Sports Bar Report: The Varsity, or The Smell of Wings in the Morning
The Place: The Varsity, 6311 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048; (323) 651-5433.
The Hours: 4 p.m.-Midnight Mon.-Thu., 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri., 10-2 a.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-Midnight Sun.
The Deals: Until April 4th, Dos Equis drafts are $3 during college basketball games. On Tuesdays, tacos are priced to move. A $17.95 All-You-Can-Eat brunch involving breakfast sliders, French toast, pancakes and bottomless $20 Bloody Marys happens every Sunday. On Mondays, burgers cost $2 less. You get the idea. There's a deal for every day, a bargain for every occasion. If snooker tournaments were on ESPN every week, some celebratory incentives would accompany them.
The Digs: For those who like to pray at the altar of Hubie Brown, John Madden, and Dick Vitale, The Varsity is a gleaming mega-church, a sea of soft, shiny black couches and wooden tables, the walls dripping with more plasma TVs than a Best Buy. The menu is big too, with such bar standards as Mojito chicken skewers ($9), potato skins ($8), and mini-burgers with caramelized onions ($10). While sports memorabilia coats the interior--helmets, jerseys, a signed photograph of Johnny Dawkins's 1986 reverse dunk against Navy--The Varsity is more lounge-y than sporty, dare we say, even clubby in vibe. We don't mean clubby in the pale-from Princeton-with privilege kinda way; this is a spot where, on Fridays, from 10 p.m. until midnight, ladies get free shots.
The Verdict: In the wild opening days of this year's NCAA basketball tournament, we showed up on the early side on a Saturday. We were alone, save for a bartender and a waitress. The bartender asked us if we'd rather be served by him or by the female waitress. We said that we didn't care who poured our Pabst. Then he asked us who was better to look at. "She's hot, right?" he said, cackling. He stood in front of me and pointed at the waitress. "C'mon, who's hotter?" We told him that it was a tough call and wished desperately we had picked another bar, maybe that Irish heap down the way where the grizzled Jersey-born bartender roots gamely for the Clippers and the beer taps outnumber the TVs.
The early impression was poor, but a second bartender soon took over. He was a funny guy, older, an actor. Over the course of a few rounds, he told us half a life's story, but it was an interesting one, more entertaining than the blowout on one screen and considerably more compelling than the pre-game chatter on the other. It hurts to watch two games at once, we found. We felt as if our forehead was being cleft in two. As we were leaving and the place was filling up--both with bodies and the unmistakable fragrance of hot wings--a balding guy and his college-aged son strode in and sat down at the bar. The first bartender took their order. "Finally," said Dad, grunting. "A real joint."