For sports fans, March is arguably the best month on the calendar. Besides baseball’s spring training and NBA and NHL teams’ push for the playoffs, the college basketball season culminates with a massive 68-team tournament beginning March 19th. It’s pretty much all the excitement of a full season compressed into three weeks, providing a sobering reminder that all those games you sat through the previous four months were virtually meaningless.
Seasoned fans know that getting the full March Madness experience involves two key elements: betting on the games and drinking. The two are closely related. The NCAA tournament comprises dozens of games, the outcomes of which can turn in a few tenths of a second. If you have money on the line, watching your team’s fortunes change that quickly will require something stiff to calm you down. And as the tournament progresses, inevitably you will find yourself knocked out of the running in your office pool when Norfolk State improbably upsets Kansas. That makes it even more crucial to find the right bar in which to lament your lost entry fee, cheer on your alma mater, and endure the rest of the marathon-like event with fellow fans.
There’s no shortage of venues showing the games, but many involve navigating through crowds of drunken alums and lists of watered-down beers that smell like an old pair of Chuck Taylors. Fortunately some hoops-friendly bars have plenty to offer even for those who don’t care to stay glued to the flat screens – like inventive pub fare, unusual cocktails, and a soundtrack that goes beyond Jock Jams Volume IV. Here are enough to sustain you to the Final Four.
For Overall Atmosphere
Snap adds some sporting flair to an otherwise forgettable stretch of West 14th Street. With wallpaper depicting bare-knuckle boxers and mustachioed baseball players, the vibe harks back to a time long before the NCAA tournament’s birth. For those who prefer modern touches (or who are just too lazy to look up at the TV screens), Snap’s bar has a 20-foot-long score ticker built into it.
A welcome oasis in the Upper East Side’s bar scene, Bounce Sporting Club offers a lounge atmosphere, while managing to remain all about the basketball. Among other creative concoctions on the extensive cocktail list is the Hot Streak, a riff on a margarita featuring tequila infused with jalapeno.
Billing itself as an “upscale sports restaurant and lounge,” The Royal is a recent addition to Union Square. The idea is to dial up the sophistication beyond what you’d expect in other sports bars or even other kinds of bars in the neighborhood: Along with its 45 TVs, it brings a DJ, bottle service and even a surprisingly wide selection of gluten-free menu items.
For Food and Drinks
Mulholland’s has four other kinds of wings, but there’s no sense in trekking over to the Williamburg spot if you’re not going to try the Scorching Death variety. If you have even greater disdain for your arteries than your mouth and throat, the menu also has chili cheese nachos served on waffle fries and fried pickles. Then cool off with one of 22 tap beers on the patio, which thankfully has a TV.
In the shadow of City Hall stands Manhattan Proper, where you can dine on white truffle lobster ravioli while doing your best to suffer University of Florida fans. Fans of the classics can stick to the Proper Wings and Proper Burger. Just make sure to wash them down with a seasonal cocktail like the Revolver, which somehow seamlessly matches Bulleit rye and Kahlua.
With 40 flat screens, The Ainsworth is the best bet to catch the games in Chelsea. The sports theme makes the bar something of an anomaly in the neighborhood, but with six different kinds of sliders (including lobster and barbecue pulled pork), the menu will stand up well when the Elite 8 rolls around and you can’t take one more buffalo wing.
For Activities Other Than Watching Basketball
Unfortunately there are short periods during the tournament when no games are going on or—gasp—the ones that are being played just aren’t that exciting. If you’re worried about down time, put your name on the list for The Whiskey Brooklyn’s shuffleboard table, which promises stiffer competition than most 1-vs-16 seed matchups. Skee-Ball and video cornhole are also available while you wait for your turn.
Angry Wade’s stays just on the right side of being a traditional ballcap-and-greek letter-filled sports bar. While the Cobble Hill staple features four TVs behind the bar—which runs nearly the entire length of the room—many patrons come to play pool or darts, munch on free popcorn, or hold forth on the provocative, ever-changing artwork on the walls.
If you’re able to round up a critical mass of fellow alumni, Firefly has a party room with a private bar to keep you away from fans of those hateful other 67 teams. The bar also has a DJ spinning three nights a week.