Disclaimer: This article was written while the Spurs were still in the playoffs.
As a Jack Daniel's billboard on my commute to work insists, the Spurs have made consistency exciting (a quality I am supposed to infer could also be said of Jack Daniel's).
As a result, here in San Antonio, predictability has become something of a virtue. Success is highly prized, as is reliability, but their sum is much, much greater than their parts. And if there's any establishment in town with a snowball's chance of challenging the Spurs' sameness of greatness, it's Ticket Sports Pub at 420 E. Houston Street.
Since 2009, Ticket has been the Silver and Black of the sports bar universe, winning the The San Antonio Current's "Best Sports Bar" in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2016. Considering the nightlife industry's notoriously high shutter rate, most bars would be happy just keeping their doors open that long, let alone spanking the competition so soundly.
Now, you don't have to be Warren Buffet to find financial success catering to out-of-towners in one of the most tourist-friendly cities in the country. And, in fact, when I walked into the bar, I heard first the chatter of an English family. As I was trying to understand how a sports bar festooned so deep in townie territory could repeatedly win "Best Sports Bar," their presence supported my hypothesis that giddy tourists had so regularly left glowing reviews that the bar had back-doored its way to the top.
Upon second thought, I realized that while tourists could well keep a bar afloat, they would be ineffectual when it came to a crowd-sourced peoples' choice award like The Current's Best of San Antonio yearlies. And by brilliant power of deduction, I realized that there had to be some explanation, someway, somehow, that honest-to-goodness puro citizens are patronizing, enjoying and voting for a bar housed in an area riddled with non-locals.
As I sat at the bar, looking at the bartenders, customers, décor, menu, TV and patio area, another thought began to dawn on me. It may very well be that while Ticket played a role in the tourism industrial complex, its location might not necessarily make it party to the highway robbery of modern tourism. Another way of putting it, to paraphrase someone famous, is that while the Ticket may be in the Downtown area, it is not of the Downtown area. In fact, I began to realize, the bar felt more like an oasis in a desert than a dune in a wasteland. It was like a life raft of sorts, a tiny, alcohol-serving dinghy of reality floating amidst the Downtown area's trash island of artifice. More succinctly: People don't love the Ticket because it's Downtown, people love the Ticket because it's Downtown.
The Sunday I visited, I arrived an hour before the Spurs game. Three times in a row a bartender greeted a newcomer by name before asking what they were drinking. Conversations were had, niceties were exchanged, layman sports analyses were proffered and not one bit of it felt like a tourist bar, dripping as they always are in saccharine smiles and subtle extortion.
And with food like the Ticket's, you'll begin to wonder who, if given the choice, would choose immunity anyway? When it comes to beer, domestics start at $3, imports at $3.50 and drafts range between $3-5; most mixed drinks stay within the $5-$8 zone. Come at night or after a win and try one of their half-dozen composed shots, $4-$7, if you've been itching to find out what Jameson tastes like when chased with McClure's Pickle Brine.
I ordered and received a perfectly balanced Michelada ($5), the bright tang of the lime counteracting the toothy umami of the house Bloody Mary mix.
My drink watched TV with me (on one of 15 screens!) as my Ticket Wings ($9.95) were being prepared, although my michelada — like me — almost didn't survive the wait. As I had arrived an hour before the Spurs started, the bar staff seemed distracted, working with a grim forbearance similar to what I imagine our pre-game hoopers look like — physically present and going through the motions, but mentally in a different place prepping for the game.
As a result, I languished unserved for nearly 20 minutes, this despite the bar being nearly empty at the time. It's no serious knock on the servers — as the game neared the bartenders awoke — but I was a little frustrated at the time.
When my food arrived I found myself once again at peace with the world. Eight assorted wings and drumettes arrived in a basket nestled against slivered celery and two sauces, ranch and bleu cheese. Piping hot, fresh and tender, the wings were delicious and paired perfectly with my drink. Food in my belly, beer in my heart and the Spurs in my line of sight, I began to understand the hype. Who knows — maybe the Ticket really is the best sports bar in the city.