It isn't easy
spending the first day of the NCAA tournament in an Irish pub watching 13
consecutive hours of basketball, from noon tip-off to 1 a.m. sign-off, jump
ball to last call. For starters, you need an artful explanation for your
absence from the office. I told my bosses I'd be "looking into the NBA
draft," by which I meant my Newcastle Brown Ale, drawn from a tap.
Next, you have to
find a joint in which it's socially acceptable to hold down a bar stool for 13
consecutive hours. That bar is Vaughan's Public House, half a block from the
Hartford Civic Center, home arena of the UConn Huskies, whose fans evidently
put the AA in NCAA. "They're boozers," says Johnny Vaughan, Dublin-born
proprietor of the pub that bears his name. "Our door swings open at five
o'clock on game nights and doesn't swing shut again for 15 minutes."
On Thursday, five
o'clock arrived at noon, as it always does on the first day of the tournament,
the best day of the year for a sports fan to play hooky. TGIT.
As Greg Gumbel
settled in at his anchor desk, I settled in at mine, a 25-foot mahogany bar
imported from Ireland. Three overhead TVs lit the beer taps, which in turn lit
the lunch patrons. At the bar, as on the bracket sheet, one round leads to
As the games
ebbed and flowed, office workers alternately crowded and abandoned the bar all
day, so that it seemed to swell and contract like the bellows of a bagpipe. Tom
Steed fled his office at Prudential around 2:30 when he read on the Internet
that Pacific had taken Boston College into overtime. The 42-year-old systems
analyst ducked into Vaughan's with two coworkers. That's where I found him
systematically analyzing a pint of Harp. "Two years ago," said Steed,
"we went to get a quick beer and catch up on the scores. When we walked
out, we ran into our boss on the street. She asked where we'd been, and one of
my buddies said, 'We just gave blood at the Red Cross.'"
businessmen came for lunch and stayed for dinner. "If they're on the fence,
we encourage them to stay," Vaughan explained. "If it's cold and rainy
outside, that's a win for us." Thursday was frigid, so when Jody Poduje
blew in at two for the second half of the BC game, he was persuaded to stay for
Marquette vs. Alabama, Tennessee vs. Winthrop and UCLA vs. Belmont. He finally
abandoned his post just before George Washington vs. UNC-Wilmington went into
OT, ending an impressive lunchtime-to-crunchtime run on the stool next to
regional manager for a business-services company, Poduje arrived as a stranger,
left as a friend. In parting he said, "This has been one of the most
enjoyable afternoons of my life."
I didn't have the
heart to tell him that it was now 9:15 in the "afternoon," but then a
pub is as timeless as a church, which it resembles, with its stained glass and
wooden pews and priestly pints of Guinness ringed by clerical collars of
On the Saturday
of the Big East tournament Vaughan's sold 10 pints of Guinness every minute for
six straight hours even though--or possibly because-- UConn had been eliminated
the day before.
Over my shoulder
stood Justin Tripp, a Lego executive who was born in South Africa, raised in
England and moved to the U.S. 18 months ago. "This is the best day for
drinking and watching sport in America?" he asked. There followed a litany
of rugby anecdotes illustrating a central theme: American sports fans are, on
the whole, a lily-livered lot.