After taking reader nominations on Facebook and online, considering staff suggestions and doing a little scientific research (ahem) on our own, we pared it down to these 10 establishments that reign supreme in our books. Female or male, Hogs fan or not (yeah, right), you can’t go wrong with our list of the best bars for sports and suds.
1. HOME OF THE HOGS
Athletic Club Bar & Grill at Embassy Suites, West Little Rock
Little Rock is the capital city of Arkansas, and Arkansas is the home of the Razorbacks. So there has to be a sports bar in this town focused exclusively on the Hogs, right? Walk in, there’s someone’s 1964 championship ring under glass, a framed jersey of Steve Little’s on the wall, a stuffed deer wearing a Panama hat formerly owned by Houston Nutt ...
But when you’re in a town where everyone is a Razorbacks fan, by default, that makes every sports bar a Razorbacks sports bar. So it’s ironic that perhaps the best Razorbacks sports bar in Arkansas’ largest city is in the lobby of a hotel. Walk into the Athletic Club Bar & Grill and you’ll notice the framed Razorback memorabilia right off the bat. In fact, there’s a baseball bat right there. UALR also gets some rep and even some of the local golfers.
The Athletic Club has a big football season planned out. Every 2013 pay-per-view Arkansas game will be featured on the club’s theater-sized projection screens. Complimentary Wi-Fi is offered so you can check your fantasy scores. And with the hotel setting, you never know who’s bound to come down from upstairs to use the free Wi-Fi. Maybe the Mississippi State Bulldogs, for example.
2. FILL YOUR CUP
Flying Saucer, River Market
Patrons of the River Market have enjoyed the diversity of the Flying Saucer since the late 1990s. Start with the single-spaced, four-page menu of beers it offers. You’ve got three main sections to pick from here: the foyer area, primed for people-watching; inside the main dining area near the bar; or downstairs where you’ll find comfy couches, pool tables, dart boards and even tabletops with chessboards engraved. Each section has two very visible televisions, and it’s not just pigskin on the screens either – the Flying Saucer provided an atmosphere during 2010’s World Cup that would have made any vuvuzela player proud. With the action taking place next year in Brazil, we’re sure the Flying Saucer will have quite the carnival planned.
The downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock are closer to each other than ever with pedestrian bridges suitable for bicyclists and the River Rail Trolley that makes rounds to both areas. So in a way, it’s not that unusual to have two Irish pubs sitting less than a mile from each other on opposite shores, waiting for its Gaelic fans to show up for rounds of their own. Cregeen’s Irish Pub in Argenta and Dugan’s Pub in downtown Little Rock’s River Market Tower both offer Irish fare like shepherd’s pie. They both offer al fresco seating and there’s enough beer stored in both places where if you don’t watch out, you’ll be the one driving snakes out into the night.
But if we’re talking about where to catch the game, we have to give a slight edge to Dugan’s. With its curved dining room, roaring fire in the cooler months and sections that promote community as well as privacy, Dugan’s could become your favorite sports bar easily.
(What was our inspiration for finding the best sports bars in Little Rock? Check in with our publisher Olivia Farrell for an Irish epiphany.)
5. SCREENED IN
Gusano’s Pizza, River Market
Little Rock’s home of Chicago-style pizza (the kind which might require a spoon rather than a fork) is also another one of those prime spots in the River Market where a table at the window can be just as entertaining as one near a television. But here’s the thing about Gusano’s – you’re never too far from a television. In a room that seemingly has no end, big screen TVs line the walls with also a near infinity. There are 18 screens in all, not including the three theater-sized screens above the booths. And yet, despite having a scoreboard within eyesight of any direction, Gusano’s is relaxed enough where you’re not going to suffer from any overstimulation. That stuffed pizza will settle you down enough as it is.
6. DOWN BY THE RIVER
Town Pump, Riverdale
Well ok, then. Maybe downtown people-watching and umpteen screens isn’t what you’re looking for. We’re not going to be the ones to call Town Pump a “dive bar,” but suffice to say there was once a time when an unfair nickname replaced the word “town” in its name with “stomach.” (We vividly remember in the ’90s a menu board for beer that read "DOMESTIC: Bud Lite, Coors. IMPORT: Corona, Rolling Rock." Hey, Mexico is much closer to Arkansas than Latrobe, Penn., could ever wish to be).
Much of that has changed. The beer selection is at least 10 times the size of what it used to be. The Pump did what many couldn’t imagine and banned smoking indoors (though there’s still a screened-in atrium available for tobacco addicts). There are pool tables, shuffleboard and more, and the menu has been completely revamped with local delicacies like pizza dip (served with Frito scoops), a “Governor Beebe Burger” (a.k.a the house patty melt) and three-tiered nachos. Most importantly, the place still feels like a neighborhood bar, situated down by the railroad tracks near the old Mercedes Benz dealership. As long as you’re rooting for the Razorbacks, there’s no doubt you’ll be considered one of their own.
7. TOUR DE BREWS
Vino’s Brewpub, Downtown
Vino’s is well-known ‘round these parts for its house-brewed beers – like the Quapaw Quarter Porter and the Razor Bock – as well as its pizzas, calzones and live music. But here’s a new one for you: Vino’s is also one of the best places in the city to watch the Tour de France. Almost every year, the brewpub hosts a Tour de France Breakfast, during which they serve breakfast pizzas, coffee and mimosas as cycling enthusiasts cheer on their favorite riders. And with its prime location just off the River Trail, you can easily ride your bike there. Just don’t sample too many of the local brews and hop in the saddle.
8. THIS IS LADIES’ NIGHT
Bar Louie, Pleasant Ridge Town Center, West Little Rock
With an emphasis on designer cocktails, a menu of seafood salads, a Facebook page featuring a former mayor and a setting inside one of Little Rock’s more refined shopping centers, you’re not going to be in danger of seeing any barbed wire around Bar Louie. A regional franchise claiming to dedicate itself “to remaining a local bar,” Bar Louie is also proud of describing itself as “eclectic urban.” It’s the perfect place for a girls’ night out of camaraderie and cocktails. Curl inside one of Bar Louie’s U-shaped booths and watch the game from one of its dozen screens. You can even go out on the covered patio and watch the game from there while keeping an eye on Cantrell traffic at the same time.
9, 10. THE BOYS ARE BACK
The Tavern, Promenade at Chenal, West Little Rock | West End Smokehouse & Tavern, West Chase Plaza, West Little Rock
The Tavern and West End have both staked out reputations as the perfect place for a guys’ night out. The Tavern, the newest of the two, has over two dozen sets offering satellite programming of games from all over. It’s got a party room, catering available and seating that ranges from highback tables to leather couches. It even has a brand new menu created by well-known Little Rock Chef Donnie Ferneau. Belly up to the bar and you can watch one of five hi-def flat-screen TVs.
But the edge in this category goes to West End. The place is huge with an elevated bar section, a billiards room, shuffleboard, couches and even a stage for live bands (don’t worry, they’re not going to play until after the game). Patrons can play satellite trivia with other customers in the bar and across the nation. And with 56 TV sets, ranging from kitchen-sized to giant projection theater screens, you’re not going to miss one play.
One note about West End, and this can be a deal breaker for some: Of all the establishments mentioned in this article, West End is the only one that still allows smoking indoors. It’s a big place, so maybe you can avoid it (or join in, it’s a free country, after all).