Editor’s note: New York City has hundreds of sports bars. Just look to Yelp for a plethora of local run-of-the-mill, Bud Light and barstool options. For NYC sports bars worth the cabbie fee, look no further than right here.
By KiWWatching a game at a NYC sports bar used to be a fairly straightforward exercise. Not much went into the decision-making process other than weighing differences in wing quality and number of beers on tap. Perhaps one bar was more favorable than the other because it aligned with a particular team (e.g., “I’d rather drink dish detergent than go there, it’s all obnoxious Cowboys fans.”) or because it was conveniently located, but as far as distinguishing characteristics go, that about ran the gamut.
Not so anymore. The game watching game has changed in New York City. Thanks to the 2009 opening of Ainsworth on 26th street in Chelsea by Paige Management Group.
Instead of being all about sports, Ainsworth is a good bar that happens to show sports. Instead of focusing on beer and wing specials, they play great music and create a fun atmosphere. Ainsworth has become a place to grab drinks with friends, or even meet a date when there isn’t a game on.
The concept of a sports bar doubling as a nightlife destination isn’t new. Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club saw this trend coming over ten years ago (Hova made a great business decision – what else is new?). Places like The Tonic in Murray Hill or Firefly in Soho also have a history of moderate success with the late night weekend party scene.
However, Ainsworth’s keepers toss in a few twists. First, they aren’t afraid to incite a party atmosphere during a game. Second, they skew female friendly. Third, they deliver a higher-quality food selection for people looking to watch their figure or gorge on traditional bar fare. Ainsworth has created a new paradigm for NYC sports bars, taking “Sunday Funday” to a new level in the process. Its success has spawned a slew of interesting (and not so interesting) copycats.
With football season in full throttle, the ubiquitous “Where should we watch the game?” debate befalls thousands of New Yorkers every Saturday, Sunday and sometimes Thursday. Ok, maybe Mondays too. So here are a few tips to help narrow the selection. Most sports bar reviews revolve around quality of food, price and number of televisions, but the new Ainsworth paradigm merits these updated criteria:
1) Crowd – What kind of people to expect.
2) Atmosphere – Music. Dress. Door scene. Food.
3) Viewing experience – Can you actually watch the game?
Ainsworth 26 (The Original)
122 W 26th St
New York, NY 10001
Folks are good-looking, up for fun, racially and ethnically diverse, and actually learned in sports. Take a lap and you might bump into that lawyer from the gym you’ve had your eye on or a cutie who looks strikingly similar to the fashion director you talked up at 1Oak last night.
The ambiance shifts like a mood ring. Go for a Tuesday night Knicks game during the regular season and find a nice buzz and an ability to hear over the din. Stop by on Sunday night when the Giants are playing? Bedlam.
While not a place of heavy bottle service, drinks still flow and the music stays nice and loud. NFL Sundays come equipped with a DJ who plays a great range of music – like Calvin Harris, Juicy J and Notorious B.I.G. – from 4 p.m. (check out the ADANAI Sunday Funday playlist for a taste).
Roll up like Jamie Foxx (on any given Sunday) and you will almost definitely have to wait in line. If you want to sit down to enjoy a satisfying meal with healthy menu options, make a reservation in advance. Otherwise, the bar holds plenty of space.
It’s damn good. Large screens feature premier games and every table has excellent views of multiple TVs. For the fantasy footballer or gambler who needs to monitor eight games at a time, this place is conducive. However, if loud music (though often limited to commercial breaks during big games or Giants/Jets games) or people having fun distracts you, perhaps find another place.
Note: About a year ago, Ainsworth Park opened on 18th Street and Park Avenue South – unclear why they opened a second location so close to the original. Quite similar to the original, it differs in that it’s larger, less diverse and has worse TV coverage. The guest assemblage seems a bit younger too, which is no surprise given its location. While people in the neighborhood like it, it’s no match for the original. Like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell intone, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing baby.” Last year, Paige Management opened another Ainsworth at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
The 40/40 Club
6 W 25th St
New York, NY 10010
Picture Diddy in one of his numerous music video cameos. He’s seated at a VIP table, surrounded by ten ridiculously good-looking people of varying ethnicities, all with Ciroc-based martinis in hand and a come-on-I-wanna-lay-you look in their eyes. Sounds like fun, right? No doubt, 40/40 Club strives to embody this setting. On the nights when Jay-Z and Beyonce are there partying, life does imitate art.
