By Marc Antoine Godin
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
Hockey season is upon us at last, which means it’s time to start planning those trips to see your favourite team in action on the road. Been dying to see this city, or that part of North America? To climb into an intimate bubble with a couple of buddies to escape the workaday drudgery for a little while? If it feels real, do it.
But once you’ve made it to Buffalo, or Columbus, or Dallas, what happens next? More to the point: where are you going to eat?
To that end, here is the first edition of The Athletic’s NHL Food and Drink Travel Guide. Because if there’s one thing hockey reporters love at least as much as the game they cover, it’s ferreting out cool spots for food and libation in the cities they travel to. What follows is a compendium of the places we’ve discovered over the years.
It may be that you live in one of the league’s 31 cities, and if so it’s exceedingly likely you have a thousand and one recommendations to improve this guide and a dozen other places you’d send a friend before you’d consider those listed here. Fine. But there are two things you need to know about NHL beat writers.
Thing the first: they are creatures of habit and routine. You can verify that statement with anyone who works at the nearest Marriott property. As a result, the fact they don’t typically return to a city on more than a couple of occasions in any given season – and even when they do it’s usually the night before a game – sure bets are generally held in higher regard than untested restaurants. Well, unless your name is Fluto Shinzawa (of The Athletic Boston) and your jam is trying obscure holes-in-the-wall in the neverending quest to titillate your palate.
The corollary of the first point is this: steak, pasta and burgers are recurring themes. We’ve had to make a concerted effort to look beyond those options, and you know what they say about journalists and effort. So take what follows in the spirit in which it was intended, and with a grain of salt (but no more than that, goodness knows restaurant food is salty enough). And if we happen to take a swipe at your town, your rink or your team . . . hey, you’ll get over it.
Here’s hoping our recommendations can see you right if you happen to be walking around a rink you’re visiting for the first time. Who knows, you may run across a hockey writer or two.
BOSTONg M. Cooper / USA TODAY Sports)
It’s always fun to ship back up to Boston, where there is an abundance of great places to find proper sustenance. If you’re a reporter, the journey begins in the Bruins’ home rink. The TD Garden actually has a decent pre-game meal in the bowels of the building – it’s comfortably in the top third of the NHL – and stands apart thanks to the incredible dessert cart that’s set up in the press box.
The Bruins’ kitchen also mirrors the club itself: they raise their game in the postseason. If the Bs make the Conference Final, or better yet the Cup Final, the commissary has been known to break out the lobster and shrimp platters. And why not, really? Whenever they play the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs, one gets the sense the Bruins are eager to take the historical rivalry beyond the ice and into the kitchens. It’s pretty great, but let’s not kid ourselves, you’ll find the best eats a little further afield.
To hoist a couple: There are tons of pubs throughout Boston, each neighbourhood has no shortage of options. For hockey travel purposes, however, let’s turn to the Bell in Hand Tavern, a 200-year-old spot a stone’s throw from Faneuil Hall. The joint bills itself as the oldest tavern in the Americas, and it’s touristy. But it’s also a microcosm of the Boston experience for those who don’t get to the city often. A few doors down you’ll find Hennessy’s, where beat writers have been known to have a good time. For something entirely different, you can try Alibi at the Liberty Hotel, a place built inside an old penitentiary. It’s very trendy, and absolutely gorgeous. Be warned, it’s a bit pricier than your average bar.
To watch the game: There are tons of sports bars in and around TD Garden, but our choice is The Fours, notably for the quality of its pub grub. It’s a hugely popular spot, needless to say. There are also multiple options near Fenway Park like the Baseball Tavern, Tony C’s and the Cask ‘n Flagon. They’ll have the game on, and likely more than one. But be forewarned: Bruins fans can be anuses.
To grab a quick bite: If you’re catching a game early in the season, or toward the end of the schedule and into the playoffs, the odds are strong you’ll have a beautiful sunny afternoon and the option of eating al fresco. It’s the perfect time for a lobster roll, and one of the all-time classics can be purchased at James Hook & Co., on Atlantic Avenue. Up near Boston Common, Sam LaGrassa’s sandwich shop doesn’t look like much, but it’s a go-to spot. It’s a venerable institution, and it’s only open at lunch time. If you have a sweet tooth get thee to the North End, Boston’s Little Italy, where you’ll find the legendary Mike’s Pastry. You’ll need to walk it off, but there’s lots of interesting places to see at the waterfront nearby.
To eat a proper dinner: We just talked about the North End, which is crawling with Italian eateries. Hockey fans will doubtless be drawn to Tresca, owned by former Bruins defenceman Ray Bourque (you may run across him there, in fact). But the number one, beat-writer approved Italian place isn’t in the North End, it’s just south of Boston Common. We’re talking about Davio’s. You’ll find pasta on the menu, but really it’s all about the meat. It’s not cheap, but you need to be prepared to get your wallet out in Boston. If you head up Boylston toward Copley Square, you’ll find a pair of places that seem to be targeting the same clientèle. The Atlantic Fish Company is . . . well, a fish and seafood house. But it also serves a great steak. Two doors down you have Abe & Louie’s, a steakhouse that does a mean fish. You can’t go wrong with Abe & Louie’s, but the Atlantic Fish Company has our vote as the best seafood restaurant in the NHL. Absolutely everything is delicious, starting with the crab cakes and the scallop platter. Again, it puts a hefty dent in the ol’ per diem, but it’s totally worth it.
BUFFALOA friend who hails from Buffalo once described the place to me: “we’re a drinking city with a football problem.” The Bills’ reputation is not the only one to fall on hard times in recent years, it’s pretty much true of the city as a whole. And look, it’s absolutely true the winters can take a bite out of you and that downtown looks scruffy around the edges, but there’s been an unmistakable sense of renewal in the city over the past two or three years. It isn’t the place most people imagine, not any longer.
To hoist a couple: Back in the days when downtown was substantially rougher and the choice of hotels was more limited, we were usually directed to Chippewa Street and a bar called Bada Bing; it was gritty as they come, and has since been demolished to make way for an office tower. But Bada Bing has since reopened in a new location up the street that is (a bit) fancier, and with the same affordable suds. It remains a go-to for anyone who’s been in the hockey business for a while. On our last visit, an influential player agent was swilling beers with a senior NHL executive. There are other places on the same street; SoHo is an excellent option when the weather is nice, mostly because of the expansive patio that sometimes broadcasts games on a giant screen. Lenox Grill, Big Ditch Brewing and Thin Man Brewing are all “places where you can have good food while watching a game, although games won’t necessarily be priorities there,” says The Athletic Buffalo’s Joe Yerdon. If you go to Allentown you’ll find a bunch of cool places on, uh, Allen St.
To watch the game: Ok, so this isn’t exactly blazing a new trail through an untamed frontier, but the best choice here is (716). The sports bar sits on the same block as KeyBank Arena (Or is that HSBC Arena? The First Niagara Center? It’s hard to keep up) and is ideally designed for watching the big game(s) while having some food. The menu has lost a bit of its mojo over the years, but it’s still perfectly fine.
To grab a quick bite: First let’s talk about where not to go. You’re a fan of Buffalo wings and the urge strikes you to visit the place that claims to have invented them? Don’t waste your time at the Anchor Bar. They may have been the first, but their wing game has been comfortably surpassed by other places. You’ll be better off going to the aforementioned Lenox Grill or to Gabriel’s Gate. For a lighter lunch, you’ll find a proper taco at Deep South Tacos on Ellicott St. The ambience is festive enough to make an evening stop as well. “They have a really nice pork belly taco,” says Fluto Shinzawa, our man in Boston. “And an outdoor patio, which you can enjoy four days a year.” For a game-day lunch we’d suggest riding up to Panorama on Seven, which sits atop the Marriott that is kitty-corner from the arena. It might sound surprising to recommend a hotel restaurant, but in this case the kitchen has mastered its craft and the quality to price ratio is eminently defensible.
To eat a proper dinner: When we say Buffalo doesn’t deserve its iffy reputation, we mean in terms of food (among other things). The sheer number of quality tables is surprising. Hutch’s is a classic beat writer hangout even if it’s a bit of a hike to get there. We prefer eating at the bar, in the back of the restaurant. Bacchus, as you’d expect from the name, puts the grape front and centre; its wine list is exhaustive and the menu only marginally less so. This is the sort of place that’s so good the Vancouver Canucks chose it to wine and dine a prospect they had their eye on at the combine a few years ago. Just off Allen St. you’ll find Mothers, another good choice because you’ll be hard-pressed to find more bang for your buck. As for Roost, which is on Niagara St., Yerdon said, “it might just be the best restaurant in the city.” There’s also Toutant, a new entrant on the city’s culinary scene that embodies Buffalo’s new foodie wave and has been drawing rave reviews.
You can still take a tour of derelict buildings in the Motor City. It feels a little voyeuristic to do the circuit of formerly grand buildings that decades of economic downturn have consigned to abandonment. Thankfully, the whole ‘ruin porn’ era is drawing to a close; the city has been reborn in recent years. Sure, it’s still not the safest place in the world after dark (we once had a cop escort us back to the hotel after a game at Joe Louis Arena), but Detroit is on the upswing and it’s a great time to go. Besides, Little Caesar’s Arena, inaugurated in 2017, is one of the absolute best buildings in the league. There’s so much going on in the concourses that some fans stay there to watch the game they paid good money to watch live. Now it’s up to the Red Wings to right the ship, otherwise those seats could stay empty.
To hoist a couple/watch the game: “If you want to have a beer and watch a game, go to Nemo’s. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for it because that was a go-to before games at Tiger Stadium, but it’s great,” said colleague Craig Custance, who is based in Detroit and grew up there. Hockeytown Café, hard by Comerica Park, may not be the best sports bar in town, but it’s laser-focused on the game you’ve come to see. Anyone who’s been to Detroit before and plans to return to Cheli’s, the bar opened by former NHL defenceman Chris Chelios, should take note: the place closed down in November of 2018. On a different note, cocktail aficionados will be well served at Standby; those who prefer whiskey and bourbon should hit the Two James distillery, which has a tasting room in Corktown.
To grab a quick bite: Here’s Custance again: “My favourite lunch spot is Chartreuse Kitchen and Cocktails over by Wayne State. And if this sounds way too foodie and pretentious for you, go to Lafayette or American Coney Island and pick a side between rival Coney dog joints, or get some Detroit-style pizza at any of the Buddy’s Pizza locations. With all due respect, Buddy’s beats Chicago-style deep dish every time.” We’d also recommend Fort Street Galley, a sort of nouveau food fair that features stalls put on by local restaurateurs. If you’re in town early in the season, or in the springtime, go check out the food trucks in Cadillac Square, one of the city’s liveliest places. And if you’re hunkered down near the GM headquarters and the massive hotel that connects to it, you can always fall back on Granite City Food and Brewery. It’s a midwestern chain, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality on offer even if the service was slow.
To eat a proper dinner: Custance always tells people to go to Corktown and check out the range of options for themselves. “You really can’t go wrong. Gold Cash Gold is great. I’m a fan of Bobcat Bonnie’s, mostly because I have a legit Tater Tot problem. Try the truffle tots there.” Selden Standard, which is a little outside downtown, is considered one of the best restaurants in the city. It’s one of USNDTP head coach John Wroblewski’s favourite spots, and it’s a highly creative kitchen that puts veggies and local farmers at the forefront; you’ll eat tapas-style small plates there.
