Sports bars are more than just taps and TVs
By Anthony Head
Although I grew up in indiana, where basketball reigns supreme, I’m now a Texan and a committed football fan. My conversion wasn’t painful because I’ve always liked watch-ing big games at sports bars. With the crowd’s upbeat energy and plenty of beer and food, it’s the next best thing to being there.
On February 6, when Super Bowl XLV comes to Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium, there may be no better sports bar in the state in which to celebrate than nearby Humperdink’s. One of five locations around the Metroplex, it sits within a mile of the stadium. With a 45-foot ceiling overhead, it certainly lives up to its billing as “Arlington’s Tallest Bar.” Humperdink’s isn’t big enough to hold the estimated 150,000 football enthusiasts descending on Arlington in February, but it’s a start.
Sitting at the main bar, I’m joined by Humperdink’s manager, Emanuel Harrison. “This place is going to be crazy the whole week leading up to the game,” he says. “We’re already getting phone calls from fans trying to reserve a stool. We’re planning to open up extra seating areas to maximize as much space as possible.” No matter where fans sit, they won’t miss any action because dozens of televisions hang prominently throughout the space.
With an emphasis on the quality of its cuisine, Humperdink’s is actually more of a sports restaurant than a sports bar. The menu of burgers, steaks, and seafood is built to go with the selection of craft brews from the on-site brewery. My favorite of the bunch, the Big Red IPA, tastes well-rounded and is quite food-friendly; it goes especially well with the turkey melt or any of the other sandwiches offered.
Even though the Cowboys will not make it to the big game, Dallasites will be revved up for the action. “All of Dallas is already super-excited about the Super Bowl,” says Cynthia Hobbs, a bartender at Frankie’s Sports Bar and Grill in the Uptown region. “We’ll be getting people from all over the Metroplex for the game. This place is going to be a madhouse.”
With scores of compact TVs, big-screen TVs, giant-screen TVs, wall-sized TVs, high-def and plasma TVs, Frankie’s makes it hard to miss any of the action. The beer, too, comes in dozens of varieties, many from around the world, with plenty of Texas greats like Shiner Bock and Real Ale Brewing Company’s Fireman’s #4 Blonde Ale.
Frankie’s also demonstrates how sports bars have evolved to become much more than just taps and TVs. The place feels comfortable, like a neighborhood tavern, but with very little beer signage or neon. The granite-topped bar has hooks underneath for purses, and there are several different rooms for dining on upscale versions of bar food, including wings (more than a half-dozen varieties), nachos (with steak strips), and burgers (the half-pound Colt Burger is topped with apple-smoked bacon and Maytag blue cheese).
Hobbs says the raw bar’s popularity proves that sports fans love seafood, too. The Super Bowl Brunch is sure to be a winner: In addition to sandwiches, eggs, and waffles, Frankie’s build-your-own Bloody Mary Bar will be piled high with several mixes, plenty of shrimp, pico de gallo—the works.
In contrast, High Velocity, at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, resembles a gallery space. Colorful Texas-team logos and sports-themed paintings cover the walls, and high ceilings and polished surfaces frame the 250-seat restaurant. It’s also super-charged throughout with high technology; a 12-foot-high by 120-foot-long TV screen dominates the space above the bar.
High Velocity offers 24 beers on tap, including another of my Texas favorites, Rahr & Sons Blonde Lager. Its crisp flavor tastes great with game-day favorites, such as Tex--as-style chili and nachos with barbecue brisket, smoked cheddar, and jalape-ños. High Velocity’s game plan makes use of many fresh, high-quality ingredients to appeal to families as much as football fanatics.
For anyone who thinks the best football food ever invented—pizza—should be left up to the experts, the place to go is Nick’s Place Italian Sports Bar & Pizzeria in Houston. Nick’s features an old-school sports-bar ambience: It’s a bit dark inside, and the place is usually filled with friendly regulars. It’s also loaded with TVs and great beer. Tableside service is typically laid-back, but the staff take their sports seriously and they mean business when it comes to pizza. Mozzarella, parmesan, provolone, and ricotta top the Quattro Formaggi; bacon, beef, ham, pepperoni, and sausage crowd the “I Got Your Meat” pizza; and just about every combination with and without vegetables is available in-between.
Even by sports bar standards, Nick’s is in a league of its own. On February 6, fans can plan on a full day of pre-game shows and seemingly endless game-day analysis, because Nick’s will open at 9 a.m., a full 13 hours before kickoff. You can even have a breakfast pizza with eggs, ham, bacon, cheddar cheese, mushrooms, red onion, and bell pepper.
Whether or not a Texan team will be playing in the Super Bowl this year, when it comes to good food, good bear and good times, Texas sports bars have already won the game.