The funny thing about sports bars is that the things that make them enjoyable are basically the opposite of what makes other bars enjoyable. Huge crowds, loud noises, obtrusive televisions, boisterous strangers, and bluntly alcoholic cocktails and foodstuffs exclusively of the fried-and-meaty taxonomy: These are not, on an individual or objective level, great criteria for a place to spend a large chunk of time and money, and yet. Like a good cocktail, the best sports bars are composed of terrible things that, somehow — magically, and only when all elements are combined in specific combination — come together and are great.
If, for example, you walk into Halftime, Oakland’s newest sports bar, on a sports-free Wednesday afternoon, you might walk out feeling thoroughly weird about the experience. Sports bars without sports are like nightclubs in broad daylight or running into your middle school teacher at the liquor store: cognitively dissonant and ineffably depressing — all those TVs sitting dark and silent, all that space feeling cavernous and strange, the black leather couches looking cheesy without so many bodies squished onto them. But if you were to come in, say, two Sundays ago, when the Niners clinched their Super Bowl berth, it was a different story. By noon, the place was packed full of red and gold and jerseyed bodies; each of the twelve flatscreens — at least one viewable from every single vantage point in the bar, management hastens to point out — had who knows how many eyes affixed to it.
On special was something called the Niner-Rita: tequila and prickly pear — prickly pear what, we are never told — served very sweet and very sour in a translucent yellow plastic cup with red sugar rim. There were wings and fries and lots of yelling. The staff, seemingly always swamped, was full-on-drowning but entirely nice about it, and after the game ended and everyone was going nuts, they came out from behind the bar and joined us for a couple minutes as everyone high-fived and hugged and spilled out onto the sidewalk and all the cars outside honked. It was a great place then, and I suspect it will be this Sunday, too.