Looking for a March Madness Hangout? Head to Bettis' Grille 36
The North Shore bar has everything you need to follow the action (and fill up while you watch).
photo by sean collier
An old boss of mine used to take a vacation during the first week of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. He wouldn’t actually attend the games — or, for that matter, even leave town. He’d go to a particular, bygone chain restaurant known for its abundance of televisions and camp out all day, eating, drinking and watching the tournament. He’d go so far as to book a hotel within walking distance of the bar so he wouldn’t have to drive home when the final buzzer sounded.
Now, I’m not a particularly big basketball fan. (Because, umm … I’m from Pittsburgh.) But I certainly see the appeal. Tournaments are inherently interesting, and the promise of game after game from noon until midnight is more than enough reason to seek out a sports bar with a flat-screen TV in every direction.
But where to go? While there are hundreds of sports bars in the Pittsburgh area, March Madness is that rare time when the dedicated viewer wants to be able to keep an eye on multiple televisions at once. And while plenty of bars do in fact have a plethora of screens, we’re looking for a truly impressive number, lest the hardcore hoops aficionado miss an upset in the making.
I asked around a bit and checked some of our own voting results from years past, and one bar kept coming up: Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36. The sprawling bar and restaurant with the hall-of-fame imprimatur has become a fixture on the North Shore and a game-day favorite for Pirates and Steelers fans. I was surprised to realize, however, that I hadn’t visited myself; I’ve walked by many times but never made it in for a meal.
I arrived to find that Grille 36 certainly passes the first test: It has a ton of TVs. From the seat I selected at the bar, I could easily see eight without turning my head too far in any direction, and the other dining rooms seemed to have just as robust a supply. (One room, closest to the river, had some personal televisions at booths as well — these are to be considered prime March Madness real estate. If you’d like one, send your buddy as soon as the place opens.)
What’s more, I discovered Grille 36 is actually running a fairly unique loyalty promotion for the tournament. If you can declare the North Shore spot your basketball home base for the next few weeks, you’ll be rewarded: Show up Thursday and Friday and you’ll earn a helping of free chips and queso dip over the weekend, show up again over the weekend and you’ll earn a discount next week and so on. (The rewards get better as the tournament rolls on.) Make five appearances and you’ll be entered to win a somewhat massive television of your own (provided you enroll in the restaurant’s normal loyalty program at some point).
Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother reporting on a rewards program, but there’s a message embedded in this one: Grille 36 wants you to be there for the tournament, and they believe you’ll be satisfied with your decision if you keep coming back. The menu will certainly help persuade you: While the entrees are more or less what you’d expect, a sprawling selection of appetizers is perfect for you and your friends to nibble at over four quarters of a game. (I can personally testify to the size and quality of the World Champion Nachos, which could serve as a full meal for at least three people). The cocktail and margarita lists aren’t exactly innovative, but hit the expected marks. The draft beer list, on the other hand, is impressive, with a nice rotating selection of local brews; I had a Nut Roll Ale from Penn Brewery and the excellent Monkey Boy Hefeweizen from East End on my visit, and there were more to choose from.
If you’re not in need of a staging ground for excessive basketball viewing, I can still say that I’m a convert on Grille 36. I know that getting a table can be a challenge when the North Shore is packed, but I’m sorry it took me so long to get here — this is an ideal spot for a pre-game meal (or a post-game drinks-and-snacks visit).
Oh — you wanted tips on how to fill out your bracket? Find an expert’s picks and copy them. I’m sorry to say that your insights are not all that profound.