A Sporting Life

A new breed of Manhattan sports bar lifts their customers out of the bleachers and into the private boxes.

The traditional American “sports bar” is as much a clubhouse as a tavern. Even before the Highlanders became the Yankees, the image of the sports bar was one of a dimly lit watering hole made of worn walnut and the sound of televisions being drowned out by arguments. The kind of place where men of a certain age tossed back suds and talked longingly of the time they walked this close to Joe DiMaggio or touched Walt Frazier’s towel.

No more. The city is now full of upscale digs for sports fanatics that are part fan palace and part nightclub—places where the beautiful people mingle with the bleacher bums, and everyone is royalty as long as the games are on a wall of HDTVs that put you closer to the NBA than the refs. Their style is as glittery as the games. Here are six places, where the action never stops and where everyone’s a player.

 

THE 40/40 CLUB

You want to be a player? The 40/40 Club (6 W. 25th St., 212.832.4040) can make you feel like one. The place is as much nightclub as sports bar, opened in the Flatiron District in 2003 by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and his partner, Juan Perez. The name comes from baseball’s exclusive “40-40 club,” that rare breed of player (there are only four) who has had 40 home runs and 40 steals in a season. After a recent $10 million renovation, the multilevel space includes an 18-foot illuminated champagne tower surrounded by a resin-top bar. An arena-style seating area with marble steps offers a great view of the four state-of-the-art 165-inch video walls.

For private parties, the upstairs boasts five sumptuous VIP lounges, with amenities including custom billiard tables and chandeliers, and 55-inch HD televisions. The exclusive Jay-Z Lounge holds up to 100 guests, who can check out the game action on any of four 75-inch screens. The club’s decor includes a museum-style display of signed jerseys and memorabilia, including wrestler Kurt Angle’s WWF championship belt and autographed gloves from the 1974 Ali-Frazier boxing match. Top off the celebrations with delectable desserts, including house-made banoffee pie and warm pineapple upside-down cake. If you want an outing that’s equal parts party time and game time, this place has flash to spare.

 

BOUNCE SPORTING CLUB

With a bright neon motif and a healthy list of creative cocktails, Bounce Sporting Club (55 W. 21st St., 212.675.8007) leans more toward the nightclub end of the sports club spectrum, with mixology and culinary competitions also dotting the calendar.

There’s enough buzz about Bounce that it’s become the place for that flashy party your company or crew might be planning. The Fox network show, “Empire,” held a season-ending cast party there, and hip-hop hitmaker Ja Rule gave a surprise performance on another night.

The menu features a sumptuous brunch, whose meat-laced egg dishes are to die for; and the dinner menu is a protein-rich series of steaks, tortillas and gourmet burgers, with a long list of toppings à la carte.

Though the emphasis is on sporting events, the venue’s popularity means a reservation is recommended, or at least demands that you get there well before game time. But beware: This is no ball-caps-and-cutoffs joint. Dress shirts, dress shoes and jackets are the order of the day.

VIP tables and bottle service are available through the Tablelist app or the club’s website. Champagne bottles go as high as $395. Doors open at noon on the weekend, and the club often fills up by 3 pm, well before the late NFL game. Bounce is most certainly not cheap, but you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck.

 

THE AINSWORTH

It may be situated on the edge of the Fashion District, but make no mistake: The Ainsworth (122 W. 26th St., 212.741.0645) has style to burn, as well as being one of the city’s favorite spots for fantasy footballers. With 40 flat
 screens spread over 6,000 square feet, The Ainsworth draws a high-energy, thirtysomething crowd. So much so that on the weekends it’s essential to make a reservation for a table, which will come with a food and drink minimum. And if you want to belly up to the bar for the game, get there early.

For diners, there’s plenty of highfalutin bar food, such as pizzas, sweet tea wings and an impressive array of gourmet burgers. If you want more substantial fare, go for the filet, New York strip or rib eye steaks. And when you cast a glance around, you may spot celebs like Giants legend Michael Strahan or “Smallville” star Tom Welling. And its Midtown location at 45 E. 33rd St. is the perfect outdoor venue for warm-weather game nights, with a 2,500-square-foot terrace that offers luxury lounge seating, HD TVs and, naturally, a full-service bar.

 

BODEGA 88

Besides being a cool hangout for game night, Bodega 88 (573 Columbus Ave., 212.799.1602) has a backstory that rivals its Latin-flavored menu and classy ambience. As the name indicates, this fashionable Upper West Side bar was a bodega named the New Day Market for more than 50 years. But as gentrification overtook the neighborhood, owner David Arias, who grew up in an apartment above the club, shut it down in 2015 and reopened it as a trendy nightspot.

The result is a small-scale, upscale establishment that serves double duty as a tantalizing tapas-and-cocktails bar and a game-time destination with a friendly neighborhood feel. The place has a distinctly Latin feel, with a tempting menu that includes pork tacos, chicken empanadas and chicken lollipops, along with small plates, such as chorizo a la plancha and ropa vieja sloppy Joes. The bar serves up beers from Spain, Costa Rica and Mexico as well as more conventional brews. For more adventurous drinkers, the house features classy cocktails like a mescal-and-ginger shandy and a pomegranate mojito—just right for game time. Deportes de larga vida! (Long live sports!)

 

ASHTON’S ALLEY SPORTS BAR

The city’s upscale sports bars aren’t all on the West Side. Ashton’s Alley Sports Bar (825 Third Ave., 212.688.8625) fills the East Side’s need for high-energy event watching. With 60-, 70- and 80-inch flat screens strewn about the place, there’s not a bad seat in the house.

Moreover, it’s a handsome, well-lit place for getting into the game. Ashton’s Alley makes a point of not being your typical testosterone-heavy bar scene, but one where women and families can enjoy the action of the games as well. In addition, there’s a good-size outdoor patio for people watching and taking in the city sights.

The menu features a top-notch array of flatbreads, burgers, sliders, of course, but also sports a tempting array of Cajun, Asian and seafood dishes, along with a choice of daily specials. Also, Ashton’s Alley can host private events for up to 200 guests, with a custom menu and activities like karaoke, bingo, auctions or live entertainment. Meanwhile, the bar keeps jumping Tuesdays thru Saturdays till 4 am.

 

PROPER WEST

For fans of fine dining and sports events, especially those involving Penn State, Proper West (54 W. 39th St., 212.997.9000) is a slice of heaven for Nittany Lions fans. But this is not your grandfather’s sports joint. This sleek establishment is a two-story marvel, with a long marble bar decorated with globe lights and elaborate floral arrangements, and 5,000 square feet of space for any kind of fan, Penn State or otherwise. With tufted leather booths and HD TVs suspended above, this is a place to watch the action in comfort and luxury.

For diners, the menu features high-grade American cuisine like ponzu salmon, Cajun brick chicken, truffled mac ’n’ cheese and grilled New York strip steak.

It doesn’t end with dinner, though. For the post-dinner crowd looking to catch a West Coast game (or the end of an East Coast one), there are half-price appetizers every day from 10 pm till closing. And stick around—after the game, a DJ spins music into the night. Proper also has a location in Fi-Di (6 Murray St., 646.559.4445), where high ceilings and 70-inch screens make for another big-time game experience in sophisticated style.

In short, for men and women who love to gather for the games, catching the action at a bar no longer means a down-market, no-frills bar. In this spectacular new world of upscale sports bars, the kitchen is open, the gang’s all here and any game can become a social event to savor.