Some of the greatest moments in my life have come at live sporting events. There is no substitute for seeing a game, whether its the Cowboys, Mavs, Stars or Rangers, up close and personal, surrounded by screaming fans. (Anyone who got to see Nolan Ryan pound Robin Ventura into submission at Arlington Stadium knows what I'm talking about.)
But there is that rare sporting event that is best enjoyed from afar. On a bar stool.
The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, with nearly 50 games spread out over its first weekend, truly is Madness. And the best way to get a flavor for all the buzzer-beaters and blowouts is to plant yourself in front of a giant bank of TVs, beer in one hand, burger or wing in the other, and stare.
That, my friends, is why God created sports bars.
At first, these places were mostly smokey man caves, only fit for a Neanderthal in an official team jersey. The games were broadcast on cloudy, rear-projection TVs, the beer was basic, and the food was anything that could legally be fried.
But my, oh my, how the sports bar has evolved.
Today, it's a wonderland of flat screens and filet mignons, high-def and gourmet dishes. Beautiful women hang out at sports bars, too, drinking cosmos and cheering their teams. Or, in some cases, serving up spicy wings in a tank top and orange shorts. (God didn't create the breastaurant. But we give thanks to him for them anyway.)
Point is that the modern sports bar comes in all shapes and sizes, catering to a bracketful of tastes. You can luxuriate at an upscale "sports lounge" or kick it old-school at a place like Bobby V's. If you like a side of sexy with your wings, you can get that, too.
But is there one sports bar that rises above the rest? The Best Damn Sports Bar in DFW?
It's tough to say. But that's the plan. I've narrowed things to 32 of my favorites, plus some bubble teams.
And now I'm asking for your help. Fill out your ballot, and together, we'll narrow the field over the next two weeks until we've got a Final Four in our makeshift regions:
The competition will be as fierce as anything you see in the NCAA Tournament, and victory will be just as sweet.
So grab a beer and a wing and start scouting. Deadline to vote in the first round is noon Monday.
Straight-Up Sports Bars region
1) Fox and Hound, downtown Fort Worth: The granddaddy of Fort Worth sports bars, it's a great place to gather and watch a game, whether you are downstairs at the big bar or upstairs near the pool tables. But it could face tough competition in this bracket from the upstart No. 2 seed.
2) BoomerJack's Grill & Bar, Bedford: Another great place to watch a game, especially if the weather is nice and you can snag a spot on my favorite patio. But no matter where you're seated, you'll have a clear view of one of the 42 HDTVs, and if you order the steak fingers or Super Bowl nachos, you'll be glad you did.
3) Pour House, Fort Worth: I actually like the Seventh Street location more than the original in Sundance Square. It's a better place to watch a game and still has the same chill atmosphere and good food. I really like the burgers and big salads, and the appetizer sampler is great for big groups.
4) Frankie's, Dallas: One of my very favorite places to hang out and watch a game. The food is superior to an average sports bar, and this legendary Uptown hot spot (near Bread Winners and Primo's) is as good as it gets. Oh, by the way, the drinks can be really strong, so pace yourself.
5) Humperdink's, Arlington: Within walking distance of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and Cowboys Stadium, Humperdink's is a great place to watch a game and enjoy their very own brewed beer. They've got tons of TVs, and really good food -- the late-night menu is served until 1:30 a.m. Try the volcano wings if you dare.
6) Bobby V's Sports Gallery Cafe, Arlington: Named for former Rangers manager Bobby Valentine, this place is stocked with sports memorabilia, including trading cards on the table. But its signature is the huge boxing ring in which you can sit and eat. It's a good, old-school sports-bar experience.
7) Baker St. Pub & Grill, Fort Worth: The cool British-style pub, located in a strip center near Ridglea Country Club, has good happy-hour specials, fish and chips, and tons of TVs for sports viewing. What else do you need?
8) Eagle's Nest Sports Restaurant, Fort Worth: The burgers and chicken tenders are fine, but Eagle's Nest surprises you with excellent grilled shrimp. TVs are everywhere, and if the game is a blowout, they do have Ms. Pac-Man and pool tables.
Upscale Sports Bars region
1) Texan Station Sports Bar, in the Gaylord Texan: This place has so much going for it, from its location near Lake Grapevine to a huge variety of drinks. The Texan combo platter will cover a couple of people, especially if you add chips and salsa. But the lounge's calling card is the huge TV. By huge, I mean over 50 feet wide. Feet, not inches. Another reason I enjoy this place is that it reminds me of the Sports Book at the Wynn in Las Vegas, with its comfy recliners you can sink into to watch games for hours. Please, no wagering.
2) Cool River Cafe, Las Colinas: When you walk over the river and enter this amazing structure, hook a right and you are in the bar area full of TVs, including a massive one in the center. There is also a cigar lounge and pool tables. Tear into one of their great steaks while watching all the games.
3) Whiskey & Rye , Fort Worth: Inside the 33-story Omni Hotel across from the Fort Worth Convention Center, Whiskey & Rye has flat screens everywhere you turn. But my favorite part is the really comfortable seating. The restaurant also serves Fort Worth's very own Rahr & Sons beer.
4) The Boardroom, Dallas: Steps from American Airlines Center, this is the place to meet before (and hang out after) Mavs and Stars games. The bar area has couches, big booths, flat screens and really good food. Sure, it's pricey, but in Victory Park, it's all about location.
