TV or not TV? That’s the chronic question that becomes acute for me this time of year.
Among my obsessions, count good beer, convivial bars, Braves baseball and Florida State football. And those things all come together in late summer and early fall.
I have great memories of watching the ’90s World Series Braves at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club. And I’ve always loved getting together at Manuel’s to cheer the Noles with a ragtag group of FSU grads, even when our team wasn’t doing so well.
But here’s the thing. Almost any other time, I prefer a pub with no TVs, especially if what’s on is an endlessly annoying loop of cable sports and news shows.
At some of the best beer bars in Atlanta, no TV is a statement of what’s important to the owners. At others, yes TV is part of a larger context that includes a sports-loving community.
When co-owner Dave Blanchard and his partners opened Brick Store Pub in Decatur 16 years ago, a pub without a TV was a rarity.
“We decided to eliminate anything that took the majority of the people we didn’t want to deal with on a regular basis out of the equation,” Blanchard says. “When we took away light beer, pitchers, and TVs, we figured we’d draw a clientele that was much more conducive to what we wanted to offer.”
For the most part, it worked, Blanchard says. “You look around the room and everybody is engaged in conversation. People aren’t sitting at the bar glued to the TV like zombies.”
But Blanchard, who is big soccer fan, often can be found watching a match at nearby Mac McGee Irish Pub. And for the past two World Cup competitions, the Brick store has temporarily installed big screen TVs upstairs in the Belgian bar. So how does he explain that?
“There’s something about watching soccer at a pub,” Blanchard admits. “That’s what everybody in Europe does.”
At the Porter Beer Bar in Little Five Points, Molly Gunn says she and husband Nick Rutherford never even considered having a TV.
“The Brick Store made that decision years ago, so we had a good model to follow,” Gunn said. “But neither of us really like or watch TV. Also, coming from a fine dining background, where there were never TVs, it just wasn’t something we even talked about.”
Gunn says most customers appreciate the focus on beer and food and conversation. But she’s noticed a new trend, too.
“I’ve certainly seen an uptick in iPad and tablet usage at the bar when there’s a game on,” she says. “And I have to say, I’m happy to have people imbibe and get their sports fix, too, as long as they’re not imposing on other customers.”
Billy Streck, operating partner at Cypress Street Pint & Plate in Midtown, says his bar has gone through a TV evolution over the years in response to customer demand.
“In the beginning, we had these two really little TVs on either side of the bar, and that was it,” Streck says. “But getting feedback from the neighborhood, we saw that people loved good beer, and they loved the Braves and the Falcons.”
Streck says he struggled with the decision, but little by little the TV collection has grown to eight, including a big screen on one wall, and three TVs on the patio.
“It’s just what the neighborhood wanted,” Streck says. “But I think we have a balance between a great beer program and a great neighborhood spot. The people who come here don’t want to go to a sports bar.”
At Steinbeck’s in Oakhurst, there’s only one TV. But depending on who’s hanging out, it’s an important part of the scene there, says chef/general manager Andy Gonzales.
“We have one. It’s no jumbotron, but the Braves fans, Falcons fans and golfers that frequent the pub would rebel if we ever took it down,” Gonzales says. “When the World Cup is on we outfit the bar with two more TVs in a very tiny pub.
“When something like that is on, we like to have the TV on. When nothing is on, I’d prefer to have it off. I would prefer that bar be a convivial place for people to have conversations. But I’m not going to turn away somebody who wants to watch the U.S. Open.”
That seems like a sane approach to me.
What do you think? TV or no TV in your favorite beer bar?
— By Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog.