The Super Bowl, for me anyway, always represents the end of a season and the beginning of a new one. Winter, kind of, officially ends when the winner of the game gets handed that oblong silver medal and is showered with multi colored confetti spewing out of plastic canons. The holiday season is long gone, the decorations are put away and all we have to look forward to now is the dreaded pink and muck of Valentine's Day.
Baseball and basketball linger for far too long, hockey is cool but not the biggest American diversion. So the end of football means that we have to wait another seven months till the weather starts to cool off a bit and we can prepare, once again, for the awesome calendar holidays and a sport that all but consumes most sports fans. I myself decided to be a football fan a few years ago and, since then, have wavered in and out with my attention. Some seasons I have fun with it and watch as many games as possible. But some, such as the most recent, I really didn't care about any of it and I would blankly stare at the TV at my local watering hole if a game was on. Just wasn't feeling football in the '15-'16 season. Just didn't care. It happens.
But, for some odd reason, I wanted to try and get into the super bowl this year. Not play in the game silly but make an attempt to give a crap, just one last time, before spring hits and the summer wave of heat and bad television takes precedence. So in order to do so I thought it would be fun to completely immerse myself with super bowl happenings all across Tucson.
The idea was to map out a bunch of neighborhood and sports bars that advertised themselves as a Super Bowl headquarters and restaurants touting food and drink specials to coincide with the sport spectacle, take a bunch of photos, chat about the food and drinks and have a good time. Seems pretty fun right?
It didn't hurt that the night before the game, and my Tucson super bowl trek, Metallica played a free show at the stadium in San Francisco and live streamed it. Now, I have only seen Metallica live twice; the first was their Master of Puppets tour just a few short months before Cliff Burton died in that bus accident and the second was their ...And Justice For All show which was cool but lacked the energy of the days playing with Cliff. Then they released the "Black Album" then I stopped caring and then time passed and, well, here we are.
Thing is, the show they delivered the night before the game was really fun and impressive. They sounded great, seemed to be having a good time, played a lot of old school favorites and I'm sure with the talent and youthful energy of bassist Robert Trujillo have found a new vitality in what they do. So I went to bed that night happy and excited about my adventures the next day.
|"Too heavy to play halftime"|
The map I created had me starting in my neighborhood (midtown) with some local bars, then winding around various east side locations, back around Speedway and Broadway then ending up on University Avenue with all of the open air locations with huge TVs and possible heaps of screaming fans. For a second I thought about going downtown but...meh. If you know me then you know I don't go downtown much. Let the other food writers cover that territory. I'll cover the rest.
So my first stop was a place right down the street from me, Nancy's Fort Lowell Pub. It doesn't take much for the owner, staff and even a few regulars to bring in a swinging potluck. So I was sure that for the super bowl, they would pull out all the stops.
|First stop on the super bowl adventure|
I got there a bit early, like 3pm, an hour and a half hours before kickoff, and they were still setting up. In the midst of people bringing in offerings, there was already an impressive stash of brauts, chili, chips, pulled pork and so on. A lot of people I know are a bit weary of going into Nancy's, mainly because of it's location (1st and Ft. Lowell at the dark end of a line of shops) but mostly because this is a real neighborhood bar with real neighborhood patrons. There is absolute no pretension at this place and that is why we love it. An honest drink for an honest price? Yes please. Then throw on top of that the usual pop up of a potluck? Awesome.
It was still pre-game and I had a lot of ground to cover, so I made my way out and onto the next location.
|Bartender Patty's beloved Cowboys crockpot filled with slow cooked goodness|
Now, some of you may know while others have literally no idea, I am married to the uber bar maven of Old Chicago on Campbell Ave, She-Ra. Have been for a decade now; the reason I moved to Tucson in the first place. One year she was recognized for her homemade hot sauce and mix that goes into their Bloody Mary and won "best of" from local media. Pretty cool.
Well, for the super bowl, Old Chicago was running a special on Bloody Mary's and I decided to check it out even though She-Ra is out of town training new staff in a Texas location.
|Me and this place go way back|
Here is where super bowls of the past started to come back and haunt me.
For a few years I was the pizza chef and kitchen supervisor at Old Chicago and the minute I stepped foot into the restaurant I remembered that the super bowl was a notoriously slow day. We always overstaffed the kitchen, over prepped for the onslaught of tickets we were preparing to blind us with orders...all of which never came.
Usually by halftime we sent most kitchen guys home and just froze the over prep for later use. No one was ordering Bloody Mary's and in the still eve of a kick off the place was a bit quiet. So I said my hellos, took a photo or two and left.
