Last Friday night, I hit the Ticket — winner of the Current’s Best of SA 2010 honors for Best Sports Bar. The Ticket is a real sports bar, not an excuse for scantily dressed theme waitresses. When I rolled through the doors solo, two enthusiastic and stylish bartenders were taking care of the almost all-male crowd, snacking on Lay’s and dancing to the music, while they bounced from order to order.
I sat down and ordered a beer from one of said bartenders. When she brought my draft (one of the 12 beers on tap) she put it down and reached across the table for a hearty handshake. “Hi, I’m Christie,” she said. I was still absorbing this when she noticed a blind man shakily walking through the bar, ran to his side, grabbed his arm and led him forward.
As the crowd became thicker, the bartenders picked up their pace, taking care of the food orders in addition to serving drinks. The bar’s downtown-corner marquee promises food until 2 a.m. Familiar with the inverse relationship between wee-hours and kitchen quality, I was eager to sample the Ticket’s fare.
There are only three menu items: Anchor House Buffalo Wings ($8.95), nachos with jalapeños (3.95), and pepperoni pizza. ($6.95). I spied a movie-theater concession-style cheese dispenser in the makeshift kitchen behind the bar, and imagined a frozen pizza, so I went with the chicken wings.
Wings are, as any sports fan worth his plasma screen will know, an art. The tricky nature of fried meat, not to mention endless blue-cheese-dressing variations, call for real skill, not just the ability to operate a microwave.
As I sat back, awaiting the wings, my eyes slid upwards to the multiple, massive television screens overhead. These high-definition beauties broadcast everything from Major League Baseball games to ESPN SportsCenter to women’s basketball. I feigned interest in a Dwayne Wade/LeBron James ESPN drama, and then the basket of wings appeared before me.
Unlike their unholy brethren served at Chili’s and other such chains, these wings were not slathered in sauce. They had a dry-varnish finish reminiscent of crispy Beijing duck. They were fiercely hot but the heat was trapped inside the meat, not just coating it. I was in love.
A novel distinction between the Ticket and, say, most every other bar downtown, are the free poker tournaments twice a week. Every Monday and Wednesday night, a consequence-free hand can be had by anyone who cares to join. A drink at the bar will get you a buy-in, and the games go all night long.
When reviewing bars, I like to rate how comfortable a female patron would feel alone at the venue. At night, the Ticket is better lit than 90 percent of drinking establishments, and the floor-to-ceiling windows around the perimeter are a refreshing contrast to the windowless dungeons of some nearby drinking holes.
The Ticket’s crew isn’t just sports fans and bar flies, they’re industry folk getting off of work. “They take care of their regulars. That’s why I come here,” said Miguel Lopez, unwinding with a beer after a long day at the Rainforest Café.
Whether it’s MLB you’re after, or a $3.50 domestic pint, the Ticket is a homerun across the board. The mix of locals and tourists keeps it fresh, and the atmosphere is never intimidating. This depot of incredible wings and great bartenders has been hiding in plain sight all along.
420 E. Houston
Totally pro bar that takes the good-sportsmanship award for its fun bartenders, diverse beer selection, and excellent hot wings
Catching the game with a friendly crowd of locals and tourists, consequence-free poker, late-night snacks downtown
Prices Domestic Beer:
Bottle $3; Draft $3.50, Import Beer: Bottle $3.75; Draft $3.75 - $4.75, Cocktails: $4.75 - $5.75