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Game on! At these bars, the sports fan rules

Cover 3, the Tavern and Third Base are just three of the places to catch the Longhorns and longnecks

Dina Guidubaldi

Originally published 9.2.2009, updated 10.5.2011

Sending me into a sports bar is a little like telling Don Draper of 'Mad Men' to go check out Woodstock, but even a layperson can see why some are better than others.

A good sports bar, I realized after a week of frequenting them, must have three core elements:

Televisions. The more the better, apparently, and showing as many games as possible without creating conflict and wreaking havoc among bar patrons is essential. Sometimes this requires a whole room for fans of one team and a different room for another. Sometimes this requires a separate bar all the way across town. The point of so many TVs is so that you never, ever have to pay attention to your friends, your date or your watch, and the sleeker and bigger the TVs are, the easier it is to feel like you're on the field or green or ninth hole or court.

Food/drink. The kind of food and drink required at good sports bars needs only a little explanation. Most important, the beer must be cold, reasonably priced and actually beer. The food must be simple enough to pick up while looking at the screen in front of you. It shouldn't necessarily involve forks, linen napkins or two hands. It should go into your mouth exactly when and how you want it to. It should be greasy enough to absorb the aforementioned beer and should be spicy, because we're in Texas.

Atmosphere. As with all bars, atmosphere matters. But the sports bar, with its singular intent, seems to have an easier time making people happy and ensuring they get what they came for. The noise factor is perhaps the most taken-for-granted element, but going to a sports bar that's quiet is as disturbing as going to a funeral that's loud. As my more sports-inclined friends explained: 'It's hard to connect with other humans. But if you go to a sports bar, there's a good chance that you and the guy next to you will both be screaming "Yes" at the same time.' And I guess that's what you'd call, in bro-lingo, 'sweet.'

Here are three places — among dozens in town — that hit those sweet spots, along with a list of others that cater to fans who can hold two thoughts simultaneously: 'Feed me!' and 'Touchdown!'

Cover 3

2700 W. Anderson Lane. 374-1121, www.cover-3.com . Hours 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.

TVs: Something like 15 normally huge TVs and one abnormally huge one. And apparently there's one in the men's room, an inch away from the urinal.

Food/drink: Cover 3 has happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. every day, including Saturdays and Sundays ($1 off draft beers, $2 off cocktails, $3 off appetizers). On Mondays and Tuesdays, happy hour lasts all night, starting at 4 p.m. In addition, there are $7 house margaritas, a weekend Bloody Mary bar and an extensive wine list ranging from $6 a glass to magnums in the $400 range.

We ordered pints of Firemans #4 and Blue Moon (each $4 during happy hour) and realized half an hour later that our almost-empty beers were still nearly freezing. Worried about our sanity, we asked the waiter, who explained the bar's iced 'Cobra' cooling system and pointed toward the 2-inch-thick layer of ice on the beer taps.

Food is likewise surprising. Cover 3's menu is obviously high end compared with most sports bars and designed to please both picky foodies (who might perhaps order the precariously balanced crab and shrimp tower, $14) and hungry guys who just want a quick bite (like of nachos, $10).

Atmosphere: Cover 3's crowd is polite, and their servers are helpful and friendly. There were more kids at Cover 3 than in most sports bars, but past the faint strains of Madonna and Whitney Houston (not your typical sports bar anthems) the whole place had a low, bustling buzz like what you'd hear in a hotel or airport. Essentially, Cover 3 is a great place to wait — either for your movie to start at the nearby Alamo Village, or for Gene Rogers to finish fashioning your glasses a few doors down, or for Tiger to sink (or not) that putt.

The Tavern

922 W. 12th St. 320-8377. Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Wednesdays. 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

TVs: Around 17 upstairs, 14 down (not including the patio, where the TVs are older and pretty small).

Food/drink: The Tavern has happy hour Monday-Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. Specials include $1 off drafts, $1 off well drinks and half off appetizers. They also host a late happy hour from 10 p.m. to close which includes all the happy hour specials plus $1 Lone Stars. Top bites include kolache-bun burgers and the Longhorn Philly Cheese Steak which comes with queso, the Texan's favorite cheese. The Tavern's 'White Wings' are wrapped with jalapeños and bacon, and the regular buffalo wings have always been a crowd favorite. In general, the Tavern's food has come a long way from its casserole-slinging days of yore.

