When you go to watch a major sporting event at a bar, you have some expectations: bar food, drink specials (usually beer) and a good time. That last one though, is far from guaranteed, depending on what sport you’re watching. In the worst case scenario, you’ll sit next to a guy who eats chicken wings like Bruce Bogtrotter eats chocolate cake. Even in the best case scenario, the possibility of missing half of the game’s major plays is all too real.
This isn’t a groundbreaking revelation for sports fans. Writer Will Gordon wrote in an impassioned Deadspin screed that sports bars are “cacophonous dens of ranch-dressed mediocrity” that have bad-to-meh food where you watch “The Game with The Guys at The Bar where The Chicks are paid to smile as they wade through the fried fart clouds to hate-serve you way too much lunch.”
Even ESPN, very likely the most played channel in sports bars, knows that it’s better to watch the game anywhere but the bar. The world leader in sports has a series of commercials about a guy falling in love with the ESPN app because he can watch any sport, anytime, anywhere. With those options, why would anyone choose a loud, crowded sports bar with hefty markups on food and drink?
“The best sporting event to watch at a bar? The Academy Awards,” Brian Evans, a bartender at Sunday in Brooklyn, tells Supercall. “Why? Virtually zero animosity, and little broken glass or bar-top slamming. Have you ever been afraid of a film geek whose favorite film didn't win Best Picture?”
If you’re going to watch one sporting event at the bar, though, all hope isn’t lost. Just avoid the bad ones. Here are the major sporting events to watch in a sports bar, ranked from worst to best.
Super Bowl parties are better at home. From the bar’s perspective, Evans says, the crowd that watches football games are right up there with UFC fans as the “loudest and (most) anger fueled.” Read: Not the most fun crowd to hang out with, even (especially?) if you’re one of those anger-fueled, drink-from-the-pitcher people. The Super Bowl has become a full on event, and every third drunk person you talk to at the bar had to Google who was playing the day before the game. Even in cities with NFL teams in them, people are starting to realize that going to the bar to watch the game is overrated. From 2016 to 2017, 12 percent fewer people went to sports bars on Sundays, according to MarketWatch. The Super Bowl is the best excuse to splurge on a large screen TV, because you don’t want to watch it in an overflowing bar filled with people who can’t order their Bud Lights fast enough.
The best sporting events to watch in bars toe the line between exciting and controlled. There needs to be a reason to cheer, but not so many reasons that bars only attract bros who communicate in back slaps and fist bumps instead of words. The Masters is so controlled that it’s boring. Until all golf fans channel Rory McIlroy’s heckler, even the top golf games will remain unwatchable at the bar.
A single game in the 2017 World Series lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes. And while that game was an outlier in terms of time, the average postseason game in 2017 lasted 3 hours and 30 minutes. The only thing worse is when a game goes fast, because that means there weren’t many hits—or worse, a no hitter—and therefore zero jump-out-of-your-seat exciting moments. Staying in a bar for that long is exhausting and expensive. The World Series toys with the idea of being a fun sporting event to watch at the bar, but it’s hard to enjoy when facing down the possibility of a five hour long game.
College Football Playoff
College football is all about cheering on your alma mater (or the school you wish was your alma mater). The College Football Playoff excludes all but a few college football fans. Why go to a bar to watch a school you don’t care about? You get all the guilt of watching unpaid college athletes with none of the school pride. You can only get excited about watching Alabama play for the national title so many times in a row. God forbid having to do it in a bar filled with crimson-shirted people yelling, “Roll tide.”
Stanley Cup Finals
On the plus side, there are very few bandwagon sports fans who watch the Stanley Cup. On the downside, hockey fans are just as into fighting and yelling as the players are.
Do you even know what’s going on when watching the Winter Olympics? Not the worst thing in the world to watch at the bar, but not exactly the most enthralling either. What saves watching the Winter Olympics at the bar is the camaraderie you feel with your fellow citizens as you chant “USA, USA, USA.” That, plus the fact that America is good at the fun sports to watch like snowboarding, skiing and, as of 2018, curling.
The U.S. Open and Wimbledon
If you don’t know what 40-Love means (hint: it has to do with tennis), then you probably don’t care about watching the U.S. Open or any other top tennis matches. Heck, you’re probably not a fan of racket sports in general. But tennis is one of the only sports that has a fancy official cocktail for its top tournaments. The U.S. Open has the Honey Deuce, and Wimbledon has the Pimm’s Cup. Added bonus: You (probably) won’t find obnoxious bros with backwards hats screaming at a tennis match on TV. Depending on where you live, there’s also a good chance you can find a bar that’s playing the match outside. Sipping a Pimm’s Cup on a bar patio while watching Wimbledon in the middle of summer doesn’t sound all that bad.
If you’re going to watch the same two teams play five, possibly seven, games in a row, it’s best to stay at home until the last game.
The Summer Olympics—aka, the Olympics with sports most Americans can understand—is a joy to watch at the bar. People are into it, but not too into it. When’s the last time you had a beer poured on you from a crazy cheering gymnastics fan? The U.S. winning a bunch of medals helps, too.
March Madness Sweet 16 to Final Four
There’s a lot of college basketball to watch in March. Too many games happen simultaneously (and often during the middle of the day) in the first and second rounds to watch them at the bar. Once it’s narrowed down to the Sweet 16 and Final Four, however, it’s just right. The best sports to watch at the bar are the ones where you can’t simulate the experience at home. Many of us don’t have a two-TV setup to watch the Sweet 16 games that play two at a time. It’s more focused than the madness of early March, and people who saw the games as a reason to day drink into an obnoxious fury are at home with their broken brackets.
The fastest two minutes in sports is just as much about dressing up and day drinking before the event as it is about actually watching the race. Bars are packed with people wearing fancy hats and bowties, and everyone sips from frosty Mint Julep cups. It’s an experience that you can’t get at home unless you live in a Southern mansion and own lots of land, and if that’s the case, you probably went to Churchill Downs to watch the race. For the rest of us, the bar is perfectly acceptable. The bar crowd (usually) isn’t sloppy or prone to spills, and the actual event happens so fast that everyone pays attention at the same time. The Kentucky Derby is hands down the best sporting event to watch at the bar.