Posted by mike in Drinking,Food,Sports at 10:23 pm on November 3, 2010

With the Bears playing back-to-back prime-time games (Monday night in week 3 against the Packers, and Sunday night in week 4 against the Giants), we decided to make more of a dinner-and-drinks event of it both times. We ventured to Windy City Pizza for both games to enjoy them with fellow displaced Bears fans. While the results of the games were split, the experience at Windy City was largely the same.

Location *

Windy City is a place I know pretty well. It’s located in San Mateo, which happens to be where I work, so it’s a frequent lunch destination. It was first suggested to me as a pizza place in response to my frequent gripe about the lack of any really good pizza in the Bay Area. More on the food in a bit, though.

Fan club sign While San Mateo is a pretty central location for people coming from any direction, it’s not really ideal for any of them. There are two Caltrain stops in the city, but neither one is within walking distance of Windy City. It’s also far enough outside San Francisco that people who live in the city don’t usually want to venture down, and it’s a good 45-minute drive for people from San Jose. So central though it may be, it’s not exactly convenient for anybody. This is Windy City’s biggest strike against it.

Layout and Coverage **

The crowd at Windy City Inside, the feel is that of a family restaurant. There are lots of tables that all seem a bit too close together, and several booths in the back. The dining area is divided into two large sections: the primary area includes the bar and kitchen counter where you can order your food and drinks, and the secondary area has more seating for larger groups or families, as well as a few video games.

Windy City has recently upgraded their TVs from an outdated rear-projection screen to several wall-mounted LCDs, which is a welcome change. None of them are in ideal game-watching locations, but there are several TVs arranged throughout the dining area, making it easy to follow the game while you eat your meal. The bar at Windy City If you opt to sit at the bar—something only a dozen or so people can do at any given time—there’s a nice large screen behind it.

This being the “Bay Area home of the Chicago Bears,” the coverage focuses on the Bears game. I haven’t made the trek on a Sunday morning, so I can’t comment on their general gameday coverage, but in these two instances the nationally-televised Bears games were on every screen, as you’d expect.

Crowd ****

The best part about watching a Bears game at Windy City is that it feels like home. Not only is the place filled with Bears fans, many of whom are sporting jerseys and other color-bearing apparel, but the majority of them are also transplants. You’ll hear a lot of Chicago accents here, and see some mighty mustaches that remind someone like myself of home.

Dave cheers a Bears TD For Bears games, the crowd is rowdy and boisterous. They’ll cheer for the Bears and boo for the opposing team, as you’d expect, but they also add a nice touch: every time the Bears score, the whole crowd breaks out into a coordinated singing of “Bear Down, Chicago Bears,” with a ringleader holding up a sign with the lyrics on it to make sure everybody can participate. It’s a little bit of Soldier Field transplanted to San Mateo.

Food and Drinks ***.5

Our Hawaiian-style pizza The food at Windy City is very good. They feature a mixed menu that’s half Chicago-style favorites and half Texas-style BBQ. The Chicago fare includes pizzas, beef sandwiches, and hot dogs, all of which are really close to what I would consider authentic, but not quite the same as what you’d actually get back in Chicago. Before getting into the pizza, though, I should make a special mention of the Italian beef sandwiches, which I sometimes get when we go here for lunch—it’s the only place outside of Illinois that I’ve ever seen actual giardiniera peppers, and they are spot-on.

Our BBQ pork pizza Both times we got pizza, as we almost always do. For week 3, we went with a ham/pineapple/onion/bacon deep-dish. For week 4, we actually considered going with a BBQ plate instead, but backed out because we like their pizza so much. So we split the difference and went with a pizza with BBQ pork. Both pizzas were awesome, as usual. The crust is extremely buttery and thick, and there’s ample amounts of cheese everywhere. The sauce is a little sparse, and they put it in rings on top of the cheese rather than completely covering it, but it’s pretty good as well. You can feed 4 people easily with a single medium pizza—2 slices is enough to fill anyone up, making the $25ish price tag quite reasonable.

