Downtown pubs offers plenty of games on TV, but few 24/7 sports bars
Downtown Minneapolis was somewhat lively on a recent weekend in December with a cadre of shoppers patrolling the skyways. The mood at the retail outlets was collectively better than at local establishments showing the local football team on screens throughout the city.
About 20 people sat around the bar at Spike’s Sports Bar & Grill at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis during the third quarter of the Minnesota Vikings game against the Chicago Bears. Several of the bar’s 20 screens were tuned to the game, including the 130-inch high-definition television hotel officials believe is Downtown’s largest.
It’s one of several amenities at Spike’s, which is owned and operated by the Hyatt. A half-dozen of its booths also have mini-televisions on which people can use their own controls to decide whether to watch football, basketball, hockey and/or whatever else happens to be on.
It’s one of the few true sports bars in Downtown, especially on the south side, and it draws not only Downtown workers but also travelers.
“If you want to find the [Detroit] Lions game, you can find it. If you want to watch the Arizona Cardinals game, you can find it,” says Katie Warburton, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. “It’s a great place to catch the game of your choice.”
Out-of-town fans were the only ones with much to cheer about that Sunday. People sipped at their drinks, waiting for something good to happen. But the quiet was rarely interrupted, and then mostly by fans grumbling at the latest Brad Johnson interception. One exception was a Tennessee Titans fan sitting in one of a half-dozen booths fitted with small televisions with individual channel surfing.
“I can’t believe he made it,” the fan said of a game-winning, 60-yard field goal that allowed his team to upset the Indianapolis Colts.
True sports bars lacking Downtown
Spike’s is one of the few Downtown bars dedicated almost solely to sports. Warburton, a die-hard sports fan who has lived in the area for less than two years, is surprised at just how few there are Downtown.
Whether due to a disappointing Vikings season, holiday shopping needs or the onset of winter weather, a walk through several Downtown establishments that same Sunday revealed few patrons had stopped in to watch the game at most establishments.
At Brit’s, a popular hangout during the soccer season, a handful of people sat at the bar watching the Vikings commit several turnovers, turning a close 7-6 game at halftime into a 21-6 deficit late in the third quarter. And as the game was mercifully coming to an end, a smattering of loyal fans were looking on at Hooter’s on Block E — but just as many tables there were empty.
Earlier in the afternoon, several hot spots along Washington Avenue inside the Warehouse District, including Champps Americana, Rosen’s Bar & Grill, Old Chicago and the Loon Caf/, revealed plenty of televisions tuned to football, but a dearth of fans. That may be why many of those establishments don’t classify themselves as sports bars.
“It’s hard to classify us as strictly a sports bar,” said Mike Setterholm, general manager at Rosen’s, in a telephone interview. “We’re a bar and restaurant that has TVs.”
While he acknowledged that business is better when there are games and events at Target Center and the Metrodome, he said the hangout’s food and atmosphere make the difference. If people come in to watch sports on Rosen’s 13 televisions, that’s more a bonus.
“We always have sports on TV,” Setterholm said. “It’s something you can have on TV that you don’t have to have the sound on for. … Obviously, it’s busier on game day than a nongame day.”
Even Hubert’s Bar & Restaurant along Chicago Avenue located kitty-corner to the Metrodome, doesn’t see itself as a typical sports bar. Its 17 televisions are constantly tuned into sports, and bar owners have tried to gain a loyal following from sports fans, but it’s been easier to attract business from Hennepin County Medical Center staff, loyal neighborhood residents and fans on the way to the Dome.
“It’s not really a place to go to watch a game, and it never has been. We live on the Twins, the Vikings and the Gophers,” said Dan Bell, general manager. “People don’t come here to watch the game. They come here to go to the game.”
Activity picking up
While bars with sports themes have been somewhat lacking Downtown, some say the increasing residential population, the new Minnesota Twins stadium and a plethora of condo projects in various stages of development might be causing the dearth to disappear.
Viking Matt Birk and partners recently opened Matty B’s Urban Bar & Restaurant along Washington Avenue with a more bar-like theme than its supper club companion in St. Paul. And Downtown resident Ryan Brevig is co-owner of The Loop, an upscale establishment catering to sports fans in the North Loop.
Someone visiting Chicago could find a sports bar tailored to nearly any team in the country. That sort of concept has been missing from downtown Minneapolis for years, said Brevig, himself a Downtown resident and true sports nut.
With its nine big-screen plasma televisions; wood floors, bar tops and tables; and its location a few blocks from the new Minnesota Twins stadium and near several condo projects, he’s excited about the opportunity that lies ahead.
“We’ll hit a sweet spot that’s been missing down there for a while,” he said. “We really wanted to create a place where people could come and sit for an entire Saturday or Sunday afternoon.”
Another establishment that might be gaining some foothold is the NBA City Restaurant. The basketball-themed bar inside Target Center has done well since it opened when the Minnesota Timberwolves are on tap. But it took longer for ownership to convince fans that the bar and restaurant is, in fact, open for lunch and dinner and on weekends when there are no events at the arena.
To gain some notoriety, NBA City has run an ad campaign during the NFL season trying to sell fantasy football fans on using its 36 high-definition televisions and free wireless capabilities for tracking their teams. While it’s an unfinished battle, the strategy has been successful in slowly increasing attendance, said Jim Stanley, CEO of NBA City.
“We’re making progress slowly and surely,” he said. “People love their old haunts.”
What Stanley believes will ultimately help as much as wi-fi and televisions are a friendly wait-staff and good, quality food. During NFL game days, NBA City has featured “food bars of the week” with buffets featuring different offerings such as tacos one week and brats the next.
“I want [my success] to stand alone on my food and beverage,” Stanley said. “My challenge is trying to be a sports bar but also trying to compete as a restaurant.”