March Madness is nearly here! Whether your alma mater made the Big Dance or you’re participating in your office pool, you may want to watch some college basketball in a sports bar. So here are eight sports bars, or bars where you can watch sports, that aren’t chains. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Buffalo Wild Wings (I watched the 2004–05 Illinois Fighting Illini undefeated men’s basketball team lose the 2005 National Championship game to North Carolina at a Buffalo Wild Wings), but it’s usually more fun to enjoy a game at a neighborhood bar.
Some of the best sports bars are near stadiums for good reason: They’re able to handle large crowds on game day, so a slightly busy March afternoon won’t pose any issues. The bar closest to Guaranteed Rate Field (we’re not counting the bar attached to the stadium, since it’s only open on game days) is great for the Bridgeport resident who can’t wait until Opening Day. It’s ideal for the fan of Irish pours and Irish egg rolls.
Another pick tangentially related to baseball, D’Agostino’s is old-school in the best possible way. The pizza place is a few blocks west of Wrigley Field, so it knows how to handle unruliness of all ages. The pizza is good; there’s a decent number of TVs. If you’re not happy with the setting, just walk back towards Wrigley, and you have another few dozen options. My favorite Cubs bar on Clark is Full Shilling Public House, but they don’t open until later in the afternoon (unless the Cubs have a day game), so you may miss some early games.
This Little Italy Irish pub on Taylor Street will be playing all the tournament games with sound on, which is great and potentially a sound issue in the first round when multiple games are on at once. But I’m sure they’ll figure it out! The space is large enough for multiple games without sound bleed. Take advantage of their 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday happy hour and outdoor beer garden. The beergarden also has TVs.
The outlier on this list, Five Star Bar is part neighborhood bar, part punk rock pool destination, part sports bar. The Chicago Avenue spot may look more inviting to a music scene lifer than a sports diehard, but for the person who appreciates a good draft list, a good draft happy hour (half off Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.), DJs that spin seven-inch punk classics and Chicago sports, it’s a very fine destination. They don’t open until 4 p.m. on weekdays, but if you’re the kind of college basketball fan who needs to see every minute of action, you’re probably not going to Five Star anyway. Somewhat related, Five Star is a great bar to watch Bears games.
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Chicago’s best old-school soccer bar occasionally plays WWE Premium Live Events (formerly known as Pay-Per-Views), NFL games and, obviously, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s mostly known for getting way more traffic during soccer matches, but it’s one of the best all-around sports bars in the city. It has a classic British pub atmosphere, a massive draft list (they have 39 taps and usually only one is dedicated to Miller Lite or other super-popular domestics), knowledgeable staff, and yes, TVs with lots of sports on. And since they’re first and foremost a soccer bar, they’re open early so you can catch all the NCAA March action.
The DePaul bar that’s been around since 1933 on Webster Street caters more to DePaul alumni and Lincoln Park locals than students. As an alumni, I appreciate it more with each passing year. Sure, there’s the much larger McGee’s across the street, but Kelly’s is the bar with part of the old DePaul Blue Demons’ basketball court on the outside of the bar. It’s the 1975 to 1999 logo, the demon sitting on top of a basketball hoop…the logo DePaul used when they used to regularly appear in the NCAA Tournament.
If you want a bro-y but not too bro-y option in North Center on Irving Park Road, here you go. The staff is nice, it’s a sports bar that’s not a “sports bar” and they’ve got 21 TVs to watch pretty much any/every game. Go on Monday night for half-price pizza and any time the University of Iowa has a game (they’re an Iowa bar).
Once again, sports bars near stadiums are some of the best sports bars. Before or after a Bulls or Hawks game, The Ogden is packed. During March Madness, they open early, so you can watch every second of NCAA action. If you’re looking for a SPORTS BAR SPORTS BAR, here you go.
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