of Minnesota and North Dakota, whose fans turn out regularly. Says manager Jeff Flaherty, "We are known as the bar that gets the most obscure games." McDuffy's also becomes a de facto home bar during the Fiesta Bowl: In '03 it set up a big screen in the parking lot for Ohio State fans which tripled the bar's capacity.
[TV] 84 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 28 [BT] 28
6 Jack & Dan's Spokane
THIS BAR, located a couple of blocks from the Gonzaga campus, is best known for being co-owned by the father of Spokane's greatest sports hero, John Stockton. Jack Stockton, a part-owner since 1961, knows his son's fame is good for business, but he reminds people, "I was here before John ever bounced a ball in the pros." He famously keeps no pictures of his son at the bar, but there is one connection to his son's career. Jack's current partner (to whom the bar's namesake, Dan Crowley, sold his stake 14 years ago) is Jeff Condill, John's former backcourtmate at Gonzaga.
[TV] 14¬†[DB] 22 [BT] 30
The Cubby Bear Chicago
THE CUBBY Bear, which has been around since 1946, swallows up the southwest corner of Clark and Addison streets, a long foul ball from home plate at Wrigley Field. In the thicket of Wrigleyville bars (on game days on the North Side the only commodity more common than a Cubs fan's lament is a cold pint), the Cubby Bear stands out by virtue of its size (30,000 square feet) and prime position, overlooking the Wrigley marquee. Live music was introduced in 1988, but the Cubby Bear knows its clientele: When the Cubs play day games, it opens at 10 a.m., making it Chicago's best beer-for-breakfast joint too.
[TV] 100 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 18 [BT] 17
A CITY STAPLE since 1965, the bar is known for Griff's Army, the regulars who convene to take in a game at the bar or board chartered buses to various stadiums. In 1994 the troops staged a preemptive strike of the baseball season, picketing in front of the Astrodome in protest of the planned players' strike later that week. Sports figures from Roger Clemens to Oksana Baiul have been known to stop by Griff's, which prides itself on its dive-bar status. "We're nothing more than a little hole in the wall," says owner Travis Adair, "which is exactly the way we like it." The bar's sign fits in perfectly: It's been misspelled for years.
[TV] 18 [FB][B][BB] ¬†[DB] 20 [BT] 25
Green Valley Ranch Henderson, Nev.
CAESARS AND its Strip-side ilk may be more famous, but the hidden gem of Vegas sports books isn't even in Vegas. Nestled amid a plush resort 20 minutes to the south, the Green Valley book feels like the largest, nicest living room a sports fan could ever hope to be in. It features big comfy swivel chairs, roaming waitresses, good food and a core group of regulars who have become like family over the years. Even better, as opposed to many books on the Strip, you can actually get a seat. For those who like to gamble, there is no finer place in the country to watch March Madness.
[TV] 24 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 4 [BT] 12
Chappell's Restaurant and Museum Kansas City, Mo.
WHEN A university holds a class in your bar, you must be doing something right. Northwest Missouri State conducts a sports memorabilia class at Chappell's, home to the largest personal collection of sports artifacts in any bar in the country. "You can go to any bar and watch a game," says owner Jim Chappell, whose bar has more than 10,000 items, including an autographed pair of Muhammad Ali's gloves and the Oakland A's 1974 World Series trophy. "Here you can get a glimpse of sports history." But you can't watch the Super Bowl: Because of its business-district location, Chappell's closes on Sundays.
[TV] 4 ¬†[DB] 4 [BT] 20
"I OPENED the bar basically to have a place for the guys to come after games," says former Suns shooting guard Dan Majerle of his sports bar, which is located a block from America West Arena. "I never dreamed it would take off like it did." Twelve years later the bar has become an essential stop for visitors in town for games, conventions or even the symphony, also located nearby. Majerle, who does color commentary on Suns games, still drops by the bar four or five times a week. "I've bartended, but usually I don't go there to work," he says. "I'm just there to hang out and enjoy myself."
[TV] 20 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 8 [BT] 12
Rusty's Last Chance Saloon Manhattan, Kans.
