Choosing a bar to watch the NCAA Tournament based entirely on drink specials is like filling out your bracket based on which mascot you like more: It doesn’t tell the whole story. March Madness specials are pretty much the same wherever you go. During tournament games, your beer will likely cost anywhere from $3 to $5 a pint and $10 a pitcher. And in most places, a deep fried bucket of something will be available for $5 or less.
More important than how much each pint or bottle will set you back is the game-time environment. Do you want to be surrounded by jersey-clad alumni doing “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” or do you want to be in the open air drinking liters of German beer? There’s a big difference, and to help you sort it all out, we put together a March Madness bar bracket (yes, including a “Last out” entrant) of our own.
THE JERSEYS AND BALLCAPS DIVISION
These entrants are sports bars through and through.
This sprawling subterranean lair has enough TVs (and then some) to cover every game while still leaving you plenty of room to spread out. It’s the sports bar equivalent of the power-conference champion that can put five high school all-Americans on the court.
Fans in Dupont and upper Northwest have the ever-reliable Public franchise — sprawling, multi-level complexes of flat-screens, rotating mass-market drink specials and the youthful exuberance of a blue-chip recruit — to provide atmosphere from the opening tip-off through last call.
Indoor screens and drink specials on pitchers and buckets of beer? Check. Outdoor screens for enjoying the weather and the game? That’s what you call a player whose game is strong inside and from the perimeter.
Arlington’s 23rd street institution has been a March Madness force for ages, hosting multiple alumni groups and one of the rowdiest dining/viewing areas in town. Show up early though. Ask for an upstairs table after noon and you are likely to be laughed at.
Last out: Caddies
Like the four-year starter who saves his best performances for the tournament, Bethesda’s most dependable sports bar offers $2.50 Miller, Bud and Yuengling drafts all tournament long.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS DIVISION
Because the only thing better than March Madness is March Madness and unseasonably warm weather.
Biergarten Haus (pictured)
This H Street beer garden would seem to be a heavy hitter in its region, but inconsistent cooking keeps it from being a true lock. Still, open air screens on the sprawling back patio (not pictured, but trust us, it’s there) and liters of Germany’s finest give it an opportunity to take any matchup.
There’s nothing special (in terms of drink deals, anyway) on this neighborhood hangout’s scouting report. But what it lacks in thrift it makes up for in upside: specifically, the presence of seven flat-screens on its upstairs roof deck. The bar opens early, at 11:30 a.m., Thursday and Friday.
Miller Lite-and-orange juice Double Wide “mimosas” give Whitlow’s rooftop a nice edge, but its game day delivery is weather-dependant.
Don’t let the Nellie’s admittedly weak regional competition fool you: The city’s first gay sports bar is still easily good enough to go up against the city’s best viewing locations.
Last Out: Jack Rose
Worried that this fancy-pants bourbon and Scotch bar might not have what it takes to deliver the goods when the pressure is on? Consider this: The Adams Morgan saloon’s roofdeck televisions were battle tested on Super Bowl Sunday and passed with flying colors.
THE WINGS & DOMESTICS DIVISION
For when buffalo wings and watery American beer will do the trick.
Kansas and Purdue alumni call the Bottom Line home, which should make for a charged atmosphere Sunday, when the two schools could meet in the round of 32 if the 10th-seeded Boilermakers can upset seventh-seeded Saint Mary’s. Oh, and if the second-seeded Jayhawks don’t get upset by 15th-seed Detroit. But that couldn’t possibly happen … right?
This M Street dive is a likely bracket pick of basketball fans who don’t plan on returning to work after their long lunch break. At least that’s our advice if they plan on indulging in any of the restaurant’s pint-sized cocktail pours.
Duffy’s keeps pace with the competition in most areas, but it blows past its rivals in one key metric: It rocks some of the city’s best wings, especially the Old Bay variety.
Like the electrifying wild-card team of the tournament, Town Tavern has the fizzy, caution-to-the-wind ethos of a Cinderella team. Why wouldn’t you want to watch at a bar that sandwiches the tournament between weekly Get Trashed Tuesdays and Hot Mess Fridays? Enjoy the exhilarating ride with $8 pitchers of Bud, $5 Sam Adams and $5 burger baskets.
Last Out: Stained Glass Pub
You want pedigree? This well-worn Wheaton fixture has been a game-day stop for decades.
THE CHARCUTERIE AND IMPORTS DIVISION
Because while you support your alma mater, you want to forget about what you ate and drank in college.
Beck sports only a pair of televisions behind its long marble bar, but great beer and food make it a good pick to catch a game or two over lunch.
This Arlington sports bar serves Wiener schnitzel and goulash alongside more predictable fare such as wings and burgers. More than a dozen TVs means you can monitor your entire bracket while enjoying house made charcuterie and hand-cut fries.
Don’t let its Euro-styled interior fool you. This L Street lounge is more than just sharp looks: When its projector screen is lowered, it also has one of the biggest pictures in the neighborhood.
It may be the new kid in the bracket, but this Columbia Pike entrant can’t be overlooked. The Prohibition-themed hangout from the owners of Courthouse’s Ragtime and Rhodeside Grill presents its bank of televisions amid a ’20s vibe that extends to a well-coached program of classic and contemporary cocktails.
Last Out: Rustico
Both the Arlington and Alexandria locations have a couple of TVs above the bar, and what they lack in numbers they make up for in energy and neighborly vibe. And the beer list... nothing else in this collection of watering holes comes close.