The cheesebread appetizer We also got some cheesy garlic bread as an appetizer, which is nice when you’re settling in for an entire game—and the pizza takes a good 45 minutes to cook anyway. The second time we added tomato slices to the bread, which made it even better.

The drink selection at Windy City is a little sparse, but decent enough. They typically have drink specials during Bears games, and for every trip to the bar you get a raffle ticket for various Bears merchandise. The downside to the beers—aside from somewhat of a lack of selection—is the price: we usually get pitchers for $14. That’s the regular price for Coors Light, or the “special” price for better beers during games (Kona Longboard or Stella Artois are our usuals). Still, though, you get frosted glasses to drink it out of, and the beer is always cold and the service friendly, and the prices are pretty typical of the area.

A slice of the Hawaiian pizza The aftermath of a meal

Intangibles **.5

One thing that perpetually annoys me is a place that can’t settle on an identity. You see this a lot with sports bars—they’ll claim to be the “official bar of” or the “home of” like 3 or 4 different (and unrelated) teams. Windy City falls into this category with their Chicago-slash-Texas motif. The BBQ proudly advertised They’re mostly a Chicago place, not just with the food but also with the decor (lots of pictures of Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, and other recognizable Chicago venues). But then they also have this Texas sub-personality, like they weren’t willing to go all the way with the Chicago thing (or they thought it wasn’t enough). The BBQ always looks and smells good, but I’ve never tried it because I go here for Chicago-style pizza. I suppose it might be nice to have alternatives if you’re in a group and not everybody wants pizza, but it still doesn’t quite make sense to me. It’s like they’re not willing to go all-in with the Chicago thing, and that annoys me a bit.

The other missing piece comes in the game area. They have a few out-of-date arcade games, but if they were really a Chicago place, they’d have a Golden Tee machine. This is another thing that makes me think they’re not willing to go all the way with their Chicago persona.

One nice touch is that Windy City is the home of the Bay Area Chicago Bears Fan Club. During games, the club is well-represented, and the president, a nice guy named Dave with one of those aforementioned mighty mustaches, is jovial and friendly. He does a good job organizing things, keeping the crowd involved in the game, and running an email list for Bears fans to commiserate on.

Our kind of town

Summary

The atmosphere at Windy City is welcoming, the food is good, and it’s a great place to watch a Bears game. There are a few things they could do to complete the facade, but overall it’s a pretty respectable effort at capturing the feel—and taste—of a Chicago-style eatery. It’s a bit of a pain to get to, but it’s worth the trouble, especially during Bears games.

As it’s more of a restaurant than a bar, it’s not exactly the kind of place that could really become a hang-out, and that helps minimize the effects of the poor location. (It’s not like it needs to be convenient for daily happy hour visits anyway.) We haven’t fully judged it as an all-out Sunday NFL-watching destination, but for a change of pace during Bears prime-time games, it’s hard to beat.

Location: *
Layout and Coverage: **
Crowd: ****
Food and Drinks: ***.5
Intangibles: **.5

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Posted by mike in Drinking,Food,Sports at 8:31 pm on September 25, 2010

For week 2, we visited McTeague’s Saloon in what is generally considered Nob Hill, but it could also be the Tenderloin, or Civic Center/Downtown—it’s sort of right in the middle of the 3 (or 4) neighborhoods.

I’ve often said that Pete’s, our destination last week, is the only place in San Francisco that I’d consider to be a genuine sports bar. McTeague’s didn’t disprove that theory, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy ourselves.

Location **.5

McTeague's entrance McTeague’s is sort of in a no-man’s-land of public transportation. We took the BART to the Civic Center stop, but that only gets you halfway there. Our options were then to take a 20-30 minute walk, ride a bus up Van Ness, or take a cab. Wanting to ensure that we arrived before kickoff at 10:00am, we opted for the latter option. (After football—and a full 5-6 hours of drinking—to get home, we didn’t mind walking back to the BART stop.)

While it was a little less than convenient to get to, especially for those of us coming from outside of the city, once we arrived in the neighborhood McTeague’s started to score points. On and around the same block of Polk Street are multiple other bars, small restaurants, and quaint little shops. The biggest disappointment from the surroundings came when we found that the crepes place across the street was closed.