If you take a look around the league, the teams that come up most often as financial basket cases or relocation candidates, whether it’s Ottawa, the Panthers or Arizona, all have something in common: rinks that were built far enough from the beating heart of the community that you can’t really feel the pulse. The BB&T Centre in Sunrise seems to want to cater to everyone . . . and to no one. The Cats’ lack of success on the ice has done little to create fervour in the area, and as a result the economic activity around the building remains non-existent. Actually, that’s not quite true. There’s a fair bit going on business-wise, it’s just that none of it has to do with hockey. We’re referring here to the enormous Sawgrass Mills shopping centre, where you can indulge in some retail therapy. If you want to do so hockey writer style, you’ll pick up a brand name suit (or two) and stock up on undies at the Burlington Coat Factory. Sawgrass is pretty much the only thing around, so you can’t say you weren’t warned.
To hoist a couple: Many hockey writers have a pretty simple strategy whenever the team they cover is in Sunrise. If it’s the second game in a back-to-back and they’re just passing through, odds are they’ll stay in a hotel near the BB&T Centre, in which case TGI Friday’s is pretty much the only game in town. But whenever there’s more time, most will rent a car and stay in nearby Fort Lauderdale, where you’ll find perhaps the most famous oceanside watering hole in the NHL, the Elbo Room. It’s scruffy, and if reporters haven’t exactly succeeded in filling their notepads in the place, that doesn’t mean they don’t have tales to tell about it. The Elbo Room is a legendary establishment that, given what it offers, is fortunate to be such a big draw. For better or worse, it’s where everything happens.
To watch the game: Bokamper’s, named in honour of former Dolphins linebacker Kim Bokamper, is a better class of sports bar. The one in Plantation, which we’ve visited, is about a 15-minute drive from the BB&T Centre. Really quite good.
To grab a quick bite/Eat a proper dinner: Sawgrass Mills offers no shortage of food options even though it’s mostly dominated by chains (P.F. Chang’s, Texas de Brazil, etc.). Bahama Breeze is a solid choice for lunch. Over in Plantation, 15-20 minutes away by car, you’ll find another place tucked into a nondescript shopping centre: Padrino’s. It’s a Cuban place and comes recommended by The Athletic Miami’s George Richards. You might not have the best meal of your life there, but the opportunities to eat authentic Cuban food don’t come along every day. If you’re spending the night in Fort Lauderdale, the options grow exponentially. Anthony’s Runway 84 is one of the better Italian joints in South Florida, and it happens to be right by the airport. If you head down Las Olas Blvd., the city’s main commercial drag, you’ll find a whole mess of places to check out. Our hands-down favourite is the Big City Tavern, which has a varied menu and is relatively affordable given the quality of the fare.
When you pull into town suffice it to say your eyes are not deceiving you; there is a lot of road construction in Montreal these days. As in a lot. You just have to remember to look beyond it. If you don’t have to drive yourself, it will make the stay much simpler. The biggest mistake a visitor to Montreal can make is to limit their search for food options to restaurants downtown; that’s not where you’ll find the highest concentration of top places. There are a few, sure, but to really imbibe the city’s cosmopolitan charm and mishmash of cultures you have to go further afield, into the neighbourhoods.
P.S. The best bagels in the world are made in Montreal, not New York. You’re welcome.
To hoist a couple: The traditional post-game hangout for local hockey scribes is Hurley’s, a classic Irish pub on Crescent St. Scotch enthusiasts will prefer l’Île Noire, on Saint-Denis, a much more Francophone part of the city than Crescent. In the south end of town, the Burgundy Lion does really good beer, and also a brisk business.
To watch the game: Sports bars, which you find everywhere in the U.S., seem to have trouble gaining a foothold in Quebec for some reason. The evidence: the good old Cage aux Sports chain recently rebranded as La Cage and went up-market; it has come a fair distance from its original mission statement. Champs, which used to be the gold standard of sports bars in the city, has turned into a gloomy, grungy place that friends don’t send friends to. The best bet is to go the hybrid route, places where you can watch sports but that aren’t designed around their screens. We’re thinking here of places like Fitzroy or Pub Epoxy. If you’re downtown, McLean’s Pub is usually packed with Canadiens fans. In fact, there are so many places in the centre of the city showing the game that you don’t really need to be in a sports bar, which might explain why the market for such places is drying up. But look, if it’s a Tuesday night and you absolutely have to watch the Rangers and Capitals in a sports bar environment, we’d send you to the down-at-heel Station des Sports on Sainte-Catherine West, for lack of better options.
To grab a bite: Montreal isn’t actually that great a poutine town when you compare it with smaller cities in the province. Friends of yours have been talking up La Banquise? Come on, man. They probably just have fond memories of that time they piled into the place at 3 a.m. after one too many. Do yourself a favour and cross the street, where you’ll find Ma Poule Mouillée and their absolutely transcendental Portuguese-style poutine. There are also a bunch of Frites Alors! locations dotted around the city; they do a perfectly executed Belgian fry, and a more than respectable poutine. And if you were somehow to take a wrong turn on the way back from a Laval Rocket game you might stumble on Paulo et Suzanne, a well-kept secret in a little part of town called Cartierville.
Ok, now for the real food. No trip to Old Montreal is complete without a stop at Olive et Gourmando, particularly if you wander down before the lunchtime rush. You’ll find some of the best sandwiches in Montreal, a mind-blowing homemade flat bread, and an assortment of delicious pastries. People line up for a reason. For pizza, the various locations of No. 900 do tasty Neapolitan-style pies. Folks have descended on the chain like a tidal wave . . . and its popularity is amply justified. You’ll find one on Peel St. If you happen to be in the financial district and have a hankering for a British pub classic, pop into Brit & Chips. They’ll serve you a haddock in maple syrup batter, or hake that’s breaded with Orange Crush
To eat a proper dinner: There are tons of great restaurants in Montreal, so let’s run down the list by doing a geographical loop of the city. We can start on the stretch of Notre-Dame St. that runs between Griffintown and Saint-Henri and is home to a raft of terrific places. Two tables we particularly like: Elena, a scrumptious yet unpretentious Italian place, and Foxy, a grill room that’s a perfect place to warm up on a cold winter evening. Michael Russo, The Athletic’s estimable Minnesota-based writer, likes to eat in the Old Port and says “I don’t go to Montreal without going to Da Emma.” Heading further east, we next go to Saint-Laurent Blvd. near the Place des Arts. There you’ll find Bouillon Bilk, which is not only one of the city’s top dinner destinations, it’s one of the best lunch places too. As in: close your eyes and point to anything on the menu. Even further east, in a part of town that’s terra incognita for many Montreal Anglos, you’ll find an excellent little Parisian style bistro, Au Petit Extra. It’s a classic if you’re a Montrealer, but might provide a little frisson of culture shock if you’re coming from out of town. Immediately north, in the Plateau Mont-Royal district, there’s Maison Publique, a gastro-pub with an inventive and daring wine list; you’ll eat well, and it’s a little different from the usual high-end experience (also, they’ll have the game on; the owner is a die-hard Bruins fan). Looping back toward Saint-Laurent, the unofficial dividing line between east and west, you can hit Pastaga, where chef Martin Juneau has brought his take on Québécois cuisine to a much higher plane than the typical working-class grub the term typically conjures. You can eat in the actual kitchen, too.
The Senators aren’t just moribund on the ice. They’re also at the bottom of the league when it comes to in-game experience, thanks primarily to an aging, out-of-the-way building that is surrounded by a more or less complete absence of life. Here’s hoping the club can get that new building built in LeBreton Flats, or somewhere else that’s closer to downtown. And for that to happen it probably also needs a new owner. Here’s hoping for that too.
To hoist a couple: If you can’t wait to get back into Ottawa proper to slake your thirst, D’Arcy McGee’s Pub is probably the best bet near the Canadian Tire Centre. Once you’re in the city proper, Clarence St. (in the Byward Market), offers several options. On York, one street over, we’d steer you towards the Dominion Tavern, a real, no-fooling dive bar. “It is populated by an eclectic collection of the most interesting regulars you’re ever likely to meet,” said colleague Sean Gordon. The Francophone reporters will tell you that nothing in Ottawa comes even close to café Les 4 Jeudis, a bustling nightspot in Gatineau, just across the river in Quebec. The party rages pretty much all the time there.
To watch the game: There is no mystery as to who everyone is cheering for at Sens House, where you’ll always find hockey on the big screen. The Senate Tavern, which is a couple of streets away, is a little higher brow. If you’re in Ottawa and you’ve discovered a place that framed a Bill Ranford Oilers jersey, you know you’ve found somewhere that’s serious about their hockey.
To grab a quick bite: The Byward Market, which is situated right in the middle of downtown, has a ton of good options. La Bottega Nicastro, an old standby, will serve you a sandwich that’s as big as your head. If you like pizza, there are two places that will provide the full gooey, savoury experience, Colonnade (in Centretown) and Louis’ (in Vanier). We’ve also had excellent ramen at Sansotei. And if you’re looking for late-night eats, head on down to El Camino, the temple of tacos on Elgin St. and Clarence St. will see you right. The place has colleague Marc Dumont’s enthusiastic and unqualified endorsement. Whereas John Vogl, our man in Buffalo, has his own favourite place to chow down. “I’d take the chicken shawarma at 3 Brothers in Ottawa over any other food in the league,” he said. If we were were to put John face to face with Fluto Shinzawa, the two might come to blows since Fluto swears unflinching allegiance to Shawarma Palace.
To eat a proper dinner: The reality of driving between Ottawa and Kanata being what it is, there’s basically no hope of eating in Ottawa if you expect to make it to puck drop on time. That’s where Fratelli’s, a solid Italian place that’s jammed in among the big box stores in Kanata, leaps to the rescue. It’s not exactly haute cuisine, but if you want to avoid arena food (which, let’s face it, is probably the wisest course of action in Kanata), Fratelli’s more than does the job. Another place out that way, the Ridge Rock brew pub, also puts on some excellent food. Veteran NHL defenceman Calvin de Haan is one of the co-owners. If it’s not a game night and you happen to be in Ottawa, it goes without saying that Fraser Café is the pick of the bunch. The menu avoids going madly off in all directions, and features a number of beautifully refined dishes. Haldi is also worth a visit for those who crave Indian food.
Tampa is one of the most beloved and sought-after destinations in the NHL. It’s not just the sunshine – there’s at least as much of that in Sunrise, if not more, and yet it doesn’t have the same vibe. Tampa has its own style. And the town appears to have found a winning formula, much like its hockey team. If you’re an NHL beat writer, it’s just about perfect. Cities where the rink, the hotels, and a decent range of restaurants are all found within walking distance make the logistics of covering the NHL much simpler. Add to that an organization that’s reliably pleasant to work with and you’ll quickly understand why everyone loves going to Tampa.
To hoist a couple: The arena district we’re talking about is home to a little bar that’s easy to miss, but is nevertheless wonderful; it’s called the Sail Pavilion, an open-air watering hole with a waterfront view. For some reason, a lot of beat writers call it the Tiki Bar. Go figure. Sometimes there’s live music in the early evening, but this isn’t the sort of place that’s shy about staying open late. There’s also The Hub, a dive bar and a favourite of The Athletic’s Scott Burnside. “Yes, it can be smoky,” he said. “And the last time I was there the jukebox was still one of those old ones with the actual CD covers and the songs listed on the back are hand-written. But a grand place to get away from, well, whatever you need to get away from in Tampa.” Another favourite beat writer haunt: the Double Decker, in always-vibrant Ybor City. Karaoke. Enough said.
To watch the game: HatTrick’s. There may be others, but there’s no point discussing them. It’s close to the arena and they take hockey seriously. We’ve come across the occasional member of the Lightning in the place.
