Gridiron fans unite and cheer at metro Atlanta sports bars

When you want to be where everybody knows your team.

Walk into the Bucket Shop Cafe in Buckhead on any Saturday for the next couple of months and it will be a sea of navy blue and burnt orange. Head over to the Bar{n} Dunwoody and the crowd will be resplendent in orange and white.

Yes, it’s football season and that means it’s time to put on your team jersey, gather with friends and cheer. For some, it’s going to a designated “viewing bar” where fans meet to support their team of choice, whether it be their school, hometown, or just a random team for no real reason. And, for others, they just want a great bar to enjoy a game and have a beer.

“I think watching sports is something that, by and large, most of us have a memory of doing as a child,” says Jeláni Dais, president of the Atlanta Clemson Club. “If you’re not fortunate enough to be in Death Valley (Clemson’s stadium), then you want to be in the company of other Clemson fans. Nothing is more electrifying than cheering on your team, hearing all the people support your team, the players, the institution. You’re just totally invested in what’s happening on that screen.”

Credit: Contributed by the Bucket Shop Café

Credit: Contributed by the Bucket Shop Café

Most teams — whether college or pro — have a designated bar for like-minded fans to watch the game. The Bucket Shop is home base for Auburn fans (and Carolina Panthers), while the Bar{n} is the new headquarters for Clemson (along with Big Game in the Old Fourth Ward). Hudson Grille in Sandy Springs is not only the epicenter for Ohio State football fans but also Oklahoma Sooners and Iowa State Cyclones (and Patriots, Chiefs and Bengals).

Credit: Ryan Fleisher

Credit: Ryan Fleisher

The Florida State Seminole Club meets at Dr. Scofflaw’s Brewing at the Chattahoochee Food Works where they have a special section and many of the food vendors give discounts. “We decorate our section. It gives everyone the opportunity to have fun and build networks. It’s boring to watch a game at home especially when you can be with other Seminoles,” says Jeffrey Amilcar, president of the Atlanta Seminole Club.

Three generations of Bucket Shop owners went to Auburn and they’ve hosted games since 1992. “For us it’s personal,” says owner Brandon Evans. “Even before we could get games on television, we would have a radio on. You can walk into the bar and know if they’ve won or lost. It takes you back to those times when you were young.”

Credit: Contributed by Smith's Olde Bar

Credit: Contributed by Smith's Olde Bar

‘Bama in Atlanta meets at Smith’s Olde Bar and Hudson Grille in Midtown. “There’s a lot of TVs, and the sound is on so you hear the announcers,” says Gene Fulmer, president. “We try to do as much as possible to make everyone feel like they’re back in college, even though they’re in Atlanta working.”

But, what if you don’t have a bar where everybody knows your team? What makes for a great sports bar — especially on game day?

“Generally what makes a good sports bar is a great atmosphere, great food and great prices,” says Heather Hinman, director of sales and events at Hudson Grille.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Good sportsmanship

Atmosphere with an “everyone’s welcomed” vibe is vital.

“Our biggest day is when college football is on. There’s so many different groups of people who live in Atlanta that if someone comes in here, they will almost certainly find a group of people wearing those team colors,” says Douglas Murphy, owner of Irby’s Tavern in Buckhead.

Unlike the Dawgs, Falcons fans don’t dominate on game days, he says. “Well, partly because the Falcons haven’t been that good. But we have 24 televisions so anyone could come in and we could get their team’s game on. We will find a way for it to happen — even if we have to stream it or watch it on my laptop.”

Even though it’s a “big Georgia bar,” Doc’s Food & Spirits in Smyrna, remains a friendly environment — even when big rivals play, says general manager Anne Newton. “We get a lot of Alabama fans and it’s fun with stuff going back and forth — especially last year.” The Smyrna bar has 24 television sets, plus a big screen on the patio.

The atmosphere is inclusive in Clemson bars, says Dais. “Our fans are not unruly. They are welcoming, fun-loving, excited and, if we happen to lose, it will not result in anything destructive. You can walk in and not know anyone and after watching a game for three hours, you’ll feel that the person sitting next to you — whose name you may not even know — is a lifelong friend.”

Hinman says space and lots of televisions help. Hudson Grille has several locations, three of which have team partnerships. In addition to the Sandy Springs mentioned above, Midtown is the home of the University of North Carolina, Alabama and the Baltimore Ravens; and Kennesaw is the viewing hub for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Things can get intense but the heckling is all in good fun. We have people, especially for NFL games, that come every week and get to know each other. There’s a camaraderie.”

Distance does help. For instance, Sandy Springs has a 40-seat bar and can handle 300 guests with the back space accommodating 500. “It can be segmented into three spaces so each team has their own — even if the games are on at the same time.” And, talking about the importance of televisions, the Midtown location has 74 TVs plus three projectors; Sandy Springs has 107 and six projectors.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Wings & Burger

Any self-respecting sports bar/restaurant should have great food — even if the menu is limited. At Irby’s Tavern, football season means wings and tenders. They had offered brunch but stopped because “during football season no one wanted omelets and biscuits. They want comfort food — wings, hamburgers and fries,” says Murphy.

The Bucket Shop’s General Manager Mike Primus, says it’s all about “food and beer at reasonable prices. We’ll go through 20 cases of wings a weekend, which is a lot. Plus you have to understand that people want to watch a variety of sporting events.”

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Dantanna’s in Buckhead starts early with happy hour kicking off at 11 a.m. on Saturday and 12:30 p.m. on Sundays until 2 p.m. There is a food special every weekend the Dawgs play. Hampton + Hudson is converting its outside bar to H+H Tailgate City with beer, cocktails and fall treats such as caramel apples, doughnut holes and apple cider.

Other popular places to watch a game include HOBNOB Neighborhood Tavern, New Realm Brewery, Atkins Park, Neighbors, The Beverly, The Usual, Biggerstaff Brewing, Tin Lizzy’s and Woofs Sports Bar, which caters to sports fans in the LGBTQ community.

To Murphy, a good sports bar is a place to enjoy sports — period. “We have people who support different teams but become friends. Instead of being hostile, you meet someone, watch a game and have fun. That’s what sports is all about.”

Irby’s Tavern. 322 E. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. 404-254-1333,

The Bucket Shop Cafe. 3475 Lenox Road NE, Atlanta. 404-261-9244,

Doc’s Food & Spirits. 2621 Cumberland Blvd., Smyrna. 770-953-9354,

Bar{n} Dunwoody. 5521 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody. 770-338-6992,