Layout and Coverage *

McTeague's layout McTeague’s is not very well laid-out for NFL Sundays. As you walk in, on the left is the bar, with several modest-sized LCD TVs above it, and on the right are tables and chairs. In the rear is a separate back bar, with a couple more TVs—two fairly large ones in the corners and two small ones behind the bar—as well as a couple of tables in the middle. This is where we situated ourselves.

They do have Sunday Ticket, and make a token effort to have all of the games on. When we settled in the back area, the bartender took notice of our attire (most of us are Bears fans, but this week one of our party was a Cowboys fan) and put the Bears-Cowboys game on one of the larger screens for us. Being in the smaller back bar, we were only able to keep tabs on 3 other games besides the main one we were watching, but they did have other games on out in the main bar area.

There were a couple of problems with the game coverage. First, as the Bears game was the local Fox game of the week, it was blacked out on the Sunday Ticket channel. It took a few minutes to locate the bartender and get him to change the channel once the game had started. This seems like something the employees and the establishment should be more on top of. Then, during the first half, a guy came in who seemed like he owned the place and started changing the channels around. He eventually put our game on the other of the two large screens, but it was annoying nonetheless. I feel like if he had a strong preference on which games were on which screens, then he should be there prior to kickoff. Otherwise, don’t screw with the TVs while your customers are watching them.

Finally, at one point it seemed that the DirecTV feed went out, and all of their receivers reset themselves. This is something I’m all too familiar with, unfortunately; whether it was the bar’s fault or not I can’t say, but it resulted in 10 minutes of nothing to watch on any of the screens in the middle of the second half of the early games.

Crowd **

Part of the reason we chose to go to McTeague’s this week was because the Bears were playing the Cowboys, and this is sort of a Texas bar. We thought it’d be fun to go into enemy territory, as it were.

While there were a handful of Cowboys fans there, it was clear that this wasn’t a big place to watch Cowboys games, which we found disappointing. (McTeague’s is a University of Texas bar, it turns out—they have Longhorns signage all around, and apparently having Texas fans doesn’t necessarily translate into also having Cowboys fans.)

By the second quarter of the game, though, the crowd had filled in, and was a fairly rowdy bunch. Many people gathered in the back area where we were sitting, standing around to watch the games that were shown there. We had some fun back-and-forth with one particularly boisterous Cowboys fan, which was exactly what we were looking for. The poor layout of the bar in general made it difficult to get to the bathroom or to go outside during commercials, but the fun in this whole endeavor comes from sharing in the football-watching with strangers, and we did accomplish that.

Food and Drinks *.5

Lone Star beers The good thing about McTeague’s being a Texas bar is that they serve Lone Star beer. Not because the beer is any good, but because it’s $2 all day every day, which suited us quite well. Additionally, on NFL Sundays, they have Coors Light bottles for $2. Between the two, we were well-covered in terms of being able to drink beer all day without spending much money.

They also had some pretty cheap food specials. These, too, weren’t exactly what I’d call “good,” but for the money they were a good deal. $2 tacos is the special for football, so that’s what we went with. We also got a plate of nachos for the table. The best part of this meal was the nacho cheese sauce on the nachos: it was that kind of unholy glowing-yellow sauce that you normally find in a convenience store, except it was more creamy and thus even better. The tacos were serviceable; they were filled with a good amount of meat (most of us got pork, as they were out of steak), although there was no cheese on them, which I found disappointing.

The theme of the food and beverages seemed to be “low-class,” which fits with my mental stereotype of a Texas-style bar, but also fits well with my propensity to over-indulge. We definitely spent significantly less money than we did in week 1, and that’s a good thing.

Intangibles **.5

Gold Tooth The #1 reason McTeague’s was high on my list of places to visit is because it’s named after the seminal 1899 Frank Norris novel. Literary references always score big points in my book, regardless of where they show up. Fittingly, the bar had a gold tooth hanging out front, just as the title character’s Dental Parlors on Polk Street sports in the book. They also had a smaller gold tooth hanging inside, which I thought of as a fitting stand-in for a disco ball. Both teeth were sort of shitty-looking, as if the owner made and spray-painted them in his garage, but I still liked the touch.