To grab a quick bite: Amalie Arena is surrounded by marinas, and on the bayside you’ll find Jackson’s restaurant and bar. It’s a great place to eat a plate of sushi, or fish sandwiches at lunchtime on the patio. At night the same space turns into a dance club. “It might be the closest thing to an official NHL beat writer lunch stop outside of Tip-Top Kitchen in Columbus,” said The Athletic New York’s Corey Masisak. Colleagues also offer positive reviews of Fresh Kitchen, which skews more to the fast food end of the spectrum, is tasty and offers healthy-ish options. Perfect for a light lunch.
To eat a proper dinner: Everyone in the NHL knows Bern’s Steakhouse. Players, team officials, agents, hockey writers, all of them keep flocking to this kitschy institution that, given the incredibly high quality of the food on offer, is a better deal than places like Morton’s. There are three unique features at Bern’s if you’re going there for the first time: perusing the wine list (it’s actually a book, Bern’s has one of the largest wine collections on the continent) and finding a 1970s Bordeaux at table wine prices; taking the guided tour of the kitchens and wine cellar; hitting the dessert room upstairs (and, if that’s your thing, the cigar lounge). The smart beat writers arrange their reservations months ahead of time; we’d advise you to do likewise. A little further down Howard Avenue, Green Lemon offers a somewhat more animated dining experience (it’s a Mexican place and draws a younger crowd than Bern’s). It’s also a great place to sit down for a cocktail. Finally, our sources in Tampa have a soft spot for Yah Mon, a Caribbean spot that serves goat curry, among other traditional dishes. We have no firsthand experience, but it sounds great and sometimes it’s nice to do something different.
Canada’s largest city tends to inspire a mixture of scorn and jealousy if you ask people who live in other parts of the country, but Toronto is an amazing place to visit. Its incredible ethnic diversity means you can satisfy any food hankering if you’re willing to drive around a bit. There are a plethora of bars and restaurants around Scotiabank Arena and beyond; it’s a city of neighbourhoods and easy to get around, so you should definitely do that.
To hoist a couple: After a game, there’s a decent chance you’ll run across a bunch of reporters if you pop into Scotland Yard, a bar near the arena where the kitchen closes late. For something completely different, we’ll let Sean Gordon talk to you about the Bovine Sex Club. “I’ve never seen bovines, or sex, in the joint, which is definitely a bar and live music club and . . . hard to describe. Festooned with junk maybe? I did run into Joe Strummer there once. It’s a cool place.” On Queen St. W., you’ll find a ton of nightlife options, including the venerable Horseshoe Tavern, which also has live shows in its back room.
To watch the game: Real Sports Bar & Grill, which is adjacent to Scotiabank Arena, is a cavernous sports bar that was recently renovated. It used to claim to have 200 screens spread out over 25,000 square feet, including the largest HD screen in North America. On Dundas St., in Little Portugal, you’ll find Dock Ellis, which opened in 2013. Ellis was the former Major League pitcher who became famous for tossing a no-hitter while whacked out on acid. It’s a little fancier than your typical sports bar, but the aim of the exercise is to accommodate both sports fans and ordinary bar-goers in an area that’s packed with options.
To grab a bite: There isn’t much novelty for people who live in Ontario, or for anyone who’s accustomed to going to places like Whole Foods or Movenpick. But the fact there is a Longo’s market just steps from the arena provides a massive selection of ready-to-eat lunch options. It may surprise you to know that Tex-Mex is also alive and well in Toronto; Sneaky Dee’s, another Toronto institution, is not far from Kensington Market, another neat part of town that’s worth the detour. “If there is one place I never, ever, get tired of going to, it’s Sneaky Dee’s,” said Sean Gordon. “The portions are enormous, the fare is delicious, and there’s a bar and live music space upstairs. It’s a one-stop shop, and you never know who you might run into.” You like to drink tea while eating lunch? Crimson Teas, which is also up by Kensington Market, is a favourite of Corey Masisak’s, our man on the New Jersey Devils beat.
To eat a proper dinner: Richmond Station is bistronomy at its best. The atmosphere is casual and you might not expect you’re at a high-end table. There’s a beautiful simplicity, no messing around, and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s often listed among the 100 best restaurants in Canada, and it’s not going to wreck your finances. Oh, and don’t miss Pai, a Thai place that’s a short walk from Scotiabank Arena. “The best Thai food I’ve ever eaten,” raved The Athletic’s Arpon Basu. Cibo, an Italian place in tony Yorkville, is delicious and has a great wine list. On King Street you will find a Spanish restaurant called Patria. Fluto Shinzawa once wrote an ode to its seafood paella for his former employer. And one final note in closing about The Keg, a Canadian steakhouse chain in which our guy Pierre LeBrun may well hold an ownership stake. Now, ours is not to pooh-pooh restaurant chains, and the fact is The Keg offers a much better value proposition than others who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk (that’s right, looking at you Ruth’s Chris). Not every Keg is created equal, but the Keg Mansion on Jarvis St. offers a wonderful dining experience, as our guy Pierre will eagerly tell you.
The first thought for many of you when it comes to Carolina probably involves playing 18 holes, not hitting a Hurricanes game. It’s the weather, what are you going to do? From a hockey standpoint, it’s not the easiest place in the league to get to, the arena sits outside Raleigh and many teams opt to stay in a different city altogether. It’s one of the only places in the NHL where it’s probably easier and cheaper to rent a car than to take a taxi from the airport to downtown. Personal observation: nowhere else in America will you see as many cars abandoned in the ditch beside the highway. No idea what that’s all about.
To hoist a couple: The full selection of Tobacco Road’s microbrews can be sampled at the Raleigh Brewery, right downtown. Tobacco Road also has a sports bar on Jones St., although the landlords prefer not to identify it as such. There’s also the Raleigh Times, which is Sara Civian-approved. Colleague Sara, who covers the Canes, notes that Glenwood Avenue is the place to go for bar-hopping, whether it’s the Raleigh Beer Garden or the Carolina Ale House (72 beers on tap). If you’re staying in North Hills, you have our sympathies. Fox and Hound does the job. The food isn’t especially remarkable, but it’s cheap and there’s karaoke on Wednesday nights (did we mention beat writers have an odd affection for karaoke?)
To watch the game: The issue in Carolina isn’t finding a sports bar, it’s finding one that likes hockey enough to feature the sport on multiple screens. College sports come first pretty much everywhere except for London Bridge (another Scott Burnside fave), where soccer is king. It’s still worth checking out; the atmosphere’s terrific and there’s a great patio out back. Havana Deluxe, which is near Glenwood Ave., may be a cigar bar, but it also has the full NHL cable package if ever you’re jonesing for a game. The Players’ Retreat is a Raleigh institution that’s been around since 1951. The old tavern nearly closed 15 years ago or so, but it’s still going strong and cultivates a vintage-y college vibe that used to attract kids from nearby North Carolina State like bears to honey. You can watch the game with a beer and maybe a plate of their famous cheese and chili fries; there is also a selection of 100 wines by the glass, which earned the place a tip of the hat from Wine Spectator magazine.
To grab a quick bite/Eat a proper dinner: As befits the South, North Carolina takes its meat seriously. During the 2019 Conference Final, the Canes added a few restaurant suggestions in the media guide and anointed The Pit as Raleigh’s best barbeque grill. “A little bit more high-end than other BBQ spots, but the pulled pork is élite,” it read. It’s true, The Pit is a place that’s been in the beat writer conversation. Our colleague Michael Russo, for his part, swears by the Angus Barn. “Check out the Wild Turkey lounge, their incredible wine cellar and awesome cigar bar through the kitchen called the Meat Locker,” he said. Sticking with the carnivorous theme, we’d add Sullivan’s, an art deco-inspired steakhouse. Our first meal there dates back to the days when former Canadiens owner George Gillett decided to invite basically the entire front office to dinner there. Finally, if you’re looking for something lighter and less meaty, Bida Manda’s Laotian (and Thai-infused) restaurant is a hit among locals. On the menu: curry, noodle dishes, salads. It’s open for both lunch and dinner.
COLUMBUSThe Ohio capital is a well-kept secret in NHL circles; those who have had the opportunity to go there will tell you it’s far from the nondescript midwestern college town you might imagine. It must be a pretty terrific place to live given the attachment locals seem to have to the place. For the visiting beat writer, it all starts with an easily-accessible and eminently functional arena that’s built in a complex made entirely of brick. There are even brick walls in the Blue Jackets’ dressing room. Anyway, everything you’re looking for is close by. But covering a game at Nationwide Arena also means making the acquaintance of the goddamn cannon that goes off every time someone in a blue uniform scores a goal. I covered the Canadiens’ 10-0 loss there. My heart has never completely recovered.
To hoist a couple: Our clear favourite is the Pin Mechanical Company, which brews its own beer and features pinball machines all over the place . . . plus bowling lanes in a large room off the back. It’s a little hipsterish for our liking, but mostly it’s a great place to hang out with friends. A few blocks south you can indulge your nostalgia at 16-Bit Bar + Arcade. This is your chance to see if you’re as good as you remember at Pac-Man or Burger Time. If you like the concept and are planning to go to Nashville any time soon, be aware that a second branch will shortly open in the capital of country music (fall 2019). For something a little more traditional, High-Beck Corner has a casual dive bar element to it. The menu offers few surprises, but the atmosphere is fun.
To watch the game: The college crowd takes over the Tip-Top Kitchen on days when the Ohio State Buckeyes are playing. But whether it’s for sports viewing or simply to have a drink, our recommendation stands. If you’re looking for something more hockey-specific, the R-Bar is the place to go. If you’re walking out of Nationwide Arena, it’s a natural landing spot.
To have a quick bite: The pot roast sandwich at Tip-Top Kitchen creates fervent admirers. “I once had it for five straight meals during All-Star weekend,” said Mark Lazerus of The Athletic Chicago. Otherwise, North Market is another local landmark. It’s basically a collision of flavours, and in the middle of the market there are 15 or so stalls offering various specialties and cuisines. It’s a great choice given the variety and abundance of options.
To eat a proper dinner: We need to talk about Lindey’s, a little jewel of a place in German Village, a more residential, cobblestoned area of Columbus. It’s a very pretty neighbourhood. When we pointed out in the introduction that beat writers have enormous trouble quitting their old stand-byes, Lindey’s is a textbook example. What’s not to like about impeccably executed, white linen cuisine that costs half of what it would run you in most other cities? Why look elsewhere? Our Columbus colleague Aaron Portzline keeps telling us we absolutely have to try Barcelona, which is just as good. We’ll take his word for it. Maybe next time? And if you have an uncontrollable steak urge, Hyde Park and Jeff Ruby’s are the names to remember.
The Big Apple is a paradox. For one thing, whenever you go there it doesn’t feel so much like ‘going on the road,’ in the way other NHL cities do. It feels like going on a trip. Whether it’s your first visit or your 30th, there’s a feeling of wonder that never entirely goes away. At the same time, the anonymous throngs and ambient disinterest are somehow an invitation to join in. Everyone is welcome on this ride. Exotic and yet familiar; it’s not a combination you experience just anywhere.
So how to recommend places in a concrete jungle where everyone has their favourite spot and indelible memories? Perhaps the simplest approach is to just list the places we go to most often and/or the ones that won the seal of approval on our last visit. When it comes to New York, your suggestions are just as worthwhile, if not more so, than ours.