5) Charleston's, Fort Worth: This southwest Fort Worth spot is not a textbook sports bar, but the bar area has that feel and the chicken tenders are pure greatness. It's a relaxed atmosphere in which to hang out and watch a game.
6) Houlihan's Bar & Grill, Arlington Highlands: The restaurant section is never that crowded, but the bar area is usually overflowing. Don't forget to hit up the $6 apps after 9 p.m. I recently met some friends here to watch the Mavs and loved the fact that the game's sound was on rather than the same music I hear on satellite radio in my car.
7) Shula's 347 Grill, Fort Worth: You can eat a filet mignon while watching the flat screens, and if the basketball game is a blowout, you can check out all of the memorabilia from the winningest coach in NFL history.
8) Fox Sports Grill, Plano: The prices are definitely on the high side, but there are tons of flat screens and lots of booths to relax in to watch multiple games. This is the place to be on NFL Sundays or, perhaps, during the NCAA Tournament.
1) Bone Daddy's, Grapevine: If you love beautiful girls, cold beer and sports, you simply can't do better than Bone Daddy's in Grapevine. The food, beginning with the chips and leading into the barbecue sandwiches or chicken-fried steak, never disappoints. And don't forget the Beer Can Chicken! No matter where you're sitting, you can see multiple flat screens, and don't be surprised if you run into a Dallas Cowboy or two.
2) Twin Peaks, Addison: Hot girls, cold beer and a gigantic TV behind the bar help this Twin Peaks stand apart from the ordinary sports bar/restaurant. It has the feel of a country lodge that you never want to leave.
3) Jakes Hamburgers, Fort Worth: The newest location, in west Fort Worth, is a cool place to watch games, and you can't beat the big burgers and drink specials. While it's not a "breastaurant" per se, the very attractive servers are affectionately known as "the Jakettes."
4) Ojos Locos Sports Cantina, Dallas: This brand new spot has a wall of TVs showing sports from soccer to boxing to basketball, and "balone" micro-kegs come in the shape of a soccer ball. The highlight of a visit to Ojos Locos is when one of the attractive waitresses climbs the ladder to retrieve one. And where else can you get burgers, wings and tacos?
5) Hooters, Dallas' West End: Known as the "World's Largest Hooters," the West End location features two levels of TVs, wings, beer and hot girls in orange shorts (or black, if it's a special event). While the girls get all the attention, the wings are still pretty darn good.
6) 3rd Base Sports Bar & Grill, Arlington: In the shadows of Six Flags' Judge Roy Scream roller coaster, 3rd Base features booths and a diamond-shaped bar that offer great views of TVs wherever you turn. The food is better than your average sports bar fare (try the boneless chicken tenders), and the waitresses are lovely.
7) Overtime Bar & Grill, Fort Worth: The women who work here are clad in referee outfits, but they do a much better job than those who work the Mavs games. Overtime is a laid-back place to watch sports and enjoy some really good drink specials.
8) Tilted Kilt, Grapevine: Just around the corner from Bone Daddy's and Hooters in what has become Grapevine's Breastaurant Row, Tilted Kilt is a national chain that just opened its first area location. The Celtic-themed restaurant comes with beautiful servers and a menu that includes a "Big Arse" hamburger, "Braveheart's" salad and lasagna.
1) Pluckers Wing Bar, Arlington Highlands: I counted 52 flat screens when I visited Pluckers, the Austin-based wing chain. Between the booths and the bar area, it is impossible to not see sports while downing wings in all sorts of flavors. The spicy mandarin and spicy ranch are awesome. So is the sweet tea. Best I've had, besides Chick-fil-A -- and Pluckers is open Sundays.
2) Hooters, North Collins in Arlington: The first Hooters in Tarrant County, and the first one I ever visited. Their boneless wings platter ($5.99 on Wednesdays) has become my favorite. Located smack in the middle of DFW and a few minutes from Rangers Ballpark, this Hooters is a go-to meeting spot before or after a game, or to watch a game with out-of-town friends.
3) Buffalo Wild Wings, Fort Worth: In what was once a Don Pablo's, this Buffalo Wild Wings has two levels with a good bar upstairs that includes a patio. We first discovered this location as we searched for a place to watch the Cowboys last fall and have been back on several occasions.
4) Faggins Henderson Chicken Sports Bar, Irving: This fast food/chicken restaurant combo, only a few minutes southeast of D/FW Airport, has quickly become a hot spot. It's owned by Dontaye Faggins and his brother, NFL cornerback DeMarcus Faggins, and attracts a diverse crowd -- including the occasional hungry pro athlete. Happy hour is 2-8 p.m. every day, which leads into nearly every local sporting event.
5) Buffalo Bros Pizza Wings & Subs: A cool TCU-area hangout with really good wings and pizza. I'm partial to the pepperoni. This is a really chill place to hang out and watch the tournament.
6) Varsity Club Wings & Sports, Frisco: Die-hards will love this bar, where the fans really get into the action. They also dig into the grilled wings. I like the late happy hour, from 9 to close, because it usually coincides with the second half of a game.
7) Angry Dog, Deep Ellum: Known for really good burgers and hot dogs, Angry Dog's chicken wings are too often overlooked. I'm hooked on them. You'll like the scene in Deep Ellum, too, and the house rules, which include: "Don't harass single women."
8) Wingstop: They've served more than a billion (with a "B") wings, so it's hard to argue with that kind of success. They offer nine flavors. I like the hickory-smoked barbecue. And don't skip the fresh-cut seasoned fries.