A patron at Tap House in downtown Steamboat Springs enjoys an NCAA tournament basketball game on a big-screen television during dinner Friday night.

Photo by Brian Ray

A patron at Tap House in downtown Steamboat Springs enjoys an NCAA tournament basketball game on a big-screen television during dinner Friday night.

A taste of home

Tourists flock to bars to watch their NCAA teams

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— A sunny spring afternoon can make a seat near the ice bar at Slopeside Grill worth a pound of gold.

But it was the seats around the base area restaurant's indoors bar that were staked out early and often Friday afternoon. It was all thanks to the focus of the sports-loving nation, the NCAA basketball tournament.

"It is unfortunate the tournament fell on this weekend," said Lee Nowlin, visiting from Tulsa, Okla.

His actions betrayed his feelings, however. Six days into a seven-day visit in Steamboat Springs, he wasn't the least bit miserable holding down one of Slopeside's prime-time stools, directly in front of one of the four high-definition TVs behind the bar, a Tulsa friend at his side and a cold beer at his fingertips.

"I will not be skiing again today," he announced as the Texas Longhorns stretched their lead against Austin Peay in one of the tournament's afternoon games.

Nowlin and his neighbor, Kevin Brown, were visiting Steamboat with their families for the second consecutive year and missed all of Thursday's tournament action because of commitments on the ski mountain. With "their" teams on deck - Oklahoma faced off against Saint Joseph's in the early-evening session - they weren't about to be swayed by the fact that the lift tickets dangling from their belts still held nearly three hours of skiing potential.

"We're going to hunker down with some pizza tonight, the kids in one condo and basketball in the other," Brown said, laughing.

The 64-team tournament changed things at area sports bars. At Slopeside, it overtook the traditional videos of skiers dropping cliffs and descending backcountry spines.

It also changed business, though only a little, Slopeside bartender Rebecca Boucha said.

"People tend to linger longer through lunch," she said. "It doesn't really affect business because we'd be busy anyway, but people have their teams, and they want to be close to a TV.

"I don't have a team this year. I'm too busy working,"

The Tap House Sports Grill, on the other hand, said the tournament has been responsible for a major surge during an already busy time of year.

"I had to add two or three times the staff to cover the Thursday and Friday day shifts," owner Gary Saxe said. "The games bring a lot more people in during the day and get a flow going earlier than it normally would."

Adding wait staff isn't the only thing Tap House does to lure fans. It purchased the DirecTV Mega March Madness package, the only way to ensure every far-from-home fan will be able to find the right game.

Twelve separate DirecTV boxes, all individually programmed to offer patrons an array of games, line a shelf in the manager's office. They output on more than 50 televisions.

"Having the package definitely helps," Saxe said. "It's been a lot of fun having so many people in here this year."

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