OUR FIRST (and only) Manhattan choice is not in New York City. Rusty's boasts five interconnected buildings' worth of pure K-State fervor and hospitality. Cheap brew, hickory-smoked barbecue, and every weekend and especially after Kansas State games, it's like a big block party. After the Wildcats beat Nebraska in '98 and 2000, students uprooted the goalposts and marched them down to Rusty's, where they were given a place of honor on the roof (until the athletic department came and fetched them, that is). As for cover charges, Rusty's motto is: no cover, never had it, never will.
[TV] 55 [FB] ¬†[DB] 18 [BT] 80
State Street Brats Madison, Wis.
SIMPLY THE best sports bar in the nation's best college sports town. This is where the Grateful Red and alums have been gathering since 1953 to do what Wisconsinites do so well: drink and root. They eat grilled red brats (sausages to you) and beer-boiled white brats, chow on cheese curds (if you're not from Wisconsin, don't ask) and toss back pints of Spotted Cow or Leinenkugel's amid the Badgerphernalia. State Street also boasts the best drink special in the land: Flip Night on Tuesdays. On every drink poured, the bartender flips a coin; if you win, the drink is 75% off; if you don't win, it's full price. You can't lose.
[TV] 22 [FB] ¬†[DB] 17 [BT] 13
Houndstooth Tuscaloosa, Ala.
OPENED IN 1989 and just a two-minute walk from Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Houndstooth is named, as any Southerner can tell you, for the checked brown hat favored by longtime Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant, though that's the one item missing from the extensive 'Bama memorabilia. The bar is the place to go on game day in Tuscaloosa. (When Mercedes-Benz executives were being wooed to build a plant in Alabama in 1993, the welcoming committee brought the Germans in for drinks.) But beware the morning after: The Houndstooth maintains a four-year-old archive of bar photos on its website.
[TV] 27 [BB] ¬†[DB] 1 [BT] 15
Joe Senser's Bloomington, Minn.
SENSER, A former Vikings tight end, is the owner of an obscure piece of Twin Cities sports trivia--he dropped the final pass thrown at Metropolitan Stadium and caught the first TD pass at The Metrodome. In business since 1988 and now in three locations, Senser says he spends more than $45,000 annually to get every available sports TV package and it pays off with crowds like the nearly 400 Nebraska alumni who gather every Saturday to root on Big Red. Come Sunday the place is split between Vikings and Packers fans, which makes NFL games between the Black and Blue rivals as spicy as Senser's waffle fries.
[TV] 25 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 16 [BT] 30
Three Dollar Cafe Atlanta
WHEN ABOUT 300 Penn State alumni come by the flagship Buckhead location of this Georgia chain, as they do every football Saturday, Three Dollar Cafe can put them all in the back room and still have room for the more than 700 other patrons--most of them SEC and ACC fans, particularly Georgia Tech partisans--in their main room and outdoor patio. Big is the theme here, as evidenced by the vast number of TVs and the huge selection of beers. The outdoor seating, promoted as "the patio to be seen on," has drawn such luminaries as Charles Barkley, Michael Vick, Chipper Jones and even Rod Tidwell himself, Cuba Gooding Jr.
[TV] 100 [FB][B][BB] ¬†[DB] 9 [BT] 300
Bulldog Lounge Berwick, Pa.
IN THE heart of high school football country in northeastern Pennsylvania, there's a special small-town feel at the Bulldog Lounge, home base for fans of the six-time state champion Berwick High Bulldogs, who play across the street at Crispin Field. On game days the staff sets up a tent, pours Yuengling and puts out a spread of meatball and sausage hoagies, soups and pierogi. The bar's biggest day was in 1988, when Berwick beat Aliquippa for the state title. "It was a road game, and it snowed that day," says owner Guy Miller, "and I remember all the friends and family waiting here for the kids to come back home."
[TV] 3 ¬†[DB] 3 [BT] 15
Scholz Garten Austin
SAID TO be the oldest continuously operating business in the state of Texas, the Scholz Garten opened in 1866, founded as a tavern and social club for Austin's German community by August Scholz, an immigrant and Civil War veteran. (He wore the gray.) The bar was home to German singing groups in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in the 1950s and '60s, situated a half mile from the state capitol, it became a clubhouse for Texas's liberal politicians. Now it's the standard pre- and postgame stop on UT football game days, though in recent years, says manager Fred Reese, it's drawn well for other Big 12 sports too.
