Selection Sunday is a few days away, when the 68 teams competing in the NCAA’s March Madness melee will be named and sorted into their various brackets.
The occasion is of intense interest here, since Atlanta is hosting its fifth men’s college basketball tournament, but the madness may be a little less boisterous this year and the gatherings may be a little more sparse, due to the unprecedented impact of the novel coronavirus.
During Atlanta’s last Final Four, in 2013, about 100,000 people visited downtown and injected an estimated $70 million into the local economy.
This year’s marathon of games will be the first to be played in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and the new venue has only increased expectations for the tournament.
Plans for March Madness, and other large public gatherings, including the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Savannah, were still going forward, as of Wednesday.
The National College Players Association has called for discussions about playing the games to an empty stadium and cancelling meet-and-greets and other fan events.
The Benz holds about 71,000, but plenty more people will be watching the games elsewhere — including perhaps in the stadium’s parking lot.
Who will be competing? That’s also up in the air. But here are a few good bets on places to watch with like-minded fans. (As long as public health officials give us the go-ahead.)
University of Kentucky (and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Fans of the Kentucky Wildcats, the most successful NCAA Division I program in history, plan to gather at the Hudson Grille in Midtown, according to Mark Pierson, president of the Greater Atlanta University of Kentucky Alumni Club.
There may some Tarheels around, said Pierson. “We have to share with North Carolina, but North Carolina’s not doing so well, so that’s going to be OK.”
Pierson said his club is the largest chapter of UK alumni outside the state of Kentucky, and that their turnout is strong. Of the coronavirus concerns, he said, “I think we should be cautious, but I’m not ready to quarantine myself in my loft. Handwashing is the thing.” And elbow bumps.
Hudson Grille Midtown, 942 Peachtree St. 404-892-0892, hudsongrille.com.
Fans of the Spokane, Washington, team will be gathering at the Sandy Springs location of the Hudson Grille, according to Russ Adams, director of Metrotainment Cafes, which includes six Hudson Grille locations. Adams said fans of Villanova University’s Wildcats (different wildcats) will also gather there.
To combat transmission of the virus, said Adams, “we will just double down on education, reminding the staff, ‘wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.’” , 6317 Hudson Grille Sandy Springs, 6317 Roswell Road. 404-554-8282, hudsongrille.com.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
There will also be Tarheel support happening at Padriac’s, an Irish Pub in Vinings. Pronounce it “Padrick’s.”
Padriac’s, 2460 Cumberland Parkway SE, Atlanta. 770-433-2398, padriacs.com.
WHERE TO CHILL
For some basketball fans, the beer is more important than the ball. The Taco Mac Beer Bracket was created with them in mind. Enjoy your favorite beer during the tournament. The beer with the highest sales each round wins the head-to-head matchup, with Creature Comfort’s Tropicalia going up against Cherry Street’s Coconut Porter and New Belgium’s American Haze jousting with Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing and so forth. The best beer will rise through the brackets like bubbles through a glass of Bud.
The first round begins Tuesday Taco Mac, one of Atlanta’s most notable sports bar chains, boasts two dozen stores in the metro area.
Taco Mac.Various locations across metro Atlanta. tacomac.com
Elliott Street Deli & Pub
If you want to hear the game even if you can’t watch it, the Elliot Street Pub is within spitting distance of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which looms behind the tiny tavern like a Death Star with Jumbotrons.
“We’re a blue-collar bar,” said co-owner Mike Jakob. “We feed the guys that make Final Four happen. The set-up guys, the banner guys; we’ll have a crowd.”
Jakob said he has no particular favorite in the tournament. “We know Georgia’s not going to be playing,” he says. So, he’s going to enjoy the local bands and the neighborhood folks who show up.
Will people stay home? Fred Crudder, beer connoisseur, former beer evangelist at Taco Mac, said the urge to gather is strong. He saw it at the season opening Atlanta United game last weekend. Despite increasing reports of COVID-19 breakouts, the fans packed the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Either Atlanta United fans are young and don’t think this is an issue for them, or it’s a force that won’t be slowed down by hysteria,” said Crudder. “And if there’s any force greater than that, it’s the damn Final Four. People will put themselves in a bubble to go those games, if they have to.”
Elliott Street Deli & Pub. 51 Elliott St. SW, Atlanta. 404-523-2174, elliottstreet.com.
Concerns about the spread of the coronavirus have resulted in the cancellation of many events and large gatherings. The AJC will monitor these announcements and keep you informed about any postponements, rescheduling and cancellations, but it’s best to check with venues or event organizers before making plans to attend.
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