To hoist a couple: There are approximately a million Irish pubs in Manhattan, but there’s one in particular that seems to be popular among beat writers, probably because it’s close to Madison Square Garden and the various Marriotts they tend to patronize: Jack Doyle’s. The travelling media can’t claim it’s the find of the century, but it’s probably the best place (in both the regular season and playoffs) where you’re most likely to run across another beat writer. Before heading over to the Café Wha? to extend your evening like a real tourist, the first stop in Greenwich Village should maybe be at Blind Tiger, a little neighbourhood pub that brews its own beer and serves tapas-style plates that are more refined than the usual pub food. For a more extravagant experience? Two places: first, The Aviary NYC, a cocktail bar atop the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Columbus Circle. You’ll need a reservation, and the place is expensive and stuffy, but the incredible concoctions on offer are worth a detour. In Chinatown there’s another “mad genius at work” type place called Apotheke, it’s a riff on speakeasies, just more original. Too fancy for your tastes? There are a ton of dive bars in Manhattan. One where we’ve spent many an agreeable evening: Nancy Whiskey in Tribeca. You can even play shuffleboard.
To watch the game: Foley’s is an Irish pub in Koreatown, and it’s considered one of the finest sports bars in the entire U.S. of A. It’s a baseball place, first and foremost, but guess which sport has a season that doesn’t overlap with MLB’s for five months a year? There’s a wall of fame made of autographed baseballs; if you look hard enough, you’ll see a few of them bear a hockey writer’s scrawl. Three Monkeys, in Midtown, is a fairly standard sports bar spread over two floors. They have 34 kinds of draft on tap and there’s no shortage of screens. We’d also mention Blue Haven on Houston and Bounce Sporting Club in the Flatiron district. That’s a neat space.
To grab a quick bite: New Yorkers don’t always realize how good they have it, but the fact one is always close to a Prêt à Manger shop is a luxury. The British chain also has stores in Washington and Chicago, but in Manhattan they’re everywhere and present a practical lunchtime solution, fresh sandwiches that don’t taste like were assembled with ingredients made from cardboard. For more classic New York food, we can’t ignore Toloache, a high-end Mexican place in Hell’s Kitchen that has a guacamole bar and truly excellent ceviche. We prefer to go in the daytime to avoid the theatre crowd. For a less formal take on Mexican food – it’s really more of a lunch counter – our boy Craig Custance from The Athletic Detroit and NHL, a taco obsessive, suggests Los Tacos No. 1. “I’m slightly obsessed with tacos and am always looking for the best taco on the road,” said Custance. “My favorite spot on the NHL circuit is Los Tacos No. 1. Yes, you have to go to Times Square and deal with the crowds, but it’s totally worth it. My personal favourite is the Carne Asada. The guacamole is good too. There’s going to be a line, but it moves quickly. There’s no seating; it doesn’t matter. You’ll plow through the tacos in no time and the best part is you’re getting great food without dipping too much into the day’s per diem, no small consideration in New York.”
For a proper dinner: So many choices ! Henrik Lundqvist is a co-owner of Tiny’s, an Italian place in Tribeca that actually is a lot like he is: stylish, classy, but nevertheless accessible. It’s warm and a little Bohemian. There are lots and lots of great pizzerias in Manhattan, but we know several beat writers who have made the pilgrimage to the Upper West Side just to go to Celeste, which also makes excellent fritti. For sushi, Momoya on 7th Avenue in Chelsea offers stunningly good food for the money. We’d also suggest Mary’s Fish Camp in the Village, where you’ll eat some of the best oyster po’boys and lobster rolls in the city, whether it’s at lunch or dinner. Finally, if you’re looking for an Asian place that mirrors New York’s larger-than-life scale, go to Tao Downtown, a formal and noisy supper club. Expect the bill to reflect the surroundings, but a well-known television colleague of our acquaintance has essentially taken out a membership at Tao.
NEW YORK (BROOKLYN)
Not every team is lucky enough to hit the New York area for a three-game set against each of the Rangers, Islanders and Devils. But for fans of those who do, thinking here of the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers this year, it’s a perfect opportunity to max out on the Big Apple experience. If you only have one game to go see, who would choose Barclays Center over Madison Square Garden? Everything about Barclays, from the sight lines to the wasted space to the off-centre scoreboard, is rash-inducing. It’s so inhospitable to hockey that the Islanders have opted to play as many games as possible in the old Nassau Coliseum. We can’t wait for the Belmont Park Arena to open in 2021. In the meantime, there are far worse places to hang out than Brooklyn.
To hoist a couple: The North Pole is just a few steps away from the Barclays Center; it’s neither big nor airy and bright, but its festive atmosphere and bustling happy hour are popular with locals.
To watch the game: Before, after and during Isles games, McMahon’s does the job. It’s also right next door to the arena, and occasionally there’s live music.
To grab a quick bite/Eat a proper dinner: If you walk about half-a-mile from the arena you’ll find Olmsted, a terrific farm-to-table place that is one of the best restaurants in the entire five boroughs according to New York magazine; better yet, it doesn’t have extortionate prices. Broccolino, which is less heralded but happens to be directly across the street from the rink, was a hit with our Arpon Basu. “Tagliatelle ‘al ragu’ is my favourite Italian dish, and they do it really well,” he said. Another Barclays-adjacent option: Chuko, a ramen place in Prospect Heights that has a sizable vegetarian menu. Further north in Williamsburg, Peter Luger is a slightly outmoded steakhouse and the kind of place you’d imagine Michael Corleone sitting down at for a meal (and being served by a similarly grim and unsmiling waiter). You’ll need to book early, and it’s expensive (plus it’s cash only); there will be no attempts at charming you but the steaks are great and they have a celebrated tomato and onions entree that you are strongly encouraged to try. In fact, it’s an offer you can’t refuse. If the game is on Long Island, well the list of options is considerably shorter. There’s always the Seventh Street Cafe in Garden City, an Italian place that’s pleasant, tasty and inexpensive.
There’s no nice way to put this; Prudential Center’s immediate environs are neither the most welcoming, nor the safest parts of Newark. Let’s just say visitors are advised against taking long, leisurely strolls around the area when the sun goes down. In fact, the best thing about the Rock is that it’s a short hop from Newark’s main train station, which means Manhattan is only 20 minutes away!
To hoist a couple/watch the game: Redd’s Biergarten is a German-inspired pub that also doubles as a sports bar. It’s immediately in front of the arena, so it’s popular and busy.
To grab a quick bite: Two blocks from the rink you’ll find O’LaLa Empanadas, which our friend Corey Masisak recommends unreservedly. You’ll find all manner of delicious empanadas, and it won’t break the bank. Head off in the opposite direction and you’ll come across Hobby’s Deli, a proper Jewish delicatessen. They serve a soup called the King Henrik, it costs $19.94 and only comes in a bowl, not a cup (get it?). Our colleague Sean Shapiro suggests an entirely different option: go to Clifton, N.J., about a 15-minute drive away, and get yourself a fried hot dog at Rutt’s Hutt.
To eat a proper dinner: Marcus B&P is the latest establishment opened by celebrated chef (and Food Network star) Marcus Samuelsson. One of the signature dishes is Dorowat Rigatoni, which is made with sweet potatoes and Ethiopian-style chicken stew – a nod to the chef’s heritage. If you head down to Ferry St., over in the Ironbound District, you’ll find a cluster of roughly a half-dozen Iberian-influenced places, like Fornos of Spain.
The City of Brotherly Love tends to be a somewhat divisive place. You either love it or you don’t. We have colleagues who fall over one another to go cover games in Philly, but personally I find the town a little hard to gauge, despite the reputation the people there have. Someone is going to have to show us around for real. One note: getting to and from Wells Fargo Arena isn’t always straightforward, but other than making it to the hockey game, Philadelphia is an extremely walkable city.
To hoist a couple: The Las Vegas Lounge, not far from the Liberty Bell, is a good spot for larger groups. There’s a pub menu and multiple pool tables as well. “Drew the bartender is welcoming to hockey scribes of all stripes,” said Scott Burnside, our resident dive bar expert. If you’d rather plug into Philly’s historical vibe you might stop in at McGillin’s Olde Ale House. It first opened in 1860 and is the city’s oldest bar.
To watch the game: You may have heard people in Philly are pretty serious about their teams, so it stands to reason there are a number of excellent sports bars. Start with Founding Fathers, which has a straightforward but well-executed menu. Too bad they stopped serving their Greek-inspired lamb burger; it had had cucumber, feta and tzatziki. It was awesome. A little further north, Field House features booths with their own screen; the food is fine, but mostly it’s about the location.
To grab a quick bite: You can’t talk about Philadelphia without talking about cheesesteaks. There are tons of options but if you ask us it boils down to two dominant market players slugging it out for cheesesteak supremacy: Jim’s Steaks and Tony Luke’s. Another must-see: Reading Terminal Market, which is a hive of activity at lunch time. You’ll find literally every kind of cuisine there, and it’s so busy that freshness is pretty well guaranteed.
To eat a proper dinner: Dante and Luigi’s is “one of the best Italian restaurants in America,” according to our friend Michael Russo. As long as we’re tossing superlatives around, the Israeli restaurant Zahav won the 2019 James Beard award, handed out each year to the best restaurant in the United States. Despite the accolades and the awards (the Beard isn’t their first rodeo), it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to eat there. For more casual fare, the Royal Tavern and Byrne’s Tavern offer excellent food with no pretense. Also, Philadelphia has a large number of excellent ‘bring your own wine’ restaurants.
The Steel City has no interest in trying to be something it isn’t, but nor is it just a stereotypical blue collar, hard hats and zero refinement kind of place. It’s a deeply authentic town where it’s easy to have fun. Just ask the beat writers who straggle in from Carson St. in the wee hours.
To hoist a couple: We’ll just pass the mic to Burnside on this one: “The granddaddy of all hockey writer bars is, in my mind of course, Shale’s Cafe, which is even closer for the writing crew since the Penguins moved downhill from Mellon Arena to PPG Paints Arena. Discovered by a group of mostly Canadian journalists (and myself) during Sidney Crosby’s first playoff run, it is the ultimate in ‘thank God these walls can’t talk’ establishments. At one point my playoff (media) pass adorned the wall behind the bar for, oh, I’d say two or three years. No food to speak of. Men’s washroom straight out of a Turkish prison, but as welcoming a place as you’ll find on the circuit.”
To watch the game: There’s an abundance of sports bars in Pittsburgh; we might not know all the best spots, but we can tell you about the ones that are both decent and close to downtown. On Carson St., down on the city’s south side, the Carson City Saloon occupies a former bank and is quite popular. In addition to televisions, they have a giant projection screen. The portions are similarly gigantic. Right downtown, Redbeard’s on Sixth offers a very solid selection of chicken wings. There are Crosby jerseys on the wall. A more recent entrant on the scene, City Works has tried to elevate the concept of pub food somewhat. It’s equidistant from the PNC Park/Heinz Stadium district (where the Pirates and Steelers play) and PPG Paints Arena.
To grab a quick bite: The Chinatown Inn is also close to the rink and offers a good lunch alternative. If weather permits and you want to wander along the banks of the Allegheny to scope out its bridges, August Henry’s Burger Bar is a good spot. There’s also a decent burger joint in the Westin Hotel (another member of the Marriott family), which unfortunately displaced a Bonefish location a few years back. We miss their lunchtime sushi and fish dishes.