Atmosphere: Despite the large number of televisions, drinking at the Tavern still feels like you're just hanging out in someone's attic. There are dark wooden nooks galore, all the better for watching different games. The Tavern is primarily a Steelers bar, but Ravens fans can watch in the pool room and the Bills get space downstairs. Despite the mix, the Tavern is relatively quiet, with many patrons individually focused on their games and their drinks.

For anyone who doesn't want to watch sports, there's pool, darts, old-timey boardwalk games of luck and a grackle's-eye view of traffic on Lamar. Or you could spend time reading the many years' worth of love affairs, complaints and Longhorn pride carved and notched into the upstairs bar itself.

Third Base

1717 W. Sixth St., Building 2, Suite 210R. 476-2273, www.thirdbaseaustin.com . Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Fridays. 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturdays.

Other locations: 3107 S. Interstate 35, Suite 810, Round Rock, 512-388-2273; 9600 S. Interstate 35, Building B, Suite 500 in the Grove at Southpark Meadows, 381-2273.

TVs: More than 30, including those outside on the patio and the one in the women's room, conveniently located opposite the diaper-changing station. Not including the men's room and the reflections of the TVs in the many polished surfaces of the bar itself, making the whole place seem like a prism full of helmets and uniforms instead of rainbows.

Food/drink: Third Base serves the locally brewed Third Base Amber ($4.50), which was slightly bitter and nutty, something called a 'beergarita' and a host of standard draft and bottled beers. Presumably in an attempt to reach female clientele, there are six white wines starting at $4.50 a glass. The menu, with sliders ($7.99), pickle chips ($7.29) and those suddenly ubiquitous mini-corndogs ($6.59), is unpredictable only in the odd pricing (why not $8? Why not $6.50?) and number of misspellings. Third Base hosts a $2.50 happy hour on weekdays from 4 to 8 p.m. Specials include $2.50 domestic bottles, well liquors and a selection of appetizers.

Atmosphere: The crowd at Third Base seemed older, better-groomed and more enthusiastic than usual, perhaps because many were either en route home to West Lake Hills after a long day's work (I saw a lot of loosened ties) or had just snuck away from home after sticking the kids in bed.

Severely sanitized and slightly corporate-looking, Third Base shines despite its darkness (in 10 minutes, I saw three different employees wipe off the same unused table with three different bleached rags). All the high-tech noise and reflections evoke images of futuristic, sci-fi Japan, but the guttural yelling from the patrons as they cheered on their teams — Comonnah! — felt pretty darned American.

More sports bars we like

Aussie's Grill and Beach Bar

306 Barton Springs Road, 480-0952

aussiesbar.com

Champions

300 E. Fourth St. 473-0450,

www.championsaustin.com .

Doc's

www.docsaustin.com .

• Doc's Motorworks: 1123 S. Congress Ave. 448-9181.

• Doc's Backyard: 5207 Brodie Lane, Suite 100. 892-5200.

• Doc's Drafthouse: 15821 Central Commerce Drive, Pflugerville. 512-251-3620.

Draft Pick

1620 E. Riverside Dr., 444.7425

www.draftpickaustin.com

Little Woodrow's

www.littlewoodrows.com .

• 6301 Parmer Lane. 918-2337.

• 520 W. Sixth St. 477-2337.

• 9500 S. Interstate 35 at Southpark Meadows. 282-2336.

• 12801 Shops Parkway, Suite 100, Bee Cave. 263-8374.

Lavaca St. Bar

405 Lavaca Street, 469-0106

lavacastreet.com

Local Pub and Patio

2610 Guadalupe St., 478-2337

http://www.thelocalpubandpatio.com

Pluckers Wing Bar

www.pluckers.com .

• 2222 Rio Grande St. 469-9464.

• 9070 Research Blvd., Suite 201-C. 533-9464.

• 300 Mays Crossing, Suite 300, Round Rock. 671-9464.

• 3909 S. Lamar Blvd. 443-9464.

• 11066 Pecan Park Blvd., Cedar Park. 258-9464.

Posse East

2900 Duval St. 477-2111.

The Upper Decks

301 Barton Springs Rd, 291-2686

www.upperdecksaustin.com