Raleigh, N.C. — It's been six months since we listed the best sports bars in the Triangle, so with college and pro football season in full swing, we figured it was time for another look at the best places to get your game on.
First, an old favorite: Players' Retreat, just off Hillsborough Street in the heart of the North Carolina State University campus. If you haven't been there in a while, you may find some surprises on the menu. A new ownership group has upgraded the PR menu and even been recognized for the wine list.
You'll find vegetarian options and Angus steaks, but old Pack backers keep coming back for the ridiculously delicious sausage dip and chili cheese fries. If you get lucky and your team plays in the night game, you can order breakfast – biscuits, pancakes, even eggs any night after 11 p.m.
Another recent upgrade and Wolfpack home base is the Gorman Street Pub, at the intersection of Gorman and Avent Ferry.
You've heard the commercials advertising "pub fare in a sports bar world." The menu selections are standard – sandwiches, dips, wings – but with more flavor than a beer-drinking crowd would usually expect. For instance, all burgers are 1/2 pound. The garlic fries side are worth the trip in themselves.
Fans at the pub both play and cheer. There is corn hole in the parking lot and trivia and darts indoors.
Across the street from PNC Arena, Backyard Bistro draws an overflow crowd on weekends. Although parking can be a challenge, inside there is plenty of space for fans of all stripes. They roll in for the pork barbecue, ribs and brisket.
Individual speakers at each table let diners choose which game to listen to while watching them all on the screens all around.
The Bistro is best for rubbing elbows with coaches and players, because it is the host venue for "The Tom O'Brien Show" (Mondays at 7 p.m.) and, in season, the weekly "Canes Corner" hosted by Mike Maniscalco of 620 The Buzz.
As a foodie and a fan, my personal new favorite is Draft, in the downstairs Glenwood South location that last NFL season housed Hi5. Draft opened on a theme of locally-sourced ingredients and beers, and each enormous specialty burger provides a selection of the same.
Draft really hits its stride on Sundays when Panthers fans make the place roar. Be prepared to be patient if it's crowded, but the $5 Mash House pilsners will ease any wait.
Just across the parking lot from WRAL, Sammy's Tap & Grill goes big on game-day atmosphere. The huge indoor/outdoor patio added a couple of years ago caters to NC State fans on Saturdays and Pittsburgh Steelers backers on Sundays. Local vendors know how extreme those fan bases can be and show up to sell jerseys in the parking lot to the underdressed.
Sammy's hot wings, Buffalo bites, and cheap pitchers of beer resist the gourmet trend and keep this sports bar on track.
I realize I stayed inside the Beltline (and largely on NC State turf) for this edition of best sports bars. So let me hear it in the comments, Tar Heels and Devils and even Pirates fans. Where are the best bars in the Triangle to watch your team?
UPDATE: Since this story was posted, Draft has closed its doors.