The buzz of a sports bar is unmatched.
In those breathless moments that define a sports team, the comebacks, the buzzer beaters, the against-all-odds triumphs, many are back-dropped in the memory by a sports bar.
The Brickhouse general manager Chaz Gerhart remembers walking through the bar for Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots, the team which the Raleigh bar supports from afar. Famously, the Patriots were toast, to the tune of a 28-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“This is a Patriots Bar, so the Super Bowl was an all-day event. People were here at 10:30 a.m. when we opened,” Gerhart said. “It was building all day. When (the Patriots) were down the air was completely out of the crowd. I’m going around trying to be upbeat, but thinking, ‘This is over.’ Seeing them come back, it makes the hair on my arm stand up thinking about.”
The Brickhouse in Raleigh has been named the Triangle’s best local sports bar by The News & Observer readers. The Raleigh bar on the far west side of Hillsborough Street bested Woody’s Sports Tavern in a landslide, collecting 82 percent of the votes in the final round.
“It’s awesome,” Gerhart said of the honor. “Just knowing all the hard work we put in, for us to be right outside of campus, we can be a tougher draw, it means a lot for people to go out of their way to come to us.”
Perhaps its no surprise that The Brickhouse was born out of a love for a sports team. The bar first opened in 2008, owned by Steve and Toby Dickens, Hudson Veal and Samuel Serad, two brothers and friends who went to NC State together.
The bar began as “Playmakers,” but was changed to The Brickhouse within three months, Steve Dickens said, a nod to NC State’s Brickyard.
“All of us love NC State,” Dickens said, “and we just wanted to do something for NC State.”
Dickens said that the best moments at The Brickhouse are kind of obvious.
“Any game against Carolina where we win,” he said.
But in its 15 years, The Brickhouse has developed a deeper community than just with the nearby Wolfpack. Though its heart will always be NC State, Gerhart said the bar has built a reputation for all teams and all sports. Beyond its allegiance to the Patriots, The Brickhouse is also a home away from home for the local Ohio State fan club.
Brickhouse will find your game
And Gerhart said if a sport is broadcast and a fan wants to see the game, they’ll find a way to get it on a TV.
“We’re definitely an NC State bar, but we’re also a Buckeye bar,” Gerhart said. “It gets tricky when they play each other….I don’t think you ever want to pick a side so much that someone doesn’t feel welcome. Except UNC.”
The Brickhouse bets big on massive screens in the bar, showing a spectrum of sports on 10 projector screens spread through the bar.
“It’s big and open inside, and wherever you’re sitting and wherever you turn you can see a big movie screen projector,” Gerhart said. “And people know we’re always going to have their game. We have all the sports packages. We can show all the soccer games. A guy came in a few weeks ago and asked for a cricket match, so we found it for him.”
Sports can be niche and intimate or be the thread that connects a much larger universe. Gerhart said a group of regulars stop in whenever NC State’s baseball team has a game, knowing it’ll be on.
College football is the high season for The Brickhouse, with the bar filling up early on Saturdays and spilling out on the wide patio. But it’s moment like March’s NCAA basketball tournaments that are an easy illustration for a sports bar’s place in the fan experience, Gerhart said.
“This past weekend, with the NCAA tournament, seeing a last second shot go in and you know not a single fan is here for that team, but everyone cheers — there’s nothing like it,” Gerhart said. “When a whole restaurant is cheering for the same thing at the same moment, there’s just nothing like it.”
Woody’s Sports Tavern
Launched in 1993 as a pool hall that morphed into one of the Triangle’s most popular sports bar brands, Woody’s Sports Tavern will mark its 30th anniversary this summer at its flagship Cary location. In those 30 years, Woody’s has added a popular downtown Raleigh bar and its newest outpost in growing Morrisville.
Woody’s is the runner-up in the N&O’s Sports Bar Bracket, falling short of the crown but besting a deep bench of legends in the Triangle.
Perhaps it should be mentioned that at Woody’s, there is no one named Woody involved. The name stood out among a long list of names that embodied the soul of the kind of sports bar owners Shawn Whisnant, Joseph Hatch and Walter Powell wanted to build.
“It was the sportiest name,” Whisnant said.
Today, Woody’s is baked into the Triangle’s sports bar pantheon as if it’s been here forever and is known for some of the best local wings.
“We always tried to take our passion for sports to another level,” Whisnant said. “We wanted to be more than just another bar with ESPN. It’s a all about TVs and programming with every single package known to man.”
That’s meant being an early destination for Triangle soccer fans looking to catch the World Cup, or Copa America or Premier League games. It’s meant never picking sides in the Duke, Carolina and NC State rivalries and offering a warm barstool and cold pint to those from colleges far away.
“We have an allegiance to whoever the customer base follows,” Whisnant said. “The biggest allegiance is to the local colleges.”
Like The Brickhouse, Woody’s has cultivated a following for out-of-town college fan clubs. An active Penn State club watches games at the new Morrisville location, he said, and downtown Raleigh has a following for Appalachian State fans.
Whisnant said there are lots of great sports moments and heartbreaks clinging to the walls of the three bars, and that as long as there are great games to be played, there will be great sports bars.
“The Panthers going to the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, there’s nothing like being in a local sports bar to watch these games,” Whisnant said. “That sense of community, with everyone there, the only thing better is being at the actual event. You can feel that community and excitement in the room.”
This story was originally published March 27, 2023, 3:02 PM.