Best In The State

What makes a great sports bar?  You know, the kind of place where you want to go watch your favorite team play a game?

screen-shot-2016-06-04-at-2.58.35-pm-470x220-1Clearly, there are some basic elements.  Great sports bars aren’t white tablecloth and fine china venues.  You’re looking for tasty food favorites at reasonable prices, an ample selection of beers to stoke your competitive spirit, and a friendly and attentive wait staff that won’t leave your glass bone dry during the key part of the game.  You want to have plenty of TV screens in the room, so any table or chair will have good sight lines to the screen carrying your game of choice.  And, equally important, you’re looking for an energetic atmosphere and a setting with lots of fans watching their games, where you won’t be shushed for letting out a cheer, giving a few high-fives, or blurting out a random curse at a bad play.

Whatever the qualities that make a great sports bar, JT’s Pizza & Pub here in Columbus clearly has them all.  The MSN website just named JT’s the best sports bar in Ohio.  Given the sports-obsessed culture in Ohio, that’s incredibly high praise, but it’s really not surprising.  JT’s has great pizza, appetizers, wings, and sandwiches — exactly the kind of fare you want from a sports bar — an extensive beer and drink menu, and a raucous atmosphere come Game Day.  Stop by for an Ohio State game, an NFL Sunday, or March Madness if you don’t believe me.

Congratulations to my nephew Joe, the proprietor of JT’s, and my nephew Danny, who works there, for making JT’s into a sports bar that has won Best in the State honors.

The TV Din At Mealtime

Recently Kish and I went to a new restaurant near our home. It had gotten some good buzz, and we were looking forward to checking it out.

When we got to the place and sat at our table, our spirits sank. On every wall of the restaurant, including right above the booth where we we sat, there were TVs set to different stations. It’s part of a disturbing trend in which TV invades every nook and cranny of our existence, from doctor waiting rooms to elevators to restaurants.

When I was a kid, I liked to eat while watching the TV. Whether it was cereal and cartoons on Saturday morning or a Swanson’s TV dinner and sitcoms on a Thursday night, TV seemed a lot more exciting and interesting than a conversational meal with my family. Now I’m at the other end of the spectrum. If Kish and I are going out for dinner, we’d like a nice, quiet place where we can have a good talk and enjoy our food. We don’t mind a little background music, but being bombarded with the sounds and flickering images of banks of TV sets totally interferes with our enjoyment of the evening. And, I always wonder whether the TVs are designed to distract patrons from the quality of their meal.

In my view, restaurants need to make a choice. If you want to be a sports bar that shoots no higher than chicken wings, pizzas, and pitchers of beer, TV sets are fine. If you have pretenses of being a fine dining establishment, you should focus on the food — and expect and allow your diners to do so, too. That means no TVs.

A Sports Fan’s Travel Dilemma

When we planned this trip to France and England, I wasn’t focused on college football — although I hoped that the Ohio State Buckeyes would run the table, win every game to earn the Big Ten crown, and then play in the National Championship Game. Alas, the Michigan State Spartans foiled that dream.

So tonight, the Buckeyes play the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl. Unfortunately for me, the game is being played in the evening, in the Eastern time zone, and I’m in London, five hours ahead. Here is England, the game won’t begin until about 1:30 a.m., and probably won’t end until 4:30 or so.

Even worse, there is no where to watch the game, even if I could stay up to do so. The fact is, American college football doesn’t make even a tiny dent in the British sporting scene. The big sports stories in England this week have been the fate of a Formula One driver who was injured in a skiing accident and the poor performance of England in some cricket match.

A few days ago Russell and I visited one of the casinos on Leicester Square that advertised a sports bar, just to see what they were showing and whether the Ohio State basketball game against Purdue might be on one of the TVs. Hah! Most of the screens were showing a tennis match — that’s right, tennis! — and the others featured soccer and a rugby match. Can you imagine any red-blooded American sports bar these days showing a tennis match?

So tonight, I’ll try to sleep while the Buckeyes play their bowl game, and I’ll probably toss and turn wondering how they are doing. When I wake up tomorrow the game will be over and I’ll see whether my team has righted the ship or ended the season on a two-game skid. One seeming positive in all of this is that I’ve set things up so that the game is being recorded at home, and therefore I will have the luxury of watching a known victory — or erasing, unobserved, a painful defeat, and watching a cricket test match instead.

An Evening At A Sports Bar

Wednesday I spent the night in Cincinnati, getting ready for a hearing.  The Buckeyes were playing Penn State at 6:30, and two other lawyers and I decided to go to a bar to watch the game and have something to eat.  We ended up at a place on Fountain Square called Rock Bottom.

Titan Toothpicks

As in many sports bars, this place had an abundance of TV screens with lots of selections.  We asked the waitress to put the Buckeyes game on the large TV immediately to our right and she cheerfully obliged.  Immediately ahead was another big screen showing the Olympics.  While we were there we watched a woman skier crashing into a retaining fence, then a very serious curling showdown between Sweden and Great Britain, and finally an unexpectedly one-sided hockey game between Canada and Russia.  On the far left wall, meanwhile, was a series of TVs showing NBA contests and other college games.  So, without leaving your seat, you could see virtually every sport known to man simply by swiveling your head.  It was almost as good as having unfettered command of the remote control at home.

Some well-brewed IPAs and bar food contributed mightily to the fun atmosphere.  Beer never tastes as good as when it is quaffed from a heavy pint glass, and a hoppy IPA is a good complement to bar food.  After scanning the menu we decided that, rather than getting entrees, we would just get appetizers for the table — and on Wednesday nights, appetizers at Rock Bottom are only $5 each.  We decided to mix healthy stuff with classic bar food, so we picked rare ahi tuna, barbeque chicken pizza, five meat pizza, and an astonishing dish called Titan Toothpicks.  The ahi tuna was quite good, but really isn’t appropriate bar food.  It is simply too light (and, frankly, healthy) to accompany a steady diet of beers.  If you are going to down a few pints, you need to establish a good base, and that means something that is melty, cheesy, meaty, and crunchy.  The two pizzas filled that bill admirably.  The Titan Toothpicks, on the other hand, are as long as your arm and consist of melted cheese and some unspecified meat rolled up in a kind of deep fried tortilla shell.  When you bite through the shell, a warm gooey mixture seeps out.  From that description alone, you can understand that Titan Toothpicks are a prototypical bar food.

It was a very successful evening.  Tasty beers were tipped back, unhealthy food was consumed, the Buckeyes won at Penn State, and the curious sport of curling was thoroughly discussed in a warm, happy, noisy place.  Sports bars can be a good choice when you are on the road.