For some, March is a month of spring renewal. For others it’s about birthdays (ahem, take note, generous gift givers). And for many it’s all about the madness of the brackets. Fans of the annual March Madness college basketball competition are as obsessed with every detail of the game as the NCAA’s lawyers are with protecting the shoot-out’s copyrighted name. Thus it follows that spectators flood local sport bars to root for their teams and meticulously analyze results with fellow patrons – activities that apparently require a shitload of shouting. That kind of ambience doesn’t suit everyone’s taste, so let’s examine your options for March Psychopathy across the spectrum, from “Fuck yeah, sports!” to “Eh, who gives a shit.”
Fuck Yeah, Sports!
If you’re lacking a home base, it’s a safe bet that any of the Friendly Confines locations (435 N. Alafaya Trail; 3088 Aloma Ave., Winter Park; 7025 County Road 46A, Lake Mary; myfriendlyconfines.com) will suit your needs. The Confines cater to all sports enthusiasts, particularly those ravenous for hot wings. TVs on every flat surface mean you can’t not look at a game, and the close seating allows fan enthusiasm to bubble over to raucousness. Over on the more sedate Disney BoardWalk, ESPN Club (2101 N. Epcot Resorts Blvd., Lake Buena Vista; disneyworld.disney.go.com) gets packed for big games as patrons clamor to get the best view of the more than 100 screens. At CityWalk at Universal, the focus at NBA City (6068 Universal Blvd.; nba.com/nbacity) isn’t so much on watching the competition as it is on selling you on the magic of basketball. The booths come with mini-TVs so you can privately mourn your losing bracket picks while bigger games play on the huge projection screens. It’ll be damn near impossible to avoid the games in any of the bars near UCF, but peak enthusiasm can be sought at the Moat Sports Grille(4250 Alafaya Trail, Oviedo; themoatsportsgrille.com). Boasting 25 taps, a full liquor bar and 46 TVs, it’s got the specs for a boisterous good time (if not the legacy, seeing as it’s just a year and a half old).
I’m Only Here For My Bracket
Keeping on top of the standings doesn’t mean you have to wade into a sea of hooting mouth-breathers in backwards baseball caps. A little more neighborly appreciation of the basketball tourney can be found downtown at FinnHenry’s (39 N. Orange Ave.; finnhenrys.com), where a halo of TVs displaying an array of sporting events rings the central bar. The pub is a throwback to old public houses of yore, sporting cozy high-top tables and tons of bar seating. Across Lake Eola in Thornton Park, Graffiti Junktion (900 E. Washington St.; graffiti junktion.com) often sees the atmosphere tip into rowdy territory, but the outdoor seating offers a place to escape from the din and still has a decent view of the TVs inside. If you’re looking for something to distract you while you wait for the final scores, Firkin and Kegler in Waterford Lakes (12850 Waterford Lakes Parkway; fkorlando.com) has bowling, pool and arcade games to help you forget your stupid, stupid picks. Sports are projected onto screens above the alleys, so you can stay up to date. But it gets crowded quickly, so keep a friend posted within arm’s reach of the bar.
Who Gives a Shit
If you’re trying to avoid anything and everything about the tournament, spend some time in Uncle Lou’s Entertainment Hall (1016 N. Mills Ave.). It’s small and cramped, the single TV is pretty much there for Lou, and chances are there’ll be an ear-melting band drowning out the sounds of the outside world. For more basketball embargo with your beer, try the Milk Bar (2424 E. Robinson St.; themilkbarorlando.com), where it’s practically law that the TVs must be showing something other than sports (like Futurama or pictures of LOLcats). The beer selection is kick-ass and you can play any of the dozens of board games (the ultimate in nerdy sports rejection!). If all that fails, come on over to my house, where there’s zero sports and a full kegerator.
The Bar Tab
Speaking of places where you can catch a game (if your game is soccer), Cricketers Arms (7563 Sand Lake Road; cricketersarmspub.com) has recently reopened after relocating to a new spot in Dr. Phillips. The new digs have an expanded tap selection, including four hand-drawn ales, and they’ve still got a spiffy viewing section for European sports channels so you can keep tabs on all those clubs you love, like … Manchester … and … Manchester.