To eat a proper dinner: There are lots of great dinner options in Pittsburgh. Meat & Potatoes, which should probably drop the charade and put Pens defenceman Kristopher Letang on the payroll as its official ambassador, always delivers the goods brilliantly. There’s a great bar section with a wide choice of cocktails, but really it’s about the food. Nakama, a teppanyaki place downtown (they cook the food in front of you) is a must if you’re in a large group. We’ve also been introduced to Hofbrauhaus during Oktoberfest. Yeesh. Watching a 65-year-old man in lederhosen sing We Are Young is a life-altering experience. The good is nothing special, but again you’re going there for a good time with friends (that will almost certainly end with everyone standing on their bench).
What an absolute delight it is to return to the U.S. capital, what with the nice weather and its whole open-air museum vibe. Washington presents an interesting combination: it’s a major world city, but it doesn’t feel over-crowded. In terms of the hockey experience, it’s one of the very best places in the NHL to take in a game. Fans are pleasantly rowdy, and they’re into it from beginning to end. The “unleash the fury” video that pops up on the scoreboard during the third period is surely the best pump-up video in the league.
To hoist a couple/watch the game: I’ve never completely understood how or why The Irish Channel became the go-to beat writer spot. Probably Burnside’s doing. Or maybe it’s just a question of proximity; the place is literally a two-minute walk away from Capital One Arena. Anyway, the place is perfectly adequate and like every other Irish pub in the area, the game is on. That’s also the case at Finn McCool’s, a short walk south and east of the arena, which depends on a sports-watching clientèle. As to the Iron Horse, it’s not a sports bar per se, but it is most definitely a gathering place for Caps fans both pre- and postgame.
To grab a quick bite: Looking for the ideal breakfast spot? Ben’s Chili Bowl, a venerable neighbourhood place just north of downtown, has you covered. Capital One Arena is smack in the middle of D.C.’s Chinatown, so there are lots of little hole-in-the-wall places to satisfy your cravings for Cantonese chow mein and Singapore noodles. You’ll also find a Nando’s there for all your piri-piri chicken needs; stock up on hot sauce while you’re there. And lastly, there’s Taco Bamba, which recently opened a storefront in Chinatown after a lengthy run of success in the suburbs. The high-brow option is Momofuku, an offshoot of David Chang’s New York-based culinary empire. It’s over by the White House. Great spot for light and tasty Asian-American fusion.
To eat a proper dinner: Little Serow is the place for Thai food. Just outstanding. The tasting menu varies from week to week; like an increasing number of high-end places, Little Serow doesn’t accept reservations. We’d also recommend Jaleo, celebrity chef José Andrès’ flagship tapas place in Chinatown.
(Raymond Boyd / Getty
Wherever beat reporters are required to split up travel, the question of who gets to do the Chicago trip can result in lengthy, occasionally heated discussions. If reading this guide moves you to want to visit an NHL city and you can only choose one, it should be Chicago. First because the United Center is unique among NHL buildings (you can tell when the amiable Jim Cornelison launches into the anthems) but also because the city has such a rich history, is littered with architectural treasures and rolls to the rhythm of its very own blues genre. Oh, and good restaurants are legion.
To hoist a couple: Quenching your thirst while listening to live blues isn’t something you can do in just any NHL town. Chicago leads the league in that category. The House of Blues may have the greatest brand notoriety, and Legends may bear the signature of local hero and blues god Buddy Guy, but we’ve had our best experiences at Kingston Mines and Rosa’s Lounge. Chicago is also a hub for stand-up comics and improv, and you can go check out the next big things at Annoyance Theatre, among others. “I typically get a drink there and catch the improv show,” said Sean Shapiro of The Athletic Dallas. On the lengthy list of Chicago dive bars, Rossi’s stands out as fairly epic. Narrow, gloomy and grimy, beer fridges line the wall and most of the decor was already out of style when it was installed in the 1970s. It’s pretty much perfect. It’s also where the co-founder of this company convinced me to join The Athletic. All of which to say it makes me proud to rep the place.
To watch the game: There are all kinds of sports bars in Chicago where local fans can go indulge their passion for whichever of the city’s five major pro teams happens to be playing. The Scout puts a heavy accent on pigskin, but you’ll be able to watch other stuff when the NFL isn’t in action. It’s one of the most popular places in the city. Timothy O’Toole’s pub has 72 televisions tuned to sports. The last time we were in, one of them had Montreal-Winnipeg on. I’d say that qualifies it as a sports bar.
To grab a quick bite: The good news if your flight is delayed at O’Hare? It gives you enough time to walk over to Terminal B and sample the simply extraordinary all-dressed guacamole at Tortas Frontera. In terms of takeout guac, it stands alone. You’ll find the same recipe at XOCO, another of superstar chef Rick Bayless’ restaurants, but that one is set smack dab in the middle of the Magnificent Mile on Clark St. Have a craving for pizza? The Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. has you covered. “There are lots of great pizza places in Chicago and dumb critics call deep dish ‘like a casserole or pot pie’ . . . but this place in Lincoln Park actually does pizza pot pies and they are absolutely incredible,” said Corey Masisak. Those who like their food spicy will want to make a point of stopping in at Heaven on Seven, an excellent Cajun restaurant. It’s a little heavy for lunch but go ahead and eat there anyway, it’ll save you having to eat at the United Center during the game.
To eat a proper dinner: Suggesting a restaurant in Chicago is almost as hazardous as doing so in New York; there are so many good choices that you’ll look foolish by suggesting one over another. But look, this isn’t Zagat’s so do what you like. What the beat writers will tell you, however, is that the Italian restaurants on the Magnificent Mile are pretty much all up to par. Quartino and Nonnina’s have their diehard fans, so too does Rosebud on Rush, which is delicious and also serves mammoth portions. Bavette’s, a brasserie-style steakhouse, has a nice range of options but it’s as busy as any other place in town so reserve early. Just as popular but somewhat more low-key: The Purple Pig, which you won’t leave disappointed.
Denver has started attracting a new class of 420-friendly tourist in recent years, and you can see them coming a mile away. To tell you the truth, the smell of weed permeates pretty much the whole city . . . which didn’t seem to bother the clerk at my hotel in 2017 if the redness of his eyes was anything to go on. Whether you dance with Mary Jane doesn’t really matter, Denver is worth the trip for everyone. Perched in the Rockies, its microclimate results in snow-capped peaks, a lot of sunshine and surprisingly mild temperatures. Every one of our trips there has been enjoyable.
To hoist a couple: Denver is a beer town. Even though it’s the land of Coors, there are dozens of microbrews on offer. Rock Bottom brews a series of excellent Belgian-style beers; the food isn’t memorable, but that might be the result of going there solo and spending the evening digging through power play statistics. My Brother’s Bar is an institution. It’s the oldest bar in Denver and has two claims to fame: the best burgers in town, and Jack Kerouac used to haunt the place (it had another name in those days). The William & Graham is probably Denver’s best-known watering hole, just don’t make too much noise because it’s adjacent to a tiny bookstore. If noise is what you’re after, you’ll find live music and a lively atmosphere at Howl at the Moon.
To watch the game: Even though Society Sports and Spirits is just down the road from the Pepsi Center, the Avalanche’s home rink, management openly states it will give precedence to Pittsburgh Penguins games. The place tends to inspire strong reviews. We’ve also been known to frequent Henry’s Tavern, which has sports bar DNA even if it doesn’t give itself the formal appellation. We could watch whatever we wanted and the nachos were excellent!
To grab a quick bite: There’s always action in and around Union Station, a wonderful building that’s been taken over by various businesses. You can get lunch and maybe a crafty pint while you soak up the atmosphere at the Terminal Bar. A short distance away stands Larimer Square, the city’s most historic neighbourhood and home to a number of really good places. The Market earns special mention from Mark Lazerus, who we suspect of being a gourmet in gourmand’s robes. We also hear good things about Rioja, which is nearby and despite the moniker inspired from the Spanish wine region doesn’t actually serve Iberian specialties.
To eat a proper dinner: Still in the Larimer Square area, Lazerus sends us to Osteria Marco, which is not only a great Italian restaurant, it makes its own tonic, which should be all the encouragement the gin maniacs among you need. You can have dinner there or just pop in for a late-evening drink. If you’re willing to take the trouble of going outside the city, a culinary experience awaits at Cherry Cricket. “Best hamburgers in the world and some outstandingly strange toppings,” said George Richards, our man on the Florida Panthers beat. “How about a slab of cream cheese and some green chilies on your burger? It’s delicious, believe it or not. And their pork green chili could be the best appetizer that side of the Mississippi.”
Texas swagger is omnipresent in this chic and sprawling town, which if we’re honest we don’t get to often enough. It’s ground zero for the Think Big portion of the American ethos; the fact everyone wears it with pride gives it character and charm. It can get pretty warm in Texas, so going during hockey season is just the ticket. Besides, the Lone Star State is probably Gary Bettman’s greatest success story when it comes to the non-traditional market expansion strategy. The fact the Stars have been in Dallas for a long time (1993) surely helps, as does the fact they’ve helped fund ten community rinks that have lowered barriers to access the sport. The number of Texas-born players registered with USA Hockey has more than tripled over the past 20 years. Okay, so who’s hungry?
To hoist a couple: Deep Ellum is one of the best neighbourhoods to step out in Dallas. There’s a raft of solid cocktail bars like Hide, Parliament or The Armoury. The 2018 draft afforded the opportunity to discover the Green Door, a restaurant and bar with a patio and a lengthy menu, which happens to be a warm and welcoming spot after supper hour. Across the highway from Deep Ellum, on Harwood St., Shooters, which is right next door to the American Airlines Centre, is where Scott Burnside likes to hang his hat. “Steve and Leroy will put on the hockey highlights postgame and the kitchen is above average. Lots of AAC staff congregate postgame; as convivial an atmosphere as you’ll find anywhere in the great state of Texas,” says Burnside. If you happen to walk past the lobby of the Adolphus Hotel on Commerce St., do yourself a favour and go sip a drink in one of the many bars at this incredibly charming, old-timey hotel. Legend has it the Adolphus is haunted; that may be why the prices at what is indisputably a high-end hotel aren’t prohibitive.
To watch the game: Three places we’d recommend among the many options: Frankie’s Downtown (a little rowdier), OT Tavern (half sports bar, half dive bar) and The Owners’ Box (where you can watch your game at your table).
To grab a quick bite: Dallas is famous for at least two things: grilled meat and tacos. Remind me again why it is I don’t live there? Two taco joints rise above the crowd. First up, Torchy’s Tacos, which is Masisak-approved. “Several of our college football colleagues swear by this high-end taco chain in various Southwest cities, and it is legit. Not close to the arena, but worth the trip,” he said. There’s also Revolver Taco Lounge in Deep Ellum, it’s also top-rated. In the ‘scarcity effect? We may have heard of it’ category, Cattleack BBQ offers what may well be the best barbecued meat in town, but it’s only open Thursdays and Fridays for lunch (from 10:30 a.m. until they run out of meat, basically). The place always has a lineup, as you might expect. If fried chicken is your thing, you probably already know the Koreans have a unique method that’s all their own. The gold standard is No. 1 Plus Chicken, which also delivers. Finally, if you’re looking for a break from all the meat, head over to Commissary, a cute little café where you’ll eat healthy, fresh and light.
To eat a proper dinner: Where can one get the best cut of meat in Dallas? It’s one of the universe’s intractable questions. Various colleagues point to the Dallas Chop House, but others steer people to Bob’s Steak and Chop. For serious barbecue, we’d suggest Lockhart’s Smokehouse. Try to get there earlier rather than later, because like Cattleack they shut ‘er down when meat stocks get low. The prime rib at Pecan Lodge also make more than one hockey writer’s mouth water. There’s no shortage of great places; now all you need is the number of a good cardiologist.
