MARCH MADNESS and its cures

A bit about 300 local sports bars

By Jim Duncan

March Madness refers to single elimination basketball tournaments, particularly the NCAA Men’s Tournament,  which this year begins on March 13 and runs through April 2. The name is reinforced by several statistical legends: 1. The opening games played on Thursday and Friday are Las Vegas’ busiest non-holiday weekdays. 2. The Wednesday before the first game is the most popular day in America for medical procedures, like vasectomies, that require two days of bed rest afterwards. 3. Workplaces across America are hard hit each year by “calling in sick” on the days
when games are played nonstop for more than 12 straight hours.

With many games playing at the same time, the early rounds are also a big draw for sports bars. These are a relatively new genre of eating and drinking establishments that include multiple televisions for viewing games. There are two different historical accounts of the origin of sports bars. Most attribute it to Legends in Long Beach,
California, which was opened in 1979 by former Los Angeles Ram’s lineman Dennis Harrah. It was filled with memorabilia like Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and Indy race cars suspended from the ceiling. Legends also had multiple satellite feeds of games no one could find on cable TV at the time. Another claim for oldest sports bar is the wind-grieved Palermo’s in St. Louis. It was originally a hot dog stand located across the street from Sportsman’s Park, where the Cardinals and Browns used to play. After Prohibition in 1927, it opened as a tavern with baseball memorabilia.

Sports bars have taken the metro, particularly the northern and western suburbs, by storm. Most are reliable sources
of multiple types of draft beers, large burgers, chicken wings and tenders, onion rings, fries and nachos. These are some of the most popular – Hy-Vee Market Grille (some 200 locations in Iowa and adjacent states), Saint’s (4041 Urbandale and 87 N.E. Carefree Lane, Waukee), Quinton’s (506 E. Grand), Buffalo Wild Wings (Jordan Creek Town Center, Southgate Shopping Center and Haymarket Square), Rookie’s (2180 N.W. 156th St., Clive), 1908 Draught House (1320 E. Hickman Road, Waukee, 8789 Northpark Drive, Johnston, 409 Court Ave., 196 50th, West Des Moines), Beerhouse Restaurant and Sports Pub (4810 N.W. 86th, Urbandale), Thunderhead (1325 S.W. Oralabor Road, Ankeny), Benchwarmers (705 S. Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny), Sports Page Grill (Pella, Indianola, Winterset, Fort Dodge and Ankeny), Cabaret Sports Bar & Grille (2785 N. Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny), Twin Peaks (4570 University Ave., West Des Moines), Bar Louie (7105 Mills Civic Parkway), Chicken Coop (12725 Meredith Drive, Urbandale and Normandy Plaza, West Des Moines). Fletcher Full Service Kitchen + Bar (1802 N. Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny), Whiskey House (2510 S.W. White Birch Drive, Ankeny), Down Under Bar + Grill (8350 Hickman, Clive), Wobbly Boots Roadhouse (1301 N.W. 114th St., Clive), Spectators Sports Bar + Grill (3200 Adventureland Drive, Altoona), The Other Place (12401 University Ave., Clive), Legends American Grill (8460 Birchwood Court, Johnston, 50th and Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines, and 3rd and Court Avenue), Francie’s (2100 Wakonda View Drive), Johnny’s Hall of Fame (302 Court Ave.), Barn Town Brewing (9500 University, West Des Moines), and Gerri’s (232 E 30th St.).

Sports bars are reliable sources for big burgers.

Some places have special food and fandom niches. Hy-Vee Market Grilles are connected to supermarkets and all their amenities. They serve all-day breakfast. Legends upgrades its menu with crab cakes, walleye and Creekstone steaks. Thunderhead has pot roast, chicken fried steak and halibut. The Fletcher adds hummus, osso bucco and charcuterie. Johnny’s Hall of Fame, Hagar’s Manhattan Grill and Jethro’s all name sandwiches after local sports stars. The Keg Stand (3530 Westown Parkway, West Des Moines) is the area’s top soccer bar, particularly for Arsenal fans and Outlaws (supporters of the USA men’s and women’s teams). They will open early for games and breakfast. They are also popular with Cyclone fans.

The Hall (111 S. 11th St., West Des Moines) is the most eclectic in its food offerings with a dozen or so food trucks rotating the menu and 54 beers on tap. Taco Hangover (265 50th St., West Des Moines and 3701 86th St., Urbandale) offers multiple body parts in tortillas and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Saison Kitchen + Pub (6611 University Ave., Windsor Heights) specializes in frites and mussels. Nick’s (1106 Army Post Road and 5465 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines) is famous for its Chicago style Italian beef and breaded pork tenderloins. It serves the latter with waffles and real maple syrup in West Glen. G Migg’s (128 5th St., Valley Junction) shows off on Friday nights with chef’s special seafood offerings, many cooked sous vide.

Jethro’s (seven area locations) is a BBQ above all things but offers cold smoked steaks, humongous sandwiches, Cajun and Creole dishes and award-winning wings that are both smoked and fried. Court Avenue Brewing Company (309 Court Ave.) similarly offers steaks and Louisiana foods. Dino’s Bar & Grill (5962 Ashworth Road, West Des Moines) is a cozy bar with an excellent Italian menu, including Sicilian fries that dazzle. Orlondo’s (4337 Park Ave.) is similar with pizza, grinders and cavatelli. Seasonal produce is grown on-site and sourced from farmers markets. Irina’s (2301 Rocklyn Drive, Urbandale) is popular with Bucs hockey fans and Russians. Lamb racks are as good as any in town. Shashlik, stroganoff, and chicken Kiev that leaks butter draw fans, as does the best-in-Iowa vodka collection.

Breaded pork tenderloins, like this one from Keg Stand, are favorites with central Iowa fans.

Front Row (9956 Swanson Blvd., Clive) is the No. 1 Hawkeye partisan joint. They offer bus trips to games, free “all you can eat breakfast” on weekends and prime smoked steak nights on Monday and Thursday. Cub fans can dominate any bar in town, but the best dining bargains are found at the Cub Club in Principal Park.

Quijano’s (1930 S.E. Sixth St.) is a sports bar that specializes in deep fried flour tacos. Gilroy’s Kitchen + Pub + Patio has TVs on its best-in-the-metro patio and in the pub. It was the official pub for the French league of Des Moines during the 2016 European Cup. Their weekend brunch buffet includes their rather famous fried chicken, flank steak, fajitas and double chocolate lava cake, plus corn flake French toast and corned beef hash. Zombie Burger + Drink Lab (East Village, Jordan Creek, Ankeny, Iowa City and Coral Ridge) has the most diverse burger selection and offers a burger mix of prime rib, brisket and short ribs. Pal Joey’s (6224 Grand Ave.) has no menu, just free sandwiches for games, but their ladies’ bathroom is beloved by many. Hagar’s Manhattan Grill (1970 Grand Ave., West Des Moines) adds a full deli menu to the usual sports bar fare.

Two places offer games while watching games. Range Grill + Golf (11865 Hickman Ave., Urbandale) is an all prime steakhouse featuring elk, bison and six simulated golf ranges. Ricochet (594 E. Locust St.) is reminiscent of the Dave & Buster’s chain with unlimited game playing part of the cover charge. ♦

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