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Big Shots

The Perfect 10 College Sports Bars

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Portrait of a pyramid of shot glasses
Manny Millan/SI

What's the best place to catch March Madness? Or a game with, say, Sharon Stone? Last week our parent mag unveiled its top sports bars, the joints that cater foremost to serious sports fans. SIOC assembled its own campus-exclusive list, in which the food, the frills and the froth take a backseat to the Big Game

1. The Houndstooth, ALABAMA
1300 University Blvd., Tuscaloosa
We're on a mission from God -- or our editor -- to embark on a pub crawl that will take us to the top three bars on this list. It's 1,079 miles from Tuscaloosa to Columbia to Stillwater. We've got three days, a Toyota Corolla and half the fruit basket from the Holiday Inn. And yes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses. Hit it.

Alas, the 'Tooth is closed. As we peer through the dusty windows of this shanty of a college sports bar, it appears the joint hasn't been aired out for months. "They'll be open by game time," a passerby assures us. "Fridays they're open till dawn, so give 'em some time."

Sure enough, by tip-off we are nestled up to the island bar. A rump is glued to every seat, and all eyes are on a big screen showing 'Bama-Ole Miss. Patrons pump their fists at every rebound and berate the refs with an intensity reserved in most places for late March. The four pool tables, dart board and Golden Tee machine sit unattended. Bear Bryant's stare is unavoidable: Artful renderings of the coaching icon adorn every wall. In 1982 the Bear hung up his houndstooth cap, and six years later this drinking shrine was erected.

Imagine a football Saturday: The 'Tooth opens at 8 a.m. The patio is packed with pregamers watching the belles cruise the Strip. Inside, the dingy three-room bar is jammed with fans tuned to one of the 27 TVs -- including several in the bathrooms, thus providing wall-to-stall coverage. There's no food, no frills, and it is perfect.

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2. Harpo's, MISSOURI
29 South 10th St., Columbia
An eight-hour journey from Tuscaloosa to Columbia stretches into OT thanks to two missed exits, but it's shortened -- in spirit -- by that which we call "iPod." (Road tip: "Shuffle" is to the iPod what Taco Bell is to late-night snacking. Wilco: great for sing-alongs. Coldplay: not so much.)

When we arrive, Harpo's -- where staffers say Larry Eustachy enjoyed his Last Sipper before famously being photographed with kissy coeds in 2003 -- is singing to the tune of pro football. (If it were a college football weekend, the behind-the-counter mirror would be lined with Post-its from people scrounging for last-minute tickets.) We take in two conference championship games and a heap of chicken wings.

Harpo's is best known as the repository of uprights taken from Memorial Stadium when the Tigers win a "goalpost game." If Mizzou pulls off a monumental upset, fans lug the yellow dinosaur some 15 blocks, deposit it out front, and bartenders break from serving Black and Golds (Jäger and Goldschläger) to dish out over-the-counter hacksaws so everyone can get a piece. Postgame hardware store anarchy: Brilliant! We regretfully hacksaw ourselves from the bar and plod onward.

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3. Eskimo Joe's, OKLAHOMA STATE
501 West Elm St., Stillwater
We roll into Eskimo Joe's on Bedlam Night (OSU is visiting in-state rival Oklahoma) and are greeted by the blinding beams of a hundred-odd grins. The surlier half of our traveling party inquires, "What's with all the smiling?"

"Even [men's basketball coach] Eddie Sutton smiles when he's in here," a bartender promises. "What's not to smile about?" Sutton wouldn't crack a smile if he were official joke tester for Chris Rock, but we can't help but believe the employee, who then describes Smiles 101, owner Stan Clark's mandatory smile-making class. Tight-faced OSU alum Barry Sanders? "He comes in when he's in town. He smiles." Comedian David Spade? "That's the word." The bartender slings us some cheese fries -- the menu specialty, endorsed in 1990 by then President George H.W. Bush -- and, surprise, we're all smiles. Smiles, however, turn upside down as a packed house watches the 'Boys get trounced. Crawl's over. But not this list. Herewith the rest of the best college sports bars.

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4. State Street Brats, WISCONSIN
603 State St., Madison
This Madison institution is a favorite of Sharon Stone, and it was even mentioned by John Kerry in a campaign speech last fall (though he name-dropped the ball by calling it "Main Street Brats"). If Bratman, the seven-foot costumed mascot, is blocking your view of the game, head upstairs and watch the 10-foot screen from stadium seating. CHASER: Ten years back, not-so-funnyman Tom Arnold and Wisco kid Chris Farley bellied up to the bar. Farley's aunt says that fans swamped her nephew and pretty much avoided Arnold, even as Farley tried to introduce him.

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5. Bear's Lair Pub, CAL
2475 Brancroft Way, Berkeley
Bears-backers can drown their sorrows -- see: '04 Holiday Bowl -- in Big Bears Quarts. After football games, win or lose, the Cal band raises spirits by stopping by and playing the Cal Drinking Song. Mascot Oski the Bear used to funnel two steins through his eye hole, until he was carded by an overzealous bouncer. Pissed off, he stopped coming. The bar's owners have been trying to get him back ever since. CHASER: Various nonrev athletes, such as rugby and water polo players, have been known to guest-bartend. Robin Williams, Talking Heads, Green Day and No Doubt have all performed here.

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6. McDuffy's Sports Bar, ARIZONA STATE
230 West 5th St., Tempe
With 84 TVs, McDuffy's is like a sports Caligula -- there's hot action everywhere. It's shown every March Madness game since opening in 1988 and also broadcasts Minnesota and North Dakota hockey for winter transplants. The bar becomes the unofficial headquarters for fans of ASU's opponents -- The Best Damn Sports Show Period taped a segment in '04 with Iowa fans packing the place. CHASER: Exacta, perfecta, you betcha: Play the ponies and pooches, as Mötley Crüe front man Vince Neil did in 2000 at this Off-Track Betting oasis.

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7. Esso Club, CLEMSON
129 Old Greenville Hwy. #1, Clemson
Fill up at the converted filling station turned tailgating rest stop, a Hail Mary pass outside the stadium. Saddle up to a bar made of old wooden seats from Death Valley and order up a few Tiger Paws after every Clemson score. CHASER: Brent Musburger, the inspiration for the Brent Musburger Drinking Game ("Pardner"=one gulp; "It's a footrace"=bottoms up), calls this his favorite watering hole.

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8. The Swamp, FLORIDA
1642 West University Ave., Gainesville
On football Saturdays the bar in the center of campus is TailGator central, serving about 4,000 fans. During the week the Swamp is known for being frat-friendly -- unlike former football coach Ron Zook. CHASER: After an appearance on campus last month, porn legend Ron Jeremy dropped by the Swamp to slam a few cocktails while sporting one of the bar's BIG MAN ON CAMPUS T-shirts.

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9. Scorekeepers, MICHIGAN
310 Maynard St., Ann Arbor
"S'keepers," not the Touchdown Café, is our preferred spot to follow all teams maize-and-blue. When the football team is at home, Hail to the Victors is sung more boisterously here than by the notoriously temperate fans in the Big House. CHASER: During Monday Night Football the bar hosts a Madden tournament, with the final played on a projection screen.

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2000 South Mission St., Mount Pleasant
CMU, UM and MSU fans gather at this three-tiered bar equipped with TVs in the bathrooms and individual speakers at every table. CHASER: What's better than MNF Madden tournaments? Paper football "flickball" tournaments at halftime of MNF.

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Issue date: February 10, 2005

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