They’re known as the Twin Cities, but Minneapolis and St. Paul are twins of the fraternal rather than identical variety. The Xcel Energy Centre is in St. Paul, but most of the stuff beat writers (and by extension tourists) are after happens in Minneapolis, which tends to have more going on. Depending on when you visit, check the weather forecast and plan accordingly; the place might be plunged into a Siberian cold snap, alternatively it could be the humidity that grabs you.
To hoist a couple: The Up-Down is one of Minneapolis’ most popular bars, what with its arcade games and rooftop patio (depending on what month you’re in, of course). They even serve pizza if you’re peckish. As far as the dive-y end of things goes, the CC Club in South Minneapolis is probably the best known. It’s a little like Keith Richards: old, could use a wash, magical and still standing despite what ought to be insurmountable odds. Still in Minneapolis, fans of Irish pubs will like The Local, which is your destination for watching soccer during the day. They serve a proper pint of Guinness, the menu is quite varied, and the design is . . . idiosyncratic. As The Local’s own website describes it, “numerous nooks and crannies for exchanging secrets and ample space for telling flat out lies.” Lovely, no?
To watch the game: In St. Paul the go-to is, of course, the Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub, named after the former North Stars defenceman. We wouldn’t dream of sending you anywhere else. Reid is often found in the place when not otherwise occupied by his regular job: doing colour on the Wild’s radio broadcasts. If you’re staying in downtown Minneapolis, City Works will get the job done. There’s lots to eat and drink, and they have 25 screens.
To grab a quick bite: If you happen to be prowling around the arena a few hours before game time Cossetta, an Italian market/restaurant, has a nice selection of dishes. Our friendly suggestion is to try the chicken parm. If you’re in Minneapolis, Rustica Bakery has a strong pastry game and also serves excellent coffees.
To eat a proper dinner: The two best places, in the beat writer’s view anyway, each has Michael Russo’s seal of approval. Both are in Minneapolis. J.D. Hoyt’s is nominally a Cajun restaurant but it’s also a steakhouse and a good deal more besides. The food is impeccably prepared, but with zero snob factor. It’s just really, really well executed and the wine list has a surprising number of decent bargains. The other place is Bar La Grassa, which serves Italian. “Russo took me there last season, which was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I’ve been back twice since,” said The Athletic Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz. St. Paul isn’t exactly a food desert, but it helps to know where to look. Burger enthusiasts are hereby referred to The Nook, where you can eat the famous ‘Juicy Lucy’. Eating one is messy as hell, but delicious nevertheless. Some people might argue the fries are even better than the burgers. Arthur Staple, of The Athletic New York, has another favourite: the Handsome Hog. “Southern BBQ just a couple blocks from the arena. Can’t beat it,” he said. For something a little fancier, the St. Paul Grill, which is the Hotel St. Paul’s restaurant, is delicious but given what you’d pay at J.D. Hoyt’s, for example, you might find the check a little salty.
(Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports)NASHVILLE
An NHL referee once described Nashville as NashVegas, given the memorable evenings one could enjoy there. Substitute Broadway Street and its hodge-podge of country bars and honky-tonks for the Strip’s casinos and hotels; in both Nashville and Las Vegas, one needn’t go further than a single thoroughfare to find everything one is looking for. You stroll, you stare, you allow yourself to be drawn in. But there are limits to the comparison. Whereas Las Vegas is entirely manufactured (and wears the mantle proudly), Nashville breathes authenticity, it’s the same place it has always been. People flock from all over North America for the music, and they do this unironically. You know how certain Northern cities apply cynical detachment to just about anything? That’s not Nashville. What you see is what you get. Nobody’s judging, and it’s a welcome change.
To hoist a couple: You can go from door to door on Broadway to check out all the various places, and they’ll be more than happy to serve you the same Pabst, the same Coors and it won’t matter; in lieu of selling your soul, you can peer into the ones that each honky-tonk possesses. Tootsie’s is the obvious place to go, it has a stage on each of its three floors. Good times guaranteed. But we also have a soft spot for Robert’s Western World, a much smaller place that somehow always has excellent musicians. They also grill bologna sandwiches in the back. If you stray from Broadway and go wander around the Gulch, a higher-rent district of Nashville, the Station Inn has a sterling reputation and specializes in bluegrass music.
To watch the game: There are lots of sports bars in Nashville, (M.L. Rose, the Benchmark, etc.) but if you’re looking for a hockey-first environment the best bet is probably to stay close to Bridgestone Arena. “Downtown Sporting Club on Broadway is fun. Multiple floors, axe throwing, plenty of big screens,” said Adam Vingan, our colleague who covers the Predators. So, uh, flinging axes eh? They also have a trivia night on Wednesdays if that’s more your speed.
To grab a quick bite: If you start the day in the Gulch, you’ll be close to a great breakfast place (Biscuit Love) and also a lunch spot (Saint Anejo). But Nashville is a BBQ town and if you head back downtown that’s where you’ll find the best options. Martin’s Bar-B-Que is five minutes from Bridgestone Arena. “Between the morning skate and the game, and within walking distance, it’s my favourite place to go. They make their salami in-house,” said Arpon Basu. Some folks like to talk up Jack’s BBQ on Broadway, but Kevin Kurz prefers Peg Leg Porker, also walking distance from the rink. “The food is better,” he said. We also have to talk about Prince’s Hot Chicken, which is maybe 20 minutes outside town. It’s a legendary place that has spawned countless imitators. It’s all about spicy fried chicken. Not just spicy, like spiiicy. You order the number of pieces you want, then you pick the degree of heat: plain, mild, medium, spicy, X spicy, XX spicy, or XXX spicy. When we stopped in it went down like this:
– Ok, I’ll have the spicy please.
– Have you been here before? I think you might be better off with medium.
– Oh, really?
Now, no one likes to have their spice tolerance called into question. Without saying that my throat was actually on fire, I wouldn’t have had any fun at all eating anything beyond medium. But was it ever good!
To eat a proper dinner: All the meat emporiums we’ve listed above are also open for dinner, which should go without saying. But we’ll add two more favourites: Southern, a trendy spot that takes the comfort food of the Deep South to new heights, and Kayne Prime, a steakhouse about which Canadiens captain Shea Weber said: “eat there, or else.”
The first Stanley Cup in Blues history certainly succeeded in shifting the spotlight that usually shines almost exclusively on the Cardinals, but St. Louis is still a baseball town above all else. This is a place that still carries traces of a golden age, but it’s not exactly the most dynamic city in the world. Our last time through, downtown still had the feel of shutting down after sunset, but it seems a few recent initiatives are injecting new life into the gateway to the West.
To hoist a couple: By the time the Cup Final wrapped up, Hair of the Dog had become THE staging area and meeting point for beat writers. It’s a very good hockey bar, and it has a shuffleboard set-up. St. Louis also has a wide variety of blues bars. The music changes as you wind your way south on the Mississippi, and the St. Louis sound can be heard in places like the Broadway Oyster Bar, where the good times are always rolling. First because it has terrific Cajun food, but also because its outdoor patio, where the concerts happen, has a festival atmosphere. That’s where things reach a higher plane. If you’re in Soulard, a vibrant neighbourhood in the south end of town where the Anheuser-Busch brewery is based, the 1860 Saloon beautifully marries food, drink and tunes.
To watch the game: The Angry Beaver, right next to Busch Stadium, is as convivial a sports bar as you’ll find, but it also has a little bit of a Hooters thing going on, if you catch my drift. If you’re mobile and able to venture farther afield, the two best hockey bars in town are Bobby’s Place, in Valley Park (it’s named in honour of Blues legend Bob Plager) and OB. Clark’s in Brentwood, where the Blues brought the Cup immediately after they got off the flight back from Boston.
To grab a quick bite: Bailey’s Range has two specialties: hamburgers (they have nearly 20 on the menu) and milkshakes made with their homemade ice cream. If you’re looking for something quick and light, we have a trio of sandwich shops to suggest: LeGrands Market and Catering, Mom’s Deli and Gioia’s, right by the arena. Kevin Kurz says the latter may be his favourite sandwich place in the league.
To eat a proper dinner: St. Louis provides further evidence that you won’t always find the good restaurants downtown. The two places that come recommended by St. Louis native Jeremy Rutherford (our man on the Blues) are in Chesterfield, a suburb that lies 25 minutes away from the Enterprise Center. Annie Gunn’s showcases local farm products; Garth Brooks once put on a show there for a group of Blues alumni. There’s also Paul Manno’s Cafe, which looks like the official gathering place for Blues players and team honchos. If you’re staying in town, Bridge Tap House is a reasonably priced gastropub and its menu offers multiple temptations (if you like cheese, you’ll be happy you went). The Tavern is a little pricier, but it offers meat and fish dishes, and apparently the burger is to die for.
Some places are somewhat of a tougher sell for NHL free agents. There’s no use pretending it’s easy to sell Winnipeg to fans of other teams who want to go on the road to cheer on their boys. The cold is unforgiving, but at least the people there are exceedingly nice. It must also be said that once you walk into the friendly confines of the MTS Centre, the Jets’ home rink, you are quickly swallowed up by maybe the greatest hockey atmosphere in the NHL. It’s the smallest arena on the circuit, and that’s actually a good thing: it’s extremely boisterous and being able to watch the world’s best hockey in such intimate surroundings is a true luxury.
To hoist a couple: The King’s Head Pub is a straightforward English boozer, where you can have a burger or a curry. It’s also a good place to meet up with people. If you head over to Osborne Village, The Toad in the Hole is the local hotspot. If clubbing is your thing, 441 Main is possibly your best bet. If you’re looking for a blues or rock concert, there’s usually a band on stage at Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club.
To watch the game: At City Place (use the entrance on Hargrave St.) you’ll find the Shark Club, a sports bar and restaurant chain that’s a step up from the local Moxie’s. There are lots of big screens and you’re in Winnipeg; if there’s hockey being played, it will be on.
To grab a quick bite: Stella’s is locally famous, what with its seven locations in the city including one on Portage Avenue downtown and another at the airport. The menu is eclectic, but if you had to pick one thing that they do particularly well, it’s breakfast. When winter sets in and starts to bite down hard, the interior walkway that links the Delta Hotel and the MTS Centre becomes especially useful. If you keep walking through the food court at City Place you’ll be well-positioned, depending on the day and time, to hunt for autographs from the visiting team. Two places in the food court are worth your time, and they’re actually good, not just food court good. The first is Kai Loves Pho, which serves authentic Vietnamese street food, the other is Samosa Hut if you feel like eating spicy. Sticking with that theme, Arpon Basu recommends Famenas Famous Roti and Curry. “For Caribbean food, it’s way above board,” he said.
To eat a proper dinner: The first time we went to Winnipeg we were sent to Gusto, an Italian place about a ten-minute cab ride from downtown. It’s really, really good and we’ve made it a regular stop whenever we’re in town. If you absolutely must stay near the arena, Carne Italian Chophouse, behind the Delta Hotel, will see you right. If Asian is your fancy, Kum Koon Garden is a 15-minute walk from MTS Centre. Fluto Shinzawa raves about their dim sum. Also downtown, Thida’s Thai is really quite good even if it doesn’t look like much (we’ve been for lunch.)
The Honda Center is hemmed in by a freeway, an office complex and the Santa Ana River, so you’re pretty much forced to have a car to get around. That’s a happy coincidence because there isn’t a ton of attractive options within walking distance. Few people will travel all the way to Anaheim just to see a Ducks game, but a flight to Southern California opens all sorts of possibilities. And so it is for restaurants.
