Game On!

04 Aug 2019

Sports bars and game-watching hot spots around the Sandhills

By Elizabeth Sugg

Fans of a sport or a player know down to the second when a game begins, when a player’s tee time is, and when fate through the process of elimination suddenly creates the celebrated matchup of the century. TVs are an essential in a sport lover’s life, akin to Facetiming with your family -- got to root for your posse, and have your own opinion of the play-by-plays. Game on!

The exciting close of United States women's national soccer team winning their fourth World Cup over the Netherlands on a hot July Sunday in Paris was a sight to behold yet I felt a twinge of envy when my sister sent a texted photo from Maryland where she sat perched in a sports bar watching the championship with a sea of other fans. How much fun was that?

The Sandhills is a sporting mecca where nationally and internationally gifted athletes travel to, not only for golf, but also equestrian events and training. The Sandhills Sandsharks over the last several years have hosted open water swims in May in Seven Lakes that people come to for that swimming challenge. The rivalry among North Carolina’s universities as well as their competing college divisions has made following high school sports, particularly if you have a child or grandchild, competitive and fun to follow, anticipating their future play. 

Sports bars are also the destination for a post-game meal so a family can grab a bite and catch up the scores. As Starbucks and lattes have become part of our daily culture, so have sports bars, and not just when the build up to the Super Bowl is unfolding. In an area like ours, the Ohioans can seek out a locale and gather with some others from their home state around a TV with a Browns game on, Michiganians can keep up their state school rivalry pretty handily in these parts as well. Football season is here, so where are some great restaurants and bars where the game is on? This ongoing, periodic feature begins with these four. We raise a glass to their individual atmospheres which elevate game watching.

Char Bar No. 7 

Pavilion At Morganton, Southern Pines

This Charlotte-born restaurant brand is a go-to spot when your appetite is calling for seared beef or fish and something on the healthier side yet you want the “casual” of a burger spot. Char Bar No. 7 is a great blend of what they describe as “a nice mix between upscale and casual”, in other words, so you can eat like a King and watch the day’s game. 

Seating around the restaurant is comfortable and varied from sitting at the bar solo, to a group gathered around a couple of tables, or even the deep-cushioned sofas that open up to an area where local musicians come in and play. The outdoor patio also has TVs for continuous sports watching, a great compromise space for a day when half your group wants to be outside because the Panthers are playing. 

A new friend of mine drops into Char Bar No. 7 for lunch on her sales route when she is craving their DIY salads that she joked should be a combination named for her. “Mary’s salad” has a base of romaine and shaved brussel sprouts layered with grilled chicken, avocado, strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers, a sprinkling of sunflower seeds and blue cheese dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. She craves it! The Leap Year Burger is pretty spectacular when your lunch is really more of a brunch with its fried egg, garlic aioli and bacon, and the ahi tuna salad over the mixed greens and shredded cabbage is fueling and filling. And all this while you can keep your eye on multiple games. Score!

The Bell Tree Tavern

155 NE Broad St, Southern Pines

The Bell Tree Tavern is a beloved place in Southern Pines. Owner Con O’Mahoney operates his local gathering spot like a tavern of yesteryear, creating an atmosphere as if being wrapped in a warm bear hug. In the heart of Southern Pines, the Bell Tree is an easy spot to slip into for filling fare and the camaraderie evoked from the warmth of the place. Exposed brick, hardwood floors, high ornamental ceilings and a handsome bar are set off by the glow from cast iron wall sconces and the natural light spilling in from its storefront windows, adding a warmth and permanence to this friendly, bring-your-family-and-friends bar.

So named for the story of a proprietor who during Prohibition attached a bell to a tree, his unspoken sign of being “open” for drinks, sports fans today can regularly dive into Bell Tree nachos, Reuben egg rolls or the shareable Irish Bangers & Mash, and have lots of beverage choices to pair them with. The tavern’s bar boasts the largest selection of liquor in town including a collection of Irish whiskey, Scotch, bourbon, tequila, and more. With a wine list, 27 beers on draft, a large number of which are from North Carolina breweries, and more in bottles, your choosy friends really can’t complain. Plus, the lamb burgers with tzatziki sauce will make them quiet.

Both indoors and out there are TVs on with every game having its own sort of informal seating area. Ask for seating where a certain team is on, and get into the friendly rivalries. The Bell Tree has been known as the home of the Moore County Browns Backers yet I was pleased to discover that O’Mahoney likes my from-childhood favorite NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys, who nobody in my family pulls for. So now I have a place to go for some game watching and comfort food pulling for my team who may never make it back to a Super Bowl in my lifetime…a possible conversation topic with the table next to mine when the season commences, or did I just hear someone groan.

Maxie’s Grill & Tap Room  

35 McIntyre Rd, Pinehurst

Social media got the crowd to Maxie’s to watch the U.S. women’s national soccer team with the message “Come on out! We're cheering USA in the World Cup.” Opened in 2010 when a casual restaurant with a crowd-pleasing, won’t break-the-bank menu in Pinehurst was practically non-existent, Maxie’s Grill & Tap Room became a boon to the neighborhood and beyond for those seeking an easy-going night out and night off from the kitchen. The fact that everyone in your family can have their eye on the TV they want on a school night after a bagillion sports practices not to mention your own work day is why many residents nearby felt like Maxie’s was a weekly extension of their home.

The menu features Tap Room Classics such as Maxie’s Black & Blue Steak Melt, an open-faced steak sandwich with grilled onions, mushrooms and gorgonzola, and a Shrimp Po’ Boy, not to mention their Black Angus beef burgers. The Cajun Fire Sticks, chicken tenders either spiced up on blackened, Loaded Potato Wedges and Maxie’s secret recipe pimento cheese with crackers are fun appetizers to share if you are just meeting folks for a draft and some cheer. Maxie just spent part of the summer doing renovations so next time you are in you will notice the fresh paint and newly sanded and stained bar, one that had been well-loved by his devoted sports-loving patrons. Like a baseball mitt, time to break it in again.

Double Eagle Grill & Bar

111 N Sycamore St, Aberdeen

Aberdeen was ready for Jani and Brant Newton to open up a versatile neighborhood restaurant down Sycamore Street, a gathering spot in a town that in the evenings needed that fun, casual spot with good food and familiar faces to come to often. Opened in the fall of 2016 just as football season got underway, Double Eagle’s menu of BBQ Pork and Blackened Chicken Nachos, Eagle Wings with too many dipping sauces to name, and chips with their homemade queso was made-to-order for great sports watching, and it has found a local niche.

Both Jani and Brant spent years in the restaurant business in Ohio before moving to Aberdeen, and the menu is a blend of dinner and bar food, depending on a customer’s appetite. So someone can get a baked spaghetti with meatballs or a pulled pork platter or go for the burger such as the Smoked Jalapeno Bacon or the Black & Blue seasoned with Cajun spice and melted blue cheese. There is crowd-pleasing variety, and since there will be lots of football and lots of innings played during the build up to the World Series this fall, sports fans should be happy. And maybe Tiger will double eagle in the FedEx Cup. We can only watch, be fans, and hope we are at the Double Eagle.

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