It's just not the same without She-Ra.
|Waiting for the game to start, trying all 110 beers|
Third on the list was our usual hangout, Danny's, which had a wing cook off starting at 3. Unfortunately I was a little late seeing as I had already been to two other locations celebrating the big game but was lucky enough to eat a few wings, have my first drink and relax in a comfortable spot before heading back out.
|I know, I talk about this place a lot...it's like home away from home|
The wings that I did get to sample were delicious. In fact, since I was too late to be a judge, the wings that I thought should win actually did win. See, this is the kind of forethought and community inclusion that I love about days such as the super bowl and about places such as Danny's. If you're not going to spend game day at home or at a friend's house, why not go to your usual spot and enjoy the day with your adopted bar buddies?
Much like Nancy's, Danny's was filling up and was full of happy customers a good hour before kickoff. Unfortunately, I had a long day ahead so I finished my drink and headed up to my next pinned location.
|Amazing BBQ chicken wings as part of the cookoff|
Vero Amore is one of my go to restaurants for pizza and has been for quite some time. It is so good, for the most part. Now that Tucson has Pizzaria Bianco and the mobile unit Fiamme Pizza Napoletana, they seem to teeter on good and acceptable lately. But they were advertising themselves as a go to spot for the super bowl, so I parked my car and got there just in time to see and hear GaGa sing the national anthem.
I thought the girl killed it. In the best way possible.
|Werk that anthem hunty|
When I asked the girl at the host stand what they're specials were, she looked distressed and said she didn't know of any. So she scuttled off, asked one of the chefs and then came back saying there was a rosemary potato pizza special and a gnocchi special.
Were those two items cheaper because they were special? She said no. What about drinks? You have to have a beer or cocktail special for the game, right?
There wasn't any.
Looking around, I noticed the place was near empty. Old Chicago at least boasted specials with reduced prices but Vero Amore, advertising super bowl deals, had none. Interesting.
This is where things began to take a dull and fruitless turn.
|This image became the norm for the rest of the day|
Leaving Vero Amore, I turned right onto Speedway Blvd. and tried my hand at Sir Veza's, the place that boasts that they are the "day drinking headquarters". This place must have something cool going on for the game. Nope. And just like Vero Amore, it was almost empty.
With the game about to begin, I made my way into Trident Grill. Okay, this time the place was packed, but after asking if they had any game day specials, the girls all looked so rushed that I couldn't get a straight answer. Now I didn't take any pictures here because I felt odd, for some odd reason, of taking pictures of dudes staring at big TVs. Same went for Sir Veza's. Why shoot a near empty bar or just a packed bar with folks camping for the game?
So I moved on to what I thought would be my final location, which is the bar and restaurant stretch on University Avenue.
Before I decided to park the car, I made the move to just drive down the street first and see if there was any action. Well, from my vantage point, there was not, or at least not very much. The new kids on the block, Illegal Pete's had some turnout but not enough for me to pull over and start snapping photos. Frog and Firkin had all their TVs going, so did their neighbor No Anchovies, all blaring loud as the game was underway, but the seats were nearly empty. Perhaps I should have just gone to Red's Smokehouse ordered some bomb ribs and called it a day.
Thing is, at that point, I just wanted to go home. Driving around Tucson looking for food and drink awesomeness during the super bowl was my first big (insert fail music here) since restarting the Homeskillet, other than getting turned down by the Salvation Army to cover their big Xmas turkey dinner for the homeless. Oh yeah. Because of who knows why, they wouldn't let me promote and help with their big charity event. Whatever. Until they can support same sex marriage I could give a poo.
Now I know. The super bowl is more of a home gathering, with friends coming over with treats, the BBQ is smoking and filled with burning meat and veggies, ice cold beers in the fridge, you know...American stuff. For some reason I had this idea that Tucson would be out in droves, celebrating, screaming at the TV and cramming as much food and beer into their football loving faces in a public display of fan affection.
Here's a tip though: If you don't care at all about the super bowl...the city is yours! For real. All those usual, crammed, hard to get in places? You can just step right in and have the space to yourself. Much like when I lived in San Francisco, during Burning Man the city was an empty shell of what it normally blusters. For one week all of the wait lists and deep cover charges are lifted. So on the next super bowl Sunday, have fun exploring the food and bar scene of your fair southwestern hamlet. Because it is extensive, exciting and growing day by day.
After grabbing some Indian food, I sat in the soft warmth of my own home, streaming the game on the computer, quietly rolling my eyes at each referees call while petting the cat and making a note to do the same next year.
But if I do decide to go out next year...c'mon Tucson. Give us some incentive to do so. Learn from the neighborhood bars and give us a reason to sit and occupy your services for three hours. It's not that hard. Is it?
I hope not.
Camera and Typing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Super Bowl Sunday (and Monday), 2016