Forward March

Forward March

Here’s some March Madness for you: Yale is out, but UConn is so in that they just embarrassed the team that embarrassed Yale.

For fans who root for both the Bulldogs and the Huskies, it’s a kind of revenge. But it’s also a sign of how dominant the UConn men’s basketball team are this year. They seem stronger and more complete than any of their predecessors over the past 25 years, who’ve collectively won more championships—five—than any other school in that span. With a title this year, UConn would boast twice as many championships as the next closest contender—and make a strong case that this team, right now, is one of the best college basketball has ever seen.

That’s a phenomenon worth witnessing—not at home watching highlights on a phone but out in the world, in real time, among others doing the same. So last night during the game, when UConn was drubbing San Diego State, I pulse-checked eight downtown spots where we can savor these moments—and eight Connecticut beers to consider savoring while we do it.

I started at The Cannon, one of the city’s only true sports bars. Soccer comes first here, everything else second, but you can bet one or more of its three large and very visible screens will be trained on UConn’s remaining games. Here I drank the Benji, a New England IPA from Milford’s Tribus Beer. Juicy and refreshing—though I’d have liked more bite—the pour tasted as tropical as its mango-pineapple color, with a “smooth orange, berry finish.”

My second stop was Rudy’s, where one of two modest TVs above the bar is often tuned to sports. Trying to watch a game at Rudy’s can be fun or fraught; one staffer in particular has a history of being possessive over the screens. I was glad not to see him as I took a seat before the central taps, where a handle design like a knotty branch caught my eye. My friendly bartender pulled it, and out poured a glass of the New England Cider Company’s flagship Fresh Blend. Hailing from Wallingford, it tasted fresh indeed, with an easy crispness and a hint of lemon.

A block or so to the east, sitting at Old Heidelberg’s venerable bar, I couldn’t resist a can of TwoConn, an “easy ale” collab between UConn Athletics and Stratford’s Two Roads Brewing. Sadly, for me, it didn’t go down easy, with clashing notes of grain and a starchy mouthfeel. But the bar delivered an easy experience otherwise, collegially brokering its divey personality and classy energy. At game time, you can watch the action on a fuzzy, vintage, cathode ray television or a couple of pixel-perfect flatscreens.

I then popped next-door to Heirloom, the restaurant at The Study at Yale. With two screens and attentive service, Heirloom’s bar is a stylish spot to catch a game if you don’t mind being the only one paying attention. As for my beer, I went with something exotic: Groton-based Barn Brew Co.’s Haze for Horses IPA, an experience the brewery’s website likens to “galloping across a prairie of ginormous flavors.” The ginormous notes I got were grass—let’s call it prairie grass—and lemon with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. It was bitter enough to slow me down but unique enough to keep me sipping.

Next, at BAR, I went with something sweeter—yet also more refined: a house-brewed sour called Cran-Orange Muffin. Could they have devised a more creative name for this? Probably, but not a more accurate one, unless they’d have been willing to add “with Carrot Cake Spices and Cream Cheese Frosting.” BAR, of course, needs no introduction; it’s one of the busiest places in town. And even though it’s not a sports bar, a single perfectly placed screen in the lefthand room allows it to feel like one for a couple of hours.

From BAR, I headed two blocks to Bar 19, a trip that takes you to the 19th floor of the Omni Hotel. The extra bit of intention and effort required to get there keeps it accessible; at the start of the second half, I found only three of the bar’s five seats occupied. Soon I was in the fourth, sipping on a glass of Headway by Counter Weight—a goodie and, at the speed craft beer now moves, an oldie. Juicy mango and orange notes headlined the profile, their sweetness offset by citrus rind bite.

Over at Barcade, I made a very different choice: the Saison by Oxford’s OEC Brewing. Hazy and brunette, the beer was listed as carrying notes of “Belgian yeast, black pepper, and citrus,” but the stronger flavors for me were apple and plum with maybe a hint of sherry. The mouthfeel was thin, and it felt like a part of the flavor spectrum was missing. But if you like to analyze your beer, it could make for a good subject. Barcade, of course, is a beer bar well before it’s a sports bar, but they did have the game on—and, as usual, a great soundtrack.

Two blocks up, the crowd at The Trinity, the final stop on my crawl, actually wanted to hear the game, which was showing on something like a dozen screens. The Trinity is downtown’s biggest sports bar and the clear venue of choice for local UConn alums, who capped off the Huskies’ blowout win with a signature chant: “UConn!” “Huskies!” “UConn!” “Huskies!” “Huskies!” “UConn!” “Woof!” A few minutes before then, I scanned the taps for something completely different to finish the night—and found what the bartender identified, though not with total certainty, as a cotton candy sour from East Haven’s Hoax Brewing. Looking like beet juice or sorrel under the bar’s dim lights, the beer tasted like a strawberry Jolly Rancher. It wasn’t nearly as tart as I expected, but maybe that’s because my palate was already seven beers deep.

As for UConn, their tourney run is now three wins deep, with three more to go to claim a national championship. Their next stop is Boston, where they’ll fight third-seeded Illinois for a spot in the Final Four. They’ve never looked so impressive—so go ahead and look, preferably at a local bar with a local drink.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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