CHICAGO – The NCAA Tournament and bars were made for each other, with fans of powerhouse teams like Gonzaga and longshots like Colgate pouring in to cheer their teams. Until last year, that is, when COVID-19 blew up everybody’s brackets.
This year, the tournament’s back, and bars and restaurants, some shuttered for months, are open for March Madness, though things may look a little different.
Only a limited number of fans will be allowed in the stands to watch the games in Indiana as the tournament starts Thursday. As for those who choose to watch at bars or restaurants, their experiences will vary depending on their location.
Some bars are under strict limits on the number of people allowed inside and will require fans to wear masks and keep their distance. Others could be packed to capacity with mask-less fans.
So if somebody on the Fighting Illini hits a game winner at the buzzer, back at the Esquire Lounge in Champaign, where the University of Illinois is located, any hugging and high fiving will be limited to people sitting at the same table, which are separated by 6 feet (2 meters) and Plexiglass barriers.
“You can hug the people at your table,” said co-owner Paul Higgins. “It’s not quite as fun.”
But if a Baylor player hits the same shot, in Texas — where all those rules and much of the Plexiglass disappeared after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott lifted restrictions — the scene will be much different.
“We’re gonna be packed,” said Clint Josey, owner of Coach’s Barbecue Smoke House in Waco, near campus.