Problem is, only Kanye West or Carmelo Anthony gets in on those nights. Normally, a diverse party crowd with a penchant for Ace of Spades and the New York Knicks occupies the tiered interior. Ghetto fabulous might be a bit of a strong descriptor but it’s not far off base.
How much do you allot for your sports bar slash personal man cave when you are the best rapper of all time and married to “the hottest chick in the game?” A lot. Jay and his crew spent ten million dollars to remake the place a year ago. 40/40 drips with the sound, taste and smell of money. Gold baseball bats and Ace of Spades bottles abound, the much-improved food entices and the sound system ties it all together. Walk in on Friday or Saturday night and it basically rivals a hip-hop club.
The upstairs private lounges offer a plethora of creature comforts. If you feel like really stepping up, go for Jay-Z’s personal lounge that can comfortably fit 50 people, has a pool table and contains some serious sports memorabilia (boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan paraphernalia). Funny but true story: Kobe Bryant stopped in one night, saw all of the sports swag and asked if he could donate something for the room. Most mortals would have jumped at the opportunity but Hov’s response was to question if Kobe owned anything at the Ali / MJ level. Low and behold, the room now showcases one of Kobe’s Olympic gold medals.
Ten. MILLION. Dollars.
Bounce Sporting Club
55 W 21st St
New York, NY 10010
Image conscious club-goers from the night prior carrying over into “Sunday Funday.”
Day, night, whenever – it’s a party. On a Thursday or Friday evening, this bar facilitates great music and a fun crowd – game or no game. Come Saturday or 5 p.m. on NFL Sunday, it’s one of the more unique sports viewing venues out there. People dance on tables, huge bottles with sparklers make multiple appearances, shots get shot (try the banana infused Jameson shot), robots appear out of nowhere, and midgets dressed like oompa loompas may be involved (warning Willy Wonka fans: the oompa loompa men only come out for very special occasions). Oh, and about 25 TVs show every football game from every angle.
Needless to say, don’t come here expecting mellow, but to “cure” that Saturday night hangover or get that last ounce of partying in before the week begins. Bounce puts the “ounce” in “make that a 24 ounce.” Do not roll up to the door expecting to waltz in – there is a door policy and a list. Louboutins or Gucci loafers are overkill, but in the same breath, don’t roll wrong or they will turn you away.
In case you need a visual, here you go:
TVs take up every inch of wall space so coverage is solid; a bookie’s paradise. Management also does a very good job of taking channel surfing requests.
Rarely do they play the game audio so be prepared to watch Peyton throw a TD accompanied by a Rick Ross, Calvin Harris or Rihanna backing track. If you want a seat, get there early and stake out some bar space. Otherwise, table reservations are required, and while the prices aren’t Provocateur steep, they’re a far cry from $0.25 wings.
64 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10003
Strictly SEC and ACC here. Plenty of dudes in COCKS hats eye young sweet things who haven’t figured out that NYC has more to offer than a Cock on a Bud Light binge. In fact, the success of places like Ainsworth and Bounce stems in part from women wanting something more than what they find at bars like the Pourhouse.
Missing that college frat house vibe? Then step right up to the Pourhouse where every Saturday, droves of youngsters longing for fall days of tailgating, football dates and frat parties pile in like sardines. The food is straightforward bar fare – no goat cheese or Brussels sprouts to be found here. Drink specials instigate a cheap buzz. It can get super crowded and only two toilets service a max capacity of hundreds. While mostly a jaw clenching hassle, sometimes the inconvenience ends in bathroom line romance.