Coffin lid decor The decoration gets a little weirder, though. Behind the bar, hanging from the ceiling, are hand-painted coffin lids of deceased musicians and other figures (such as Hunter S. Thompson). I took an admittedly blurry picture of the Rick James and Kurt Cobain coffin-tops, which you can see at left, but you can see a couple of better examples at Yelp (Cobain and Thompson, for instance). I didn’t get an explanation for these. They seem to be somebody’s art project, and the collection is pretty random, other than the fact that most of them are musicians (another one I recall was Janis Joplin).

While the bar itself was nice enough, and fairly clean, the bathrooms were dingy and not well-kept. They did have paper towels, at least. Like the rest of the bar, they weren’t very well laid-out, making for a couple of awkward moments. On the plus side, the restrooms were located in the back near the rear bar where we were seated, so we had easy access to them.

Shots on our table The best option when spending a whole day in a bar is to befriend the bartender, and while we were focused on the games and didn’t spend a lot of time chatting, we definitely got on the good side of ours. He commented multiple times on how we were his “best drinkers” that day, which I suppose is a complement. We’ve definitely found that our Midwestern enjoyment of excuses to drink during sunlight hours is not something you commonly find out here. While this means it’s harder to find people to join us in such endeavors, it does have the upside of making our antics seem a bit more impressive and unusual. So I guess we stand out. At any rate, during the later games, the bartender offered to buy us a shot, and poured them generously. I selected Jameson, and you could say that we enjoyed it.

Summary

We found McTeague’s to be a decent bar, although nothing special. For NFL-watching, it’s definitely not ideal, but we made do. When we arrived, they still had EPL games finishing up, and apparently it’s a good soccer bar in general. Our friends said that it’s a place they’ve enjoyed on many a Friday or Saturday night, but we found that for Sundays it’s not the best. Still, we had a good time, and I’m glad to have seen it.

Next week, as the Bears play on Monday Night Football, we’re going to do something a little different. We’ll take Sunday off, and I’ll actually try to get my money’s worth out of the Sunday Ticket package.

Location: **.5
Layout and Coverage: *
Crowd: **
Food and Drinks: *.5
Intangibles: **.5

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Posted by mike in Drinking,Food,Sports at 11:33 pm on September 13, 2010

This is our third NFL season spent in the Bay Area, so we’ve decided it’s time to get out of the house a bit and find the ultimate San Francisco football bar at which to watch games on Sundays. Megan and I, along with some friends, are planning to spend each Sunday this fall exploring a different bar, and I’m intending to report on and rate each one. Our primary goal is to find a Bears bar, but we’re open to anything that makes for a good place to watch football in general.

Being as this was opening week, we didn’t want to stray too far into the unfamiliar while establishing our new Sunday routine, so we stuck with something we know: Pete’s Tavern in Mission Bay, right across the street from AT&T Park. Pete’s is familiar to us not only as a favorite Giants pre- and post-game hangout, but also because 66% of our group (two of the three couples) lives in the Avalon apartments just a couple of blocks away.

I’ve devised a set of 5 criteria that I’ll use to judge the places we visit: Location, Layout and Coverage, Crowd, Food and Drink, and Intangibles. This being week 1, I’ll explain what I mean by each of these along the way. Because I’m lazy, I’m using the same star ratings here that I use for my movie reviews, but obviously my explanations don’t apply here; what’s important to know is that it’s a 4-star scale.

Location ***

There are two main factors that contribute to my judgment of how good a bar’s location is. First, since Megan and I live outside of the city, and because we’re going to be spending all day drinking there, it needs to be accessible by public transportation. Second, it needs to be in a good neighborhood; by this, I don’t mean an area without much crime (although that’s nice too), I mean somewhere with a lot of like-minded people, as well as other options for bar-hopping in case our primary choice doesn’t suit our needs. Having options for places to eat in the vicinity is a plus, too.

