A couple of drinks into my evening at Fox & Hound, the Center City outpost of a corporate sports-bar chain, I had a slight headache and a long list of questions, existential and otherwise.
Why, I wondered, was the volume on the game turned up so high it was as if the players' sneakers were squeaking not across a basketball court in Missouri, but directly on my own beleaguered eardrums? Why were liquor shots served not in glasses, but in the type of shallow plastic cup you might use for ketchup at the ballpark or for doling out pills to psychiatric patients? Why does a bottle of Bud Light cost $5.50 here, and a Corona $6?
But there were no answers. There was only more Fireball.
I had ventured into this reprise of every fraternity party ever because of the NCAA basketball tournament. The University of Michigan was playing, and Fox & Hound, among other things, is a Michigan bar. (One Purdue alumnus, a regular at games here, described it as a "Midwest-theme restaurant," since it is as vast, bland, and filled with Midwesterners as the bars he remembers from college.) Last Thursday, for the Sweet Sixteen, it drew hundreds of March Madness-infected white people -- some in Michigan colors, others in ball caps and popped collars, and still others in rumpled business suits, briefcases tossed at their feet.
In preparation, metal tubs had been filled with ice and bottles of light beer. A separate Yuengling-and-shots kiosk was set up in a corner near the door, to slake any urgent lager needs. Wings and burgers sold briskly.
The best deals are on the cocktail menu: Margaritas start at $6. (Perhaps that is meant to draw more women, who were outnumbered here.)
Innovations include a sangria that somehow incorporates both Fireball whiskey and merlot. We avoided that and tried a strawberry-watermelon margarita ($6); it tasted like Jolly Rancher on the rocks. Then we moved on to the engineering marvel that is the Corona'Rita ($9.50): A margarita on the rocks garnished with an overturned bottle of Corona mounted on the glass with a purpose-made Corona-holder.
Around the bar – topped with shiny black granite, undergirded by old bubblegum – a more varied crowd gathered, not all sports fans. A pair of weary-looking Center City drunks sat side by side in companionable silence, drinking themselves bleary over the course of close to five hours.
But most bargoers were focused on the more than two dozen screens, in some cases to the point of obliviousness. One table of twentysomethings flagged me down as I was on my way to the bathroom, hoping I would take their beer order. Later, as the crowd thickened, a Michigan basketball fan took up a spot just behind me, alternately clapping or yelling a frustrated "Oh, come on!" into the back of my neck. I began to feel as if I was personally failing him.
Ultimately, the game -- like the night -- could not be salvaged. The bar emptied out slowly, and we all stumbled home to think about what we'd lost.
Fox & Hound
1501 Spruce St., 215-732-8610, foxandhound.com
When to go: Your 21st birthday. During Michigan games. That's basically it.
Bring: Sports fans and homesick Midwesterners.
What to order: Avery White Rascal ($6.25 for a pint) and the Patron margarita ($9.50) are fairly priced. Or, if you just can't decide between beer or a cocktail, get both in the Corona'Rita.
Bathroom situation: Can you hold it? If not, here's what to expect. In the four-stall women's room, one stall door was missing and another was broken, a sink spewed scorching-hot water, and a nest of paper towels lined the floor. The men's room review was similarly grim.
Sounds like: Whatever game is playing, cranked up to 98 decibels (a sound level comparable to a power drill).