The one quasi-upscale part of the place is the sky lit lounge in the back room where you can reserve a decently large area for your crew to watch whatever game you’d like. While never to be confused with a Bounce banquet, it is the best way to watch the game and avoid the masses.
Given the amount of money Pourhouse pulls in, upgrading to better TVs seems like a no brainer. There are a ton of TVs but many of them look like they have been there since the ‘90s. The projector TVs are large but might be from the ‘80s. The good news is that EVERYONE there is focused on the games; observing crowd reactions can make up for a crap vantage point. They generally play the sound of the feature game of the moment but aren’t afraid to throw on some REM, Tim McGraw or Charlie Daniels Band.
234 W 4th St
New York, NY 10014
In an ideal world, the patrons here would amount to the following: all of the interesting people who reside in or near the West Village, consider themselves too intellectual or hip to own TVs, but still like to take a few hours a week to nurture the nostalgia of watching the team they grew up watching with Dad. Maybe a little of that exists here, but otherwise, expect a majority of fairly preppy folk who sort of want to pay attention to the score but also just like hanging in the West Village. Generally the crowd is pretty good looking but in a Lacoste, not Tom Ford, kind of way.
Cozy. A neighborhood bar feel. When The Windsor gets crowded (and that can happen pretty quickly since it’s tiny) there can be a ton of energy. Because most there are not diehard sports fans it is a fairly social, talkative scene. The games serve as amuse-bouches, not entrees. In warm weather, the windows prop open for a nice outdoorsy environment. Count on nearby Mexican stalwart Diablo Royale to send through a few tequila-fueled revelers.
On a quiet Monday night, kosher. On a crowded Saturday afternoon, the games can be tough to watch because of the fairly small screens. The good news is the place is so small that it’s easy to catch at least a corner angle of just about every available monitor.
Note: A sister outlet recently opened at the Gansevoort Hotel on Park Avenue South. It’s much larger but like its sibling, fairly bland.
Others to Watch
The success of Ainsworth and Bounce in broadening the sports bar format has spurred a lot of copycats. Nightlife veterans across the city are scouring the real estate market to find bars to take over and convert into “destination” sports bars. While most will likely struggle, here are a few establishments with a decent chance at seeing next season:
American Whiskey (247 W 30th St): The owners of Village Pourhouse intuited that their crowd was migrating to higher end places as their college years slowly faded into the past. Opening American Whiskey was a natural next step. Imagine the SEC/ACC crowd in a nicer space with better food and booze. So you went to UGA and are under 26? Village Pourhouse is for you. Getting to an age where COCKS hats make your stomach turn? Try American Whiskey.
Suite 36 (16 W 36th St): “Owners of a famous NYC strip club open up a brand new multi-level sports bar” – a headline that would get most men’s attention. Unfortunately, the location is difficult because it’s kind of in no man’s land and too far from Madison Square Garden to get pre- and post-game traffic. They are trying the Bounce/Ainsworth method of high-energy music during the games but it doesn’t seem to be working. On a recent Sunday several promoter’s tables brimmed with people sitting around looking bored and staring at a full bottle of cheap vodka.
The Chester (18 Ninth Ave): Paige Management strikes again. They have been looking for a Meatpacking location for a while and finally found something. They are pushing the envelope even further by making this an upscale dining establishment that happens to have a few TVs around. Let’s say you made the rookie mistake of making a date for a Monday night when your favorite NFL team is playing, this is the place for you. Get a table in the back because there is a nice big TV that you can easily see without being too obvious. Early reports are that the food is incredible. Given its prime location, this one should be a huge hit.
Old RDV Space (409 E 13th Street): Word on the nightlife circuit is that the crew running newly opened VIP Room NYC and Beaumarchais is going to open a sports bar in the old RDV space. Given their penchant for partying, assume this will be high energy. The European influence may mean that it focuses on soccer, which would fill a big void in the city. Watching English Premiere League or Champions League generally requires a trip to the local Irish pub. Maybe this becomes an upscale alternative. Since these matches are typically in the morning NYC time, a party starting around 10 a.m. on Saturday could be a nice lead into Beaumarchais brunch. They may score big.