American stadiums have gone from worn bleachers to luxury boxes. New York sports spots are on a similar game plan. Sticky floors and burnt nachos are giving way to leather banquettes and full-on cocktail programs. The sports bar has evolved into the sports lounge. Joints like The Ainsworth and The Windsor led the way, but The Royal, Murray Bar, and the upcoming Sanctuary Ultra Lounge (pictured) are hot on their heels.
Union Square’s The Royal takes a more regal approach than the sweatpants-fest of New York sports bars of yore. There are nightclub shades in the look, with smooth banquettes and modern lighting. Slabs of rustic wood nod to The Ainsworth and add some character. Sightlines are excellent, even at peak hours, thanks to state-of-the-art TVs posted up high. You’ll find elevation in the kitchen, too, from a Minetta Tavern hand. Grilled cheese upscales with mozzarella and brie wrapped in prosciutto. John Legend and Kris Humphries were among early guests. Many more boldfaced names will follow.
Murray Bar is a cheeky take on the sports lounge, put together by The Cash Bar peeps upstairs. The walls are brick and leather and the ceiling is pressed tin. Mason jars are deployed for a kitschy cocktail program. Yes, they’ve found a way to mix Gatorade and intoxicants. Joe DiMaggio is honored with vodka, Jägermeister, lemon-lime Gatorade, and Red Bull in the Joltin’ Joe. Other New York stars get more dubious recognition. L.T., Roger Clemens, and Darryl Strawberry are among the mug shots hanging in the hall of shame. In back there’s an Astroturf “Field of Dreams” for private parties. If you build it, they will come.
Covering the intimate end of the sports club spectrum is Sanctuary Ultra Lounge, coming soon from the HAVEN crew. The space fills a sleek nook behind the lobby of the Sanctuary Hotel. Leather, walnut, and Terrazzo provide accents, with the bar aglow in butter-yellow onyx. The kitchen does refined takes on comfort food. Sliders use Wagyu beef, while mac ‘n’ cheese upgrades with truffles. A smart cocktail list features drinks like the Smooth Criminal, with Johnny Walker Black, Domaine de Canton, lemon, and grenadine. High-def TVs discreetly morph into mirrors when the final whistle blows. An additional huge screen rolls down on the side. You’ve never really seen Colin Kaepernick kiss his biceps until you’ve seen it in 110” projection. Opening night will be Super Bowl Sunday, with a tailgate on the roof and Russian Standard models (and vodka) in the lounge. Best to make a reservation, because Ainsworth Park it ain’t.