Pete’s is conveniently located 2 blocks away from the 4th and King St Caltrain stop. This makes it really easy to get to for those of us coming from outside of the city. The only downside is that the Caltrain only stops in South San Francisco (where we’re coming from) once an hour, so in order to arrive in time for kickoff, we have to catch the train at 9:08am. While this makes for an early morning, it puts us at the bar in time for them to open the doors at 9:45am.

The neighborhood is a little lacking in other options, but Pete’s is a known quantity, and when we go there the odds of having to come up with a backup plan are low. So it mostly gets a pass on this point, even though if we chose to leave Pete’s and go somewhere else, it’d likely involve a short cab ride.

Layout and Coverage **.5

Being as our primary purpose here is to watch football—and given that I’m wasting the $300 I spend annually on Sunday Ticket by going to a bar in the first place—any location we try has to have every game on. This means they must have many TVs, they better all be HD, and they need to have a barstaff that’s savvy enough to make sure every game is viewable. (I can’t tell you how many bars I’ve been to in the Bay Area where the employees have no idea how to find a game on TV when requested—never mind that a true sports bar should preempt the need for such a request in the first place.) On NFL Sundays, the more games I can see at once, the better—I’ve got a lot of fantasy players and various bets that need monitoring.

Pete’s has a fantastic setup for watching sports in general. They have two huge projection screens, and several large LCDs well-distributed throughout the bar. Everything is in HD. The horseshoe shape lends itself well to providing good viewing angles for several screens at once. They have Sunday Ticket, and their bartenders are knowledgeable sports fans who know enough to make sure that every game is on at least one screen.

They get docked points for only having a single TV with the Bears game on it, despite our group’s protestations to the contrary. They chose the Patriots-Bengals game to get the primary projection screen and the PA system, which I found to be a surprising selection, but not necessarily a bad one. Most other games were on two screens at opposite sides of the room, meaning everybody present had a pretty good chance of being able to see the game they most wanted to watch.

They also have a sizable upstairs area with additional screens, but this was blocked off for a 49ers party (which, presumably, started around 1:00pm). By the time the afternoon games rolled around, I didn’t notice whether anybody was up there or not, but for the first 3 hours we were there it definitely seemed like a waste of space.

Crowd ***

A good football bar crowd is hard to find: there’s a fine balance that must be achieved. It’s fun to have representatives from many teams present, and in a city like San Francisco where there are so many transplants, this part is almost a given. While it’s enjoyable to have people rooting for every team (or close to it), you don’t want any one group of fans to overpower the others, unless you’re at a place that explicitly identifies itself as a bar for that team’s fans. As far as capacity goes, while half the fun of going to a bar to watch games is experiencing NFL Sunday with strangers, I don’t like the place to be too packed. A good layout has a lot to do with this, too, but a place that packs people in is going to get docked significantly—as is a place that tends to attract overly-boisterous assholes.

Being right across the street from AT&T Park, Pete’s is in an area that tends to live and die by the baseball season, and more specifically the Giants’ schedule. Since the Giants were in San Diego this weekend, there wasn’t a lot going on around the ballpark when we arrived. A small crowd (maybe 15 people) was gathered out front waiting for the doors to open, so we were able to have our pick of seats at the bar without having to feel like we were the only ones ordering beer in public at 10 o’clock in the morning.

We were pleasantly surprised by the number of Bears fans who filed in, taking up a large table on our side of the bar. This gave them a great view of the single TV dedicated to our game, but it also made the decision by the barstaff to not put the game on another screen more questionable. There were even a few Detroit fans there, and yet for some reason our game got the same status as the Miami-Buffalo game (which I’m pretty sure nobody was actually watching, aside from the occasional check on fantasy and gambling implications it might’ve had).

There were fans from several other teams, as is to be expected, and they were all courteous and friendly from what I saw. The overall ambiance was that of a general-purpose football party. I’m sure being the first week of the season has something to do with this, since nobody (other than Saints fans, maybe) has much justification to be overly cocky or boisterous. Still, though, the crowd was consistent with what I’ve seen every time I’ve been to Pete’s: passionate sports fans who are nonetheless fun to be around, even if they’re rooting for a different team than you.

