The Uneven Bars

When put to the test, many local sports-theme establishments don't live up to the hype

Admit it. You caught Olympic fever when the torch ran by on the Fourth of July.

And now the main event is upon us! The centennial Olympic games begin tomorrow in Atlanta. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. Up close and personal with NBC's beloved Bob Costas. How much is that official Olympic tchotchke in the window?

But now that you've caught Olympicitis, what the heck are you going to do with it? Just how are you going handle those 171-plus televised hours? Not home alone, if you can help it.

Watching the Olympics at home is tempting. Total control over your 32-inch TV. Fridge full of beer. A busy barbecue grill. Your favorite chair. No dress code. No problem.

And no fun. No one to sit with. No one to cheer with. No one to argue with. Not one person to commiserate with when Greece wins the gold in basketball (just kidding).

You are going to want to be out and about -- with people who share your obsession for watching, watching, watching till the last medal is awarded and they douse that flame. You are going to be in the market for places that specialize in catering to sports fans.

You might say all you really need is a restaurant with a TV or two. And indeed, many local establishments will be temporarily transformed into venues for people to meet to celebrate their national heritage and absorb the human drama of athletic competition. But why bother with those when actual edifices have been designed expressly for sports-watching purposes? Places where fans gather year-round to watch sporting events piped in via satellite to very big, very well-positioned TV sets. Places that serve up good food and good fun.

In other words, sports bars.
Then again, not all so-called sports bars are created equal. Real sports bars don't lure in true fans only to betray them by serving up all manner of unsporting activities: Would Bob Mathias (decathlon gold medalist, 1948 and 1952) have danced in front of a TV broadcasting the Olympic trials? And then there's the matter of TV reception and background noise: Would Wilma Rudolph (100 and 200-meter women's run gold medalist, 1960) have stood for a lousy picture and a bar that neglected to supply closed-captioning so one could "hear" the action in a boisterous environment? And the drinking: Would Janet Evans (400- and 800-meter women's swimmer) pound pitchers till she barfed? And the food: Would Pat Riley stomach chicken wings accompanied by a wilted stalk of celery that suffered from a bad case of split ends?

How does Miami measure up to the sports bar ideal? On the eve of the Olympics, New Times set out to see. We surveyed a dozen establishments, considering every conceivable criterion, from general sports ambiance to quality of chicken wings and coldness of beer. Bottom line? We looked for a primary focus on sports, executed with integrity and class. (Note: The criteria, while appropriate to a discussion of the genre, did unfairly penalize one establishment in particular, the Sport Cafe on Miami Beach, which defies categorization but is eminently worthy of a visit.)

Below, in alphabetical order, are capsule reviews of a dozen area watering holes, as well as a chart indicating which are (and are not) of championship caliber.

Let the Games begin!

Clevelander Hotel Sports Bar
1020 Ocean Dr.
Miami Beach
531-3485

This smallish place is part of a hotel lobby, which helps explain why all kinds of people are forever going in and out, and all kinds of nonsports things are going on. You know, South Beach. So if you're looking for a genuine sports-bar experience, this ain't it. But if you're already on South Beach and need to catch a game, the Clevelander is a whole lot better than nothing.

Five large TV sets (plus a bigger one in the back) attend an average-size bar, six tables, and a pool table. (Nice fish tank behind the bar.) Beer taps serve up microbrews for $2.75 a glass. In fact, the Clevelander now touts its own beer: South Beach Brew and (look out!) Tough Guy Ale, both $2.50 on draft. When the taps are actually working, that is.

The menu is on the heavy-duty side. As in lobster and Dom Perignon. Grilled portobello mushrooms are a little more down-to-earth, but still expensive at $8.95. Pizzas go for $4.95 to $7.95. An order of fries will cost you $2.95. But the fish dip ($4.95) is tasty and, if you ask for more bread, it goes a long way. Breakfast is served until 2:00 p.m.

Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.
Happy Hour: Monday through Friday (except holidays) 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., two-for-one drinks

Parking: A torture chamber
Best Bargain: Don't look for 'em. Well, besides the happy hour, there's a three-dollar rum runner. And a live band every night outside. That's it, sports fans.

Boooooo! No pitchers; two-drink minimum
Olympic Fever? Depends on Budweiser promos (Oh, goodie!)

Dan Marino's American Sports Bar & Grill
CocoWalk
3015 Grand Ave.
Coconut Grove
567-0013

This spacious, classy place falls short of sports-bar perfection in only two areas: (1) The management doesn't pay close enough attention to what's happening in the sports world, and (2) it's in CocoWalk.

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