To hoist a couple: If the taxi drops you off outside the Honda Centre, the only immediate option is J.T. Schmid’s, a brewpub that is directly across the street. It serves decent house brews and has a solid, if unspectacular menu. On the other side of the highway you’ll find another microbrewery, the Noble Ale Works, which has a much wider selection to choose from. They even have a beer that’s made with Gatorade and another that’s guava-based. If you’re in nearby Orange, several colleagues like Paul’s Cocktails, an old-school neighbourhood bar populated with pool tables, a crew of regulars and the odd college student.
To watch the game: Across the Santa Ana you’ll find Danny K’s. Otherwise Doheny’s, which is three miles away in Garden Grove, has some of the same attributes as Paul’s Cocktails. It’s friendly, dark and grotty with pool tables; the fact it’s handy to the closest Marriott to the rink means it’s also a magnet for visiting beat writers. That’s just how it goes sometimes! It bills itself as a sports bar, with everything that entails in terms of flat screens. It’s not especially glamorous, but it’s the company that makes the evening, right?
To grab a quick bite: Situated near Disneyland, and 3.5 miles from the Honda Center, the Anaheim Packing District comfortably outclasses the average food fair with its variety and incredible quality. There are tons of locally-sourced products and it’s always buzzing, particularly in the evening when there’s live music and it transforms into a fine place to have a drink. If you’re looking for decent Mexican, Sabroso! in Garden Grove is a solid choice. But keep a beady eye open because new neighbourhood taco joints are popping up all the time. Further south in Little Saigon, you’ll find great soups at Pho 79. And if you’re looking for a new riff on hamburgers, know that former Ducks legend Teemu Selanne opened a place this summer called The Penalty Box. It was built using reclaimed shipping containers. Gourmet burgers, you say? Not only do they use brioche buns, the patties are made with Wagyu beef.
To eat a proper dinner: There’s a Korean neighbourhood south of Disneyland in Garden Grove, and that’s where you should go for a little taste of Seoul. Mo Ran Gak is probably the best-known place in the area, but Cham Sut Gol, which has all-you-can-eat, is also very popular. In Anaheim proper, The Ranch draws a crowd, but it will bring a per diem to its knees. If you’ve opted to stay on the Pacific coast, which is what many beat writers do in order to be able to cover games in both Anaheim and L.A., then you need to know about 242 Cafe Fusion Sushi in Laguna Beach. There are only maybe 20 seats, but you don’t want to miss the chance to go there.
The Coyotes’ fundamental problem isn’t that they’ve never put a decent product on the ice, nor is it that people in Arizona don’t give a stuff about hockey. Mostly, the problem is location. The Gila River Arena was built in no man’s land and way too few people bother to venture up that way. That’s one reason it’s so difficult to identify a plethora of good places to go; the absence of discernible urban life is at the root of the problem. But hey, while Glendale might be the desert, it’s not like you’re going to die of thirst or hunger. There’s a gigantic big box mall right next to the arena. But if you’re looking for originality, personality and a voyage of culinary discovery this isn’t the place to go. If you’re in Arizona for something other than hockey, we’d suggest putting down your suitcases in downtown Phoenix, or in Scottsdale, its most vibrant suburb. Warning: driving from Scottsdale to Glendale will take you anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours depending on traffic. You don’t want to do it more than once.
To hoist a couple: The Whining Pig, which opened in 2013, serves grilled cheese sandwiches but it brands itself as a ‘beer and wine bar’ above all else. Usually it’s one or the other, only rarely does a place pull off both. But with 125 different beers on the menu and a long list of shockingly affordable wine by the glass, who are we to contradict them? The Whining Pig has mounted an assault on unsuspecting drinkers in the Greater Phoenix area, having opened seven locations in the last six years. They include one on Bethany Home Rd., which is the closest one to Glendale. Otherwise, cocktail aficionados will typically head to the Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour in downtown Phoenix. There are multiple bars in and around the Gila River Arena that will do the trick as you exit the game, but, like the arena itself, they tend not to be very busy.
To watch the game: If you’ve gone to the trouble of making Glendale your headquarters, there’s no point watching your team play from a stool in a sports bar. But if the club is playing the night before they face the Coyotes and you happen to already be in town, the Westgate complex has several options starting with McFadden’s (which is part of a regional chain). If you’re in Scottsdale, K O’Donnell’s is viewed as perhaps the best of the numerous sports bars in town.
To grab a quick bite: People are constantly tossing superlatives like “among the country’s best” around. But in the case of Pizzeria Bianco, it may actually be true. The deluge of positive reviews can’t all be wrong; it actually is one of the best places in the U.S. to eat pizza. One of its two locations is just north of Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play. Closer to Gila River Arena, YardHouse is a sure bet for a drink and a bite to eat after the game. We’ve also tried the Hot & Juicy Crawfish, a short walk from the rink. It isn’t exactly revolutionary, but there aren’t hundreds of places in the NHL that serve fresh crab and ‘crawdads’, so at the very least it’s different, and different is good.
To eat a proper dinner: Our Arizona-based colleague Craig Morgan, a fountain of local knowledge, recommends SumoMaya. As the name suggests, it’s a unique fusion of Asian and Mexican food. You’ll find it in Scottsdale, a little north of Old Town. Perhaps you’ll run across Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is apparently a regular. For authentic Mexican (the Phoenix area is the place to find it), Cocina Madrigal gets rave reviews. Arthur Staple prefers Barrio Café. “Not exactly near the arena, but worth the trip downtown for insanely good Mexican food.” There’s also excellent Italian dining in downtown Phoenix at Mora Italian. Morgan whispers that it’s another place frequented by Yotes players and staff.
(Sergei Belski /USA TODAY Sports)CALGARY
If you don’t go there often, we’ll understand any residual nostalgia at the prospect of the Flames moving out of the venerable Saddledome in a few years’ time. Modern architecture doesn’t always age gracefully, but at least the place reeks of hockey. Also, Calgary is a city that grows on you the more time you spend there.
To hoist a couple: The Bank and Baron Pub on Stephen Avenue downtown has taken over what used to be a bank, so it’s visually arresting. That’s what drew us in the first time we went, it’s a pub but it keeps restaurant hours so it’s not open into the wee hours on weeknights. It’s the sort of place that’s never as much fun as when it’s packed, so go on a Friday or Saturday if you can. The competition is pretty fierce in the area, you also have the Pig and Duke a few blocks away. A little further south you’ll find 17th Avenue S.W. (a.k.a. The Red Mile during the playoffs), home to the always excellent Ship and Anchor. “The last time I dropped in it basically hadn’t changed since 1994. A great place for an afternoon pint then, and forever,” said colleague Sean Gordon.
To watch the game: Apparently Mug Shotz is the best place to go for wings (they have nearly 50 different flavours). Jamesons offers two locations, one on 17th Ave., and the other on Brentwood. The Garage, in Eau Claire Market, doesn’t have the world’s most exciting menu, but the atmosphere is different from the run-of-the-mill sports bar (think industrial chic). You can watch the game but also play foosball, pinball and table tennis (don’t call it ping-pong).
To grab a quick bite: Ten Foot Henry has a good selection of plates to share at lunch and at dinner time. It’s not officially vegetarian, but there is a definite emphasis. The Beltliner bills itself as a modern diner; there’s an all-day breakfast and multiple healthy options, but the place is probably best known for its burger. They also have a menu item we’ve not seen elsewhere: pierogi poutine. Nice.
To eat a proper dinner: “When I lived in Calgary in the mid-1990s, River Café in Prince’s Island Park – which is right downtown in the middle of the Bow River, opposite Eau Claire Market – was a mostly-locals place that served consistently great, locally sourced food. It still serves excellent dishes but it’s no well-kept secret anymore. Bonus point for the hunting lodge type surroundings,” Gordon said. The Charcut Roast House, located in the Le Germain hotel, is a grill joint that serves all sorts of delicious and decadent stuff. On 17th Ave. there’s Cibo, which has basically nothing in common with the place of the same name in Toronto. Its menu (and the post-dinner cheque) are a lot more relaxed and casual than what you’ll find in Yorkville. Also, you’ll eat extremely well and it’s full of beautiful people. If you’re willing to venture a little further south and east, there are lots of cool little spots to check out on 4th Street S.W.
The area around Rogers Place is developing slowly but surely, which augurs well for future food options. That said, no amount of brilliant chow will completely soften the blow of stepping out of the airport in Edmonton in the middle of winter. We jest (sort of). In any case, the food and drink situation is much improved since the team left the Northlands Coliseum, and being downtown certainly bolsters the options.
To hoist a couple: The Sherlock Holmes Pub. That’s it, that’s the place. Elementary, my dear Watson.
To watch the game: The Craft Beer Market has multiple locations, including one downtown and that’s the place our man Kevin Kurz suggests. “There are a ton of TVs and the food is good to go, along with a great beer list.” If you venture out to the West Edmonton Mall (possibly the most famous local institution not named Wayne Gretzky), there’s 1stRND. The place has 32 HD screens, two video walls and a sports ticker with stats and odds. They have every cable and streaming package under the sun, so you should be able to find whatever game it is you’d like to watch. There is another 1stRND closer to downtown, near Oliver.
To grab a quick bite/Eat a proper dinner: Earlier we said the area around Rogers Place is picking up steam, here’s the evidence: Bündok serves an inventive, seasonal menu, and is on the top-100 restaurants in Canada list. It’s tapas-style, so get a bunch of small plates to share. If you want to stray off the beaten path, why not go out for Eastern European food? Bistro Praha is the place to go, and if there are any Czech NHL players in town you may see them there. Our Chicago-based colleague Mark Lazerus likes the place so much he’s braved minus-50-degree weather to walk there only to have their goulash. Fun fact: when the temperature gets down that far the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales intersect. The beat writer’s Italian place of choice is Sorrentino’s Downtown. As for steaks, Chop is a trustworthy option. You’ll get decent bang for your buck, and the bar side has a cool vibe. If you’re after something more sophisticated and also more original: RGE RD west of downtown. “Fantastic farm-to-table type of place for some of that famous Alberta beef,” said Corey Masisak.
For the Eastern-based hockey writer, going to L.A. to cover games is a fine idea in theory, but not in practice. Kind of like having twins or putting those fake icicles on a Christmas tree. Yeah, it’s the Left Coast, which is awesome, but you’ll usually be covering three games in four nights, jet-lagged to hell, also the gorgeous weather becomes a provocation because there’s no time to take advantage of it. But if you want to see your team play more than one game and you have the luxury of spending a couple of extra days, it’s bliss. There’s lots to do in Los Angeles, but if you want to go beyond the usual rolling down Sunset Boulevard or gawking at the Kodak Theatre, you’ll have to put in some effort. Downtown, so designated because it’s the place with the most skyscrapers, is just a starting point.
To hoist a couple: Crawfords is a 10-minute drive from Staples Center, it doubles as a dive bar and also a place where you can pad out your belly with fried chicken. We can hear you: “Come on, it’s Los Angeles! You’re not seriously going to suggest the same kind of place that you’ll find elsewhere in the league are you?” Okay. Here’s where I’d go if I had enough time to go out for one night in Hollywood. I’d swing over to the Frolic Room, a famous watering hole on the Walk of Fame, to see what’s going on. The crowd is eclectic, and the atmosphere is awesome. Then I might pick one of the Houston brothers’ super trendy bars as my next stop. Among them there is Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, a bar that recreates a 1970s house party. Gimme that. If I happened to be doing the royal tour of the Sunset Strip, I’d drop in at the legendary Viper Room, a timeless place that’s launched any number of rock bands.
