New York is a good sports town, but sadly it is not a college football town. Professional sports dominate NYC, namely the Yankees and Mets in baseball, and the Jets and Giants in football. There are no big-time college teams in the New York metro area, unless you count Rutgers in New Jers….nah, there are no big time college programs here.
Even so, there are plenty of college football fans. Some fans are from the city and went elsewhere to college, but most are from outside the city and bring their fandom with them to NYC. Fans of specific football teams like to get together and watch games, and the best places to do that are sports bars around the city.
Because there are hundreds of bars in Manhattan – many of them sports bars – it is necessary to coordinate each team’s fan base so they all show up at the same places and watch the games together. This is accomplished by the alumni chapters of each school, which designate a bar an official “team bar.” It’s not clear to me whether or not money changes hands up front, but the arrangement is advantageous to the bars because they get tons of business directed their way, often during otherwise down times. An alumni association will designate a bar a team bar and will encourage all fans to patronize that bar to watch their team’s games. In exchange, the bars always show the team’s games, have specials on food and drinks, and often wear the team’s colors during the game.
Since our cable company doesn’t carry the Big Ten Network – which televised Penn State’s game today against Temple – I decided to try out Penn State’s official bar in New York, Tonic East, located on the bar-heavy 3rd Avenue at 29th Street. Tonic East is a fairly standard sports bar, featuring televisions and projections of the game on every square inch of wall in the 3-story building. They open at 11:00 am on Saturdays, and when I arrived right at 11, there was already a line of about 10 PSU-garbed people – all women, interestingly enough.
I sat at the bar for 4 hours – an hour pre-game and all 3 hours of the game itself – and had a great time. The place was pretty crowded by kickoff at noon, and was standing room only shortly afterwards. All the bartenders and waitresses wore Penn State clothes, and they had a special Penn State game menu. I had a pretty good half-pound cheeseburger and fries with a Coke for just $7 – positively cheap by NYC standards. I watched the game up close on large projection behind the bar, with sound pumped into the restrooms so I never missed a minute. The fans were loud and cheered as if they were at the stadium, often chanting the actual cheers. Someone even brought a cowbell for the traditional P-S-U chant. If I couldn’t be at the game itself on an absolutely perfect September afternoon, this was the next best place.
With cheap food, a big screen TV, and enthusiastic Penn State fans, Tonic East will definitely be a repeat on game days this Fall…