Food and Drinks ***.5

As it’s a bar we’re going to, it should come as no surprise that we’re there to drink. Well, watch football, and drink. It’s really a 1a-1b situation, and I’m not sure which is which. So having a good selection of drinks—beer in particular—is important. Being a Midwesterner, I’m partial to Miller Lite. I think the old “Great Taste/Less Filling” slogan rings true: it tastes good, and I can drink it all day. But on the West Coast it’s sometimes hard to find my beer of choice, so that’s a big criteria for me. Cost is also a consideration, but this being San Francisco, it’s pretty safe to assume that everything will be expensive. Additionally, since we’re going to be there for several hours, food is an important factor. We’re most likely going to be looking for bar food, but quality bar food, and the service needs to be acceptable. Price is a consideration here as well, naturally.

Pete’s scores high marks on all counts. They have somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 beers on tap, and many more available in bottles. Most beers are about $4, including Miller Lite (which they only have in bottles). This is surprisingly reasonable for the area (across the street during baseball games, you’ll pay $8.25 for a pint). They were also serving mimosas, the breakfast drink of choice for many, and while our party didn’t order any of these, many people around us did, and all seemed to really enjoy the option.

The food is fantastic. On Sunday mornings, Pete’s offers breakfast, and everybody I saw opting to go this route did not regret it. I had the huevos rancheros, and it was probably the best such plate I’ve ever eaten. They deep-fry the tortillas, making it a sort of breakfast-Mexican pizza. It was awesome. Megan waited a little longer and got the Western burger, which she reported was also terrific—and its grilled-beef smell was enjoyed by everybody in her immediate area, too. For additional dining options, there’s also the adjoining cantina (owned by the same people), Pedro’s. (The two establishments are connected, which has the added benefit of providing twice the restroom capacity.) Prices on food are quite reasonable; the average meal was about $10-11.

Intangibles ****

This category is for anything that’s not covered by the other four already mentioned above. It can include anything from quality of bartenders to cleanliness of the bathrooms.

In terms of intangibles, Pete’s can’t be beat. Partially due to the fact that the others in our group are regulars, but also simply as a general manner of course, we got impeccable service. The six of us sat at the bar and were never wanting for drinks. Our bill was surprisingly low when we finally left around 4 in the afternoon, and we had fun bantering with the ladies behind the bar the whole time we were there. They’re welcoming and friendly, and they know their sports.

Due to the NL West playoff race going on, there was a nice segue from the early football games into the Giants-Padres game, which got equal screen estate with the 49ers-Seahawks game. The crowd and atmosphere adapted into a decidedly San Francisco setting in the afternoon, and it’s fun to enjoy the games with the hometown fan base.

The final point in Pete’s favor is their bathrooms: while they’re downstairs, making for potentially dangerous stumbling on your way there and back, they’re extremely clean and have plenty of capacity. Whenever I’m at Pete’s, I find myself surprised and impressed by the clean, glistening chrome-handled sinks, and the preponderance of high-quality paper towels on and around them. It’s things like this that really make for a comfortable and enjoyable bar experience for me.

Summary

I already knew Pete’s as a great place to watch games, and NFL games are now included in that reputation. They have lots of screens and they know how to use them, the crowd was just about right, and the food, drinks, and service were all great. They’re not going to be our Bears bar of choice, but as a general-purpose football-watching bar, Pete’s is a definite winner.

Location: ***
Layout and Coverage: **.5
Crowd: ***
Food and Drinks: ***.5
Intangibles: ****

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Posted by mike in Drinking,News at 7:56 pm on November 1, 2006

Today after work I swung by the Pub to meet and have my picture taken with Monica Leigh, Miss March 2006.

Me and Miss March

Megan got her picture taken with the 2006 Cyber Girl of the Year, too, but she doesn’t like sharing things with the Internet the way I do.

She signed it:

To Mike,
All my love,
Monica Leigh

It’s cheesy, but it was a fun experience. I’m hoping my co-workers will be jealous tomorrow when I hang the picture outside of my office.

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