When it comes to the ranking of "best" sports bars, one should tread very carefully because it is, at best, a tricky venture. You're less liable to screw up a list of "best religions" or "best political candidates". That's because, like religion and politics, what defines "best" when ranking sports bars is a wide variety of factors of a deeply personal nature. Complicating matters is the fact that any place that serves beer and food and has more than one television probably calls itself a sports bar. However, if a place like that shows the games you like, is frequented by like-minded fans and you just happen to prefer their curly fries over those served elsewhere, that could very well be the "best" sports bar...for you. But when considering the appeal to a wider audience in making recomendations, one should broaden their focus beyond their own narrow self-interests. For example, Yahoo! Sports recently ran a feature on the 'Top 5 sports bars in the Tampa Bay area'. It might be a great list if the Tampa Bay area consisted of the approximately 5.1 miles between Largo and Seminole, with all five of their choices located within that span. As it is, the area's slightly larger than that and most people I talked to, many of whom live in Pinellas County, have never even heard of four of the five places mentioned, making it, um, not-so-great. With that in mind, we'd like to present the Real Top Five sports bars in the Tampa Bay area.
Ferg's was one of the first...and only...businesses to ride the "if you build it, they will come" mentality that resulted in the dome currently known as Tropicana Field being built years before a major league tenant was secured. While the debate over whether or not that strategy was ultimately a good idea continues, Ferg's has certainly reaped the benefit of being right across the street from the previous home of the Lightning, Storm, the 1999 NCAA men's Final Four and the current home of the Rays. Ferg's is the #1 go-to choice for pre- and post-game meet-ups and is always a popular site for local tv stations in need of fanatical crowd shots. Lest you think their success is strictly a by-product of their prime location, look at the dozen or so similar establishments located even closer to the St. Pete Times Forum than Ferg's is to the Trop that have come and gone over the years. Ferg's serves good food (especially their big, juicy wings), great service, plenty of easily viewable televisions and an atmosphere that's as lively (maybe even moreso on some nights) as what you'll find at the ballpark itself.
Easily the Bay Area's top choice for hockey fans, Hattrick's is simply one of downtown Tampa's best places to eat and drink, sports bar or otherwise. The food is outstanding and there's enough variety on the menu to satisfy anyone. Try the Blues Bombers; corned beef, cream cheese, creole Mustard, blended and deep fried inside a cripsy, crusty wonton. Hattricks's occupies a beautiful old building on Franklin Street within a five minute walk from the St. Pete Times Forum, decorated from floor to very high ceiling with hockey memorabilia. A mixed crowd of downtown lawyers and business people, sports fans and University of Tampa students keep the place hopping even if there are no big games taking place. It's not a very big place, which sometimes makes finding a place to sit a challenge, not to mention getting to and from the restrooms. Parking can be difficult at times as well and one should never underestimate the unnecessarily aggressive vigilance of the downtown meter readers, even at night and on Sundays.
Nobody, including your local Best Buy, has more televisions than Barnacles. They're eveywhere, starting with a ring of them that surrounds the entire dining room. It's impossible to find a seat that doesn't have a view of at least six screens at once. The place is huge, so getting a seat usually isn't a problem, even when it's busy. The atmosphere is family-friendly with a well-appointed game room. The menu is extensive and offers lots of choices, although seafood is their specialty, as the name suggests. But if your main concern in finding a good sports bar is seeing the game, you simply can't beat Barnacles.
I don't have the data to back this up but the Press Box is probably Tampa's oldest established sports bar. It definitely qualifies as a local institution. I know it's been around for well over 20 years; personally, I remember watching the '87 World Series between the Twins and Cardinals there and I know it was around before that. I also have fond memories of being there to watch all the Lightning road playoff games during the Stanley Cup run in '04. It's probably safe to say that most local sports fans have at least one fond memory of something they watched at the Press Box. It doesn't hurt that their chicken wings are good enough to draw you there even if there isn't a big game on. The thing that keeps me from ranking it higher is the place is showing it's age a little bit. Sure, there's a certain amount of comfort in not seeing a lot of change in an old favorite. But a little bit of re-modelling (nothing drastic) at this point is due and would be nice.
Beef O'Brady's slogan is "every neighborhood should have one". The only question is, what neighborhood doesn't? What Starbucks is to cities like New York, Beef O'Brady's is to Tampa Bay. That convenience is what lands them in our Top Five; if you need to find a place close by where you can catch a game and get something to eat and drink, it's unlikely that you're more than 15 minutes away from a Beef's. Their specialty is chicken wings and the quality of food and service is consistent from location to location, which is what you want from a franchise. I'm not a fan of the pre-packaged portions of blue cheese for the wings, though. Another criticism that a friend once mentioned is that most Beef's locations are too brightly lit inside to be considered a bar and that is probably valid. It's more like a restaurant that serves beer than it is a bar, which is most likely by design. The atmosphere is very family friendly to the extent that Beef O'Brady's markets aggressively to that demographic, which can be a detriment if entire little league teams running back and forth between the game room and asking mom and dad for money in the dining area is something you're not in the mood for. Since that kind of thing is prevalent, it may not be the place you want to go if your softball team just won the rec league championship. It's definitely not the place you want to go if your team just lost that title.