A Fan’s Notes: The Grand National

10/08/2014 4:00 AM |

The Grand National
524 grand street

The best thing about a sports bar is that people tend to leave you alone. The muted television mediates conversation so that silences are comfortable, all eyes fixed on the screens with distracted interest. The screens make it bright enough to read, too, which even as I type it I realize is the least sports-aware thing to say about televised sports at a bar. But a good sports bar does not judge—especially not if you arrive undercover, in a baseball cap.

When I pulled up on my bike outside the Grand National, the first thing I noticed was a small plastic sandwich board propped up on the sidewalk advertising “DRANKS.” A set of bi-fold steel casement windows along the front of the bar were open to the street, and from the sidewalk I could see an enormous (and gorgeous) blond wood bar stretching to a back wall tiled in red tin. A raised bank of cozy wooden booths runs along the wall opposite the bar, suitable for any size crowd you might roll in with. The music was fairly standard sports bar rock, with a Black Keys twist. Six impressively sized TV sets hung on the wall behind the bar, with another near the door.

The menu is small, but that’s mostly due to the font size. You can get everything from a Soy Honolulu Dog, served with pineapple, avocado, tomato, and diced onion, to an order of lowly Tater Tots. I ordered pan-roasted broccoli and cauliflower with mac-and-cheese sauce and a pulled pork sandwich. The veggies were tasty, if a bit ho-hum for all the warm, gooey potential of the mac-and-cheese sauce. The pork sandwich, though, was exactly what I’d hoped for—drenched in BBQ sauce on a still-crispy toasted bun, pickles on the side. Other pulled sandwiches on offer included chicken and seitan.

The Grand National drink menu covers a lot of ground, with ten tap lines, eleven cans, a champagne (but no other wine), and ten cocktails that range from standard—Mojito and Rum Punch—to more adventurous—the Number One (bourbon, chili liqueur, ginger, lime, and soda) and a Pineapple Julep. The draught beers range from I’ll-drink-it-if-it’s-on-tap (Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Yuengling for your incorrigible Philly friends) to more interesting options, both imported (Spaten Oktoberfest, Köstritzer Black Lager) and local (Bronx Pale Ale, Empire IPA). I went with the Oktoberfest because I’m just excited about fall, but the Köstritzer is a rare enough sight on tap lists that it’s worth getting when you can.

The strangest thing about the Grand National is the bathrooms, which are one floor down in a low-ceilinged basement. To their credit, they’ve done a lot to the space, adding bright white subway tiles and exposed I-beams painted fire-engine red. On my way back upstairs I passed a small arcade, which is kind of a super-minor minor league, if you think about it.

As I finished my beer over the book I’d brought, a handsome and affable bartender puttered around. If he thought it was strange I’d brought a book, he didn’t let on. I don’t want to think it’s all because of the hat, but
it’s possible.