To watch the game: Barney’s Beanery is a local chain, it has six sports bars in L.A. and environs, the flagship location is in West Hollywood. The menu is huge and the food is startlingly good. Football is king, but Barney’s also has NHL Center Ice. That’s the basic criterion, right? Goal Sports Café is hockey-themed, but perhaps not quite up to the legendary Barney’s standard. Yours to decide. For something completely different go to Biergarten, which will look much like any other game day bar – you’ll just be watching while you munch on German-Korean pub food.
To grab a quick bite: Let’s start with The Pantry, a local institution. You may notice the doors don’t have any locks; there’s no point, the place literally never closes. Some colleagues claim it’s the best breakfast in the league. That’s not an argument we’ll wade into, but we will say this: we’ve been known to hit the Pantry for a second dinner after walking out of a highly-rated fine dining place that chintzed out on the portions. “It’s probably the only place where I actually use cash anymore,” said Sean Shapiro, our Dallas-based colleague. “Sit at the counter, the line is typically shorter.” As an added bonus, it’s walking distance from Staples Center, which is part of a complex called L.A. Live, which is trying very hard to be the entertainment industry’s downtown. There are a bunch of restaurants there, and despite some of them having a bit of an ersatz, cardboard-y feel, they’re generally quite palatable. Rosa Mexicano and Katsuya stand out. For something that’s closer to what real people eat, there are two local markets that are totally worth a side trip. At the Farmers Market in La Brea there are perhaps 100 food stands, they’ll take you on a culinary tour of the world. It also provides a palpably human experience in a town that’s often accused of being cold and impersonal. Grand Central Market, downtown, is a little reminiscent of Reading Terminal in Philly if it were glammed-up a little. “One of the best food halls in the league. It has several great options and is a short walk from The Last Bookstore, which is the best bookstore on the circuit until Portland gets an NHL team,” said Corey Masisak.
To eat a proper dinner: In no particular order: Bestia (Italian, downtown), MTN (izakaya, Venice) Mangiamo’s (Italian, Manhattan Beach), Rock n’ Fish (surf and turf, Manhattan Beach). Rock n’ Fish, in particular, is a good value; it manages to be both fancy and casual, and it’s in a very neat part of town. And in researching this guide we discovered there’s a second location in . . . L.A. Live! The menu is an abbreviated version of what’s on at Manhattan Beach, but we don’t see any other option than going there to compare. Lastly, there’s a Spanish-inspired place in central L.A. called A.O.C.; it has a beautiful patio, a long list of California wines and prices that are more than reasonable given the high quality of the food. You’ll need a reservation, though.
SAN JOSENot only are the Sharks a consistently competitive team, they’ve managed to cultivate loyalty on the part of their best players; there is absolutely no doubt the personality of the town has something to do with it. Sharks fans love their team and aren’t shy about expressing it, but at the same time there’s a very chill ethos in town, so players can go about their daily business in relative anonymity. Some people might find San Jose a little too sleepy, but the whole small-city-with-perfect-weather thing has its adherents.
To hoist a couple: The Caravan is in downtown San Jose, and it’s the sort of place that offers a little bit of everything, depending on the day of the week. There’s a karaoke night (did we mention beat writers love karaoke?), heavy metal shows, comedy nights . . . it’s the kind of place where you’ll need to muck and grind in the corners and move your feet, they only accept cash. Just a great place to get a feel for the local scene. “Also a big fan of the Continental in downtown San Jose. It’s sort of the opposite of The Caravan, which means it’s generally too nice for my tastes,” said Scott Burnside. “But it has a great open feel and the windows open onto the street, which makes it a perfect people-watching place. No food and no jukebox. Just saying.”
To watch the game: Rookies Sports Lodge is the new kid in town when it comes to downtown San Jose. It’s aptly named. Because there’s only one major sports team in the city (okay, okay, there’s also an MLS team) and it’s an NHL team, hockey is on TV even when the Sharks aren’t playing. And that’s the real point of differentiation, especially in the U.S.: places that can and will put all hockey on the big screen, not just the games involving the local club, even when there’s something else happening in the sports world.
To grab a quick bite: The Victoria Taqueria has two locations, including one that’s close to SAP Center, and they do a mean burrito. Corey Masisak reports that Original Joe’s provides “fantastic traditional Italian and you’ll likely see a few Sharks having lunch there on game days.” There are lots of cheap eats in downtown San Jose that are worth a try. Ike’s Love and Sandwiches (adjacent to the SAP Center, or on Santa Clara) is almost certainly the most popular sandwich shop in town. Right across the street on Santa Clara, HOM Kitchen is a Korean place where you can build your own plate, Chipotle-style. Back A Yard is a popular Jamaican place, go there if you’re a fan of jerk (and who isn’t, really). And it basically costs nothing.
To eat a proper dinner: Firehouse No. 1 is considered San Jose’s main gastropub, which explains why it’s so busy. You’ll need to reserve. If you want to head over to Santana Row, you’ll find Sino, a very good Chinese restaurant, and Nemea Greek Taverna, which may be even better. You can wrap up the evening with a drink on the outdoor patio at El Jardin.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Vancouver, which offers the perfect combination of mountains and the ocean. Vancouver is basically the dessert of any Western Canadian road swing. Whenever we go there we’re struck by the easy lifestyle, and the feeling those folks have it all figured out.
To hoist a couple: The Roxy is a classic, even though it’s probably exhausting and more than a little cliché if you’re a local. Still, if you only get to Vancouver sporadically there’s a good time to be had there. For a casual drink, go to Gastown, which has multiple options on Water and Powell streets. You can start at Steamworks, a brew pub that serves as the unofficial gateway to the neighbourhood. There are even more options in Yaletown, which is also nice even if it doesn’t quite capture Gastown’s cachet. If you’re there check out Diamond and Hello Goodbye, a pair of very popular cocktail bars. Vancouver is also a great dive bar town, as befits a port city. Sean Gordon calls the Ivanhoe Hotel a “scruffy, spacious mainstay for cheap drinks”, it’s a short walk east from the arena district. Closer to Rogers Arena you’ll find Funky Winker Beans (aka Funky’s), which caters to a younger crowd at night. There are often bands, and they also have a heavy-metal karaoke night. The Cambie is just up the street, but locals will tell you something was lost when they renovated the place a few years back. Around the corner you’ll find Pub 340. It’s dive-y.
To watch the game: Yagger’s is probably the best we can do here. Mostly because the menu offers more than just run-of-the-mill sports bar options. There’s a location downtown, but you might want to head west to the one in Kitsilano, Vancouver’s hippest neighbourhood. As if anyone needed another reason to head out that way.
To grab a quick bite: First off, two good breakfast places: Medina Cafe and Le Petit Belge, both of which are a short hop from the rink. Another place that’s right next door to Rogers Arena: TAKO, which offers a Korean take on tacos. It may sound like a strange combination, but does it ever work. If you have time to go to Granville Island, which is west of downtown, you can join the locals in line for the fish and chips at Go Fish. You’ll eat your meal on a picnic table with a view of the water and downtown.
To eat a proper dinner: Speaking of Granville Island, the place might be at its best in the daytime rather than in the evening (and in a season other than winter). But there’s really no bad time to go to Sandbar, a great seafood house that offers an even greater view. If waterfront dining is your thing, you can also head over to Vancouver Harbour and eat at Cardero’s, which is an equivalent to Sandbar, just on the other side of the bay. The two places are owned by the same restaurant syndicate. When Alain Vigneault coached the Canucks he could often be spotted at Cardero’s (NHL folks like the fish houses, Coast on Alberni St. is another fave). A short wander east takes you to several more fun options. Miku, which serves Japanese food, is one of the most highly-regarded restaurants in town, so you’ll need to reserve. Cactus Club, which is a local chain, is more affordable but also far less adventurous. The best thing about it is it doubles as both a budget-conscious dinner spot and a great place to spend the rest of the evening with a drink. If you keep walking east, you’ll eventually get to Gastown, where I would recommend The Flying Pig – it’s seriously good – and Rodney’s Oyster House. Finally, if you’re looking for something different and original go to Salmon n’ Bannock. It features First Nations-themed cuisine. Corey Masisak said it might be the most unique menu he’s ever seen and considers it among the five best dinners he’s had while travelling for work.
(Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)VEGAS
Las Vegas is maybe the most sought-after destination in the league. It happened overnight, and for obvious reasons. There’s an overabundance of entertainment options, and taking in a hockey game offers a nice bookend to watching a championship fight card, a Cirque du Soleil show and perhaps a concert. Vegas isn’t quite the bargain it was back in the days when the strategy was to lure people in with cheap food and hotel prices, only to have them part with their hard earned cash in the casinos. Today, the Strip is all about luxury, so forewarned is forearmed, particularly when it comes to restaurants. The Strip is also a lot less walkable than you might imagine, even if the design and scale of its buildings create the opposite impression. That said, everyone should experience it at least once. When you’ve had enough, go check out the freak show that is Old Las Vegas, or what is labelled “the Fremont Street experience.” In a single evening we saw: a miniature version of Mr. T, people flying horizontally over a pedestrian mall on a zip-line, a restaurant where patrons wear hospital gowns and the servers are dressed as nurses, a guy who let passersby kick him in the dangly bits for a few bucks, and a panhandler with a sign that read: “too ugly to be a stripper.”
To hoist a couple: Beyond the casino bars on The Strip, the places we like tend to be on the edges of the action. We referenced Old Vegas earlier, that’s where our (now former) colleague Chris Kuc discovered O’Aces Bar and Grill, a perfect alternative to the defunct and lamented Loose Caboose. Vegas being Vegas, happy hour at O’Aces runs from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Let’s also give a shout out to MoonDoggies Bar and Grill, which is adjacent to Naked City Pizza, one of Nevada’s most celebrated pizza joints (they serve it in the bar). “Away from The Strip and a little scary from the outside, but don’t be put off. Get right in there and you won’t be sorry,” said Scott Burnside.
To watch the game: Watching hockey on the big screen in Vegas is a unique experience, particularly if you do so in one of the city’s sports books. People are focused intently on the screens, following multiple games in hopes their parlay will come through. As a result, you’ll hear cheers and see people running around at what may feel like odd moments given what’s happening in the game. Top marks go to the betting rooms at the MGM Grand and Caesars Palace. If you’re looking for a more traditional sports bar, go to Blondies in the Miracle Mile shopping center, which you can access via the Planet Hollywood Hotel.
To grab a quick bite: Let’s take a moment here to toast the memory of our late colleague Jason Botchford, who always made a point of going to Bruxie when he travelled to Vegas. It’s a fried-chicken-and-waffle sandwich place, which seemingly offers the kind of extravagant dishes that could even normalize monstrosities like KFC’s Double Down sandwich but . . . actually yeah, that’s exactly what it is. It’s also possible to find Bruxie locations in California, but the one in Vegas is a short distance from T-Mobile Arena so it constitutes a great choice for a pregame meal – just don’t be counting calories. A lighter option: Bajamar, on the north side of the Strip, is a fantastic place for fish tacos.
To eat a proper dinner: Don’t kid yourself, it’s possible to get an excellent meal in basically all of the major casinos on The Strip. But if you go just a little further afield, you’ll find restaurants that are less bling-y but just as good, if not better. Thinking here of Carson Kitchen or Eureka!, the sort of place where you might see a couple spontaneously stand up to do a slow dance when ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ comes on. We like. If you’re in Old Vegas by all means try Hugo’s Cellar, which is Four Queens hotel’s restaurant and popular among several of our colleagues. The question: will paying that much for dinner be enough to allow undeniably excellent cuisine to outshine the slightly tacky feel of the place?