November 26, 2021

Return of March Madness draws fans to sports bars

Jamie Costa/staff reporter

Several basketball fans fill the bar Friday afternoon at Central City Bar and Grill in Cortland to watch the first few games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The bar, closed last year because of the pandemic, depends on the income generated from this month.

Rows of barstools were filled with basketball fans awaiting the first tip-off of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s March Madness tournament Friday at Central City Bar and Grill.

Beers sloshed over the varnished wood and deli sandwiches were passed around as dozens of eyes stared at the TV screens hanging over the taps — much different from 2020.

“Being a sports bar, not having March Madness last year really impacted us,” said Brittany Rogers, manager at Central City Bar and Grill. “The bar depends on the income generated from this month, it’s our busiest time of the year.”

Before the pandemic, the bar was standing room only during the tournament, Rogers said.

Plastic dividers along the bar and between tables creates separation for customers and staff this year, giving them the feel of a regular tournament day, aside from capacity limits.

The bar, which usually opens at 3 p.m. on weekdays, opened at noon on Friday in anticipation for the rush of regulars.

They started showing up around 11:30 a.m., asking to sit at the bar and wait for the games — Colgate vs. Arkansas and Virginia Tech vs. Florida — to start at 12:15 p.m.

“For games like this, we want to get people in,” Rogers said. “It’s going to get busy now that we can allow people to be here.”

Travis Moore of Marathon used to drive to Central City every Friday to watch the games, sometimes more if he could make the time. He was sporting an orange T-shirt and baseball cap representing Syracuse University.

“It was a bummer when March Madness was canceled, just like everything else,” Moore said. “I was here (at Central) to watch the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) Tournament and it got canceled early — that’s when I knew the NCAA had no chance.”

Moore dabbled in basketball from a young age, playing on school teams throughout middle school and recreational pick-up teams into high school. Although he’s a Syracuse fan, he has Gonzaga winning in his bracket.

“I am really excited about this year,” Moore said. “It wasn’t just March Madness that was canceled last year — the Masters and spring training were also canceled.”

“The locals are excited,” Rogers said. “They’re ready to be out and excited to be back to normal.”