[TV] 14 [FB] ¬†[DB] 21 [BT] 25
Sports Column Denver
OPENED IN 1995 on the eve of the Colorado Rockies' first game at Coors Field, the Sports Column was in prime position to flourish when the Broncos and the Avalanche ruled their respective sports in the late '90s. In a city where sports bars are as common as home runs in the mile-high air, the Sports Column has one distinctive touch that's especially nice: At the start of the NFL, NBA, NHL and baseball seasons, every team's banner hangs from the rafters--that is, until the team's elimination from title contention, when its colors are ceremonially removed from the bar's firmament.
[TV] 39 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 20 [BT] 25
Crystal City Pub Crystal City, Va.
OPENED IN 1994 by three college buddies from Mount St. Mary's who were weaned on the original Champions in D.C., Crystal City feels like a sports bar crossed with an OTB parlor. Digital scoreboards show the latest lines, and wi-fi access allows industrious patrons to follow other games. Once a hangout for Redskins before the team changed stadiums--quarterback Trent Green would come in after games--it now boasts a little of everything: pool tables, live music, alumni groups, memorabilia and the occasional pack of suspiciously attractive women, whose presence can be traced to a co-owner who also runs a strip club.
[TV] 70 [FB][B][BB] ¬†[DB] 13 [BT] 16
Corner Club Moscow, Idaho
A CAREFREE atmosphere (perhaps enhanced by the traditional 32-ounce beer glasses) prevails at this popular University of Idaho hangout, which opened in 1948. Consider that for much of its history, the most famous item in the bar was a nail hammered into a ceiling beam, daring anyone to try to match the 11'3" leap made by former Vandals basketball star Gus Johnson. The mark stood for 23 years until it was equaled by Southern Idaho's Joey Johnson (Gus's cousin) in 1986. (The nail was removed in 1991 when half the bar was torn down to make room for a freeway, but the stories are still told fondly.)
[TV] 9 [FB][B][BB] ¬†[DB] 10 [BT] 19
Orlando Ale House Orlando
FOR SOME sports bars, proximity to the local arena is vital to their success. Not the Ale House, which is 10 miles from the TD Waterhouse Center, home of the Orlando Magic, but draws fans from all over the Orlando area. Sundays look like a scene from the Pro Bowl, as fans don their favorite team jerseys and wait in line for as long as 20 minutes to get into the 8,000-square-foot establishment. Wearing the right jersey can matter: General manager Danny Davis sometimes determines which game gets its audio cranked up by surveying the crowd to see which team's colors are the most popular.
[TV] 42 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 36 [BT 48
Playmakers Fargo, N.D.
LOCATED DEEP in the heart of the Red River Valley, Playmakers is part of a sports and entertainment complex that draws crowds from many miles away. Patrons feel as if they're in the game as soon as they walk through the door, as the entire floor is tiled to replicate a football field, complete with hash marks and goalposts. Fargo is Vikings and Packers country, so Playmakers is the place to be for Minnesota and Green Bay's biannual clashes. And if Vikes versus the Pack isn't intense enough, fans can step right next door to the Pavilion for the regional qualifiers of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
[TV] 35 [FB][BB] ¬†[DB] 10 [BT] 35
Bear's Lair Pub Berkeley, Calif.
EVERYTHING ONE could want in a bar--its own home-brewed beer, good grub and one's own stein hanging from the rafters as part of the Mug Club. Plus there's plenty of Big Game tradition. From a seat at the tables, which are the original benches from Memorial Stadium, you can stare up at the goalposts from the 2002 Big Game (won by Cal, 30--7) that adorn the ceiling. Come in post-football or -hoops and drink with the Cal band and Oski the Bear (the mascot), who might be prevailed upon to do his trick of drinking two steins through a tube funneled through one of his eyeholes.
[TV] 6 ¬†[DB] 20 [BT] 15
The National Anaheim
ACROSS THE street from Angel Stadium stands one of Southern California's most popular sports watering hole. Though crowds convene for all sports, baseball provides the dominant motif at the National. The place is laid out like a baseball diamond, with real stadium seats (signed by various sports figures) and a bar area where the infield would be. Looking for a bite to eat? Head out to the rightfield stands for the restaurant area; in the leftfield stands a game of pool is available on one of the National's 11 full-sized tables. For those who prefer the open air, go deep to the Outfield, the National's expansive patio.
[TV] 65 [FB][B][H][BB] ¬†[DB] 15 [BT] 16