FAMILY BUSINESS: Mary Palermo (behind bar, top photo) along with sons Jimmy, left, and Joe, serve up some brews for their patrons in 1935. Above left, patrons enjoy a favorite brew and sports event on the Farnsworth television. Above right, Jimmy Palermo tends bar in 1949. America's Original Sports Bar was founded in 1933 right after the Volstead Act was modified to allow for the legalization of beer and was a gathering place for sports figures and fans.
Sports Bar format has roots in family tavern founded during the early '30s
In 1947 America's Original Sports Bar became a popular gathering place every Friday night to have a favorie brew and watch the fights on the newest technology — a 12-inch Farnsworth television like this one.
America's Original Sports Bar was located adjacent to the left field gates of Sportsman Park in St. Louis — home at the time to both the Cardinals and Browns
Years before the advent of Buffalo wings, satellite hookups or wide-screen television, Palermo’s neighborhood tavern could take title as America’s Original Sports Bar. Always a comfortable, friendly meeting place since it’s founding in 1933, the tavern took on its "sports bar" personality right after World War II.
The tavern was opened at the intersection of Spring and Sullivan Avenues, and adjacent to the left field gates of Sportsman's Park in St. Louis — home to both the Cardinals and Browns — the day prohibition ended in 1933. Prior to that, the Palermo’s had owned and operated a confectionery and restaurant at that location since 1923.
Because of its proximity to the ballpark, the tavern, and confectionery store before it, had always been a gathering place for sports figures and fans. In the 1930s, patrons could listen to the Browns or Cardinals games on the Philco radio while they enjoyed something from the sidewalk grill like a ballpark dog, burger or even pork chop. Also on the menu were home-cooked Sicilian meals prepared from scratch. And, of course, the Original Sports Bar offered beers from nearly a dozen breweries that re-opened after Prohibition.
FIELD OF DREAMS:
America's Original Sports Bar (circled above) was fittingly located across the street from the ballpark that played host to more Major League baseball games than any other park in history. Sportsman Park in St. Louis opened in 1902 and housed both the Cardinals and Browns for 34 years, 1920 - 1953.
CHIPPING COAL FOR A NICKEL A TON
By 1946, Paul Palermo, the proprietor, had a long career in what was then called the "saloon" business. A Sicilian immigrant, he had worked in the coal mines of Southern Illinois in the 1890s as a child. At age 12, he took care of the mules that hauled the coal carts through the mines, and by the time he was 15 he was chipping coal for a nickel a ton. Paul figured he didn’t have much of a future in the mines when a cave-in killed his partner.
In 1914 Paul moved from Willisville, Illinois to East St. Louis to open a saloon along "Whiskey Shoot," which was a conglomeration of saloons and other establishments for adult pursuits located on the east side of Eads Bridge. His customers were all blue-collar types who worked in the nearby mills, or on the barges that plied the Mississippi River.
FIRST OF ITS KIND:
Rose Palermo serves customers from the first hot dog stand located outside the gates of Sportsman's Park.
Business was good for Paul as he acquired five more saloons along the "shoot" during a four-year period. In 1918 he sold his holdings in East St. Louis and opened a saloon at Cardinal and Easton in St. Louis. Although the saloon did well, the end was near as congress passed the Volstead Act in October 1919. With prohibition slated to begin in 1920, Paul decided to open confectionery stores, which were sort of a precursor to today’s neighborhood convience stores like 7-11.
FIRST HOT DOG STAND OUTSIDE SPORTSMAN'S PARK
In February of 1923, Paul and his wife, Mary, purchased the property at 3701 Sullivan, a two-story brick structure across the street from the ballpark. The front half of the bottom floor was used as the confectionery store. The rear was converted into living quarters to accommodate Paul, Mary, their two sons Joe and Jimmy, and Paul’s mother.
Paul and his 11-year old son Joe built the first hot dog stand outside of Sportsman's Park in April of 1923 in preparation for the Browns and Cardinals baseball season. Paul designed the elaborate grill himself, which could cook about 100 hot dogs at a time. Small dogs sold for 5 cents, large were 10 cents. Sodas were 5 cents. Also for sale were cigars, cigarettes, chewing tobacco and gum - which were displayed on the counter. On a good day the stand would take in $25 to $35, but the first $100 day was during the 1926 World Series when the Cardinals played the Yankees.
HALL OF FAMER Jim Bottomley would drop by America's Original Sports Bar to enjoy Sicilian-cooked meals.
Mary ran the confectionery store, which sold everything needed in an early 20th century city dwelling including dry goods, canned goods, bread, eggs, cigarettes, cigars, candy, ice cream and even hardware items. Ball players and coaches from both leagues frequented the establishment mainly for Mary's cooking, and during prohibition, for Paul’s excellent homemade wines. Major leaguers also dropped in regularly to buy smokes, chewing tobacco and gum because it was cheaper in the store than in the clubhouse.During the rebuilding of the area’s surrounding streets and improvements to Sportsman’s Park in 1925 and 1926, Mary added a small restaurant inside the confectionery to accommodate all the construction workers. The store was remodeled to allow for four tables and a long shelf attached to the wall for stand-up patrons.
Then in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a directive to Congress urging members to modify the Volstead Act to allow for the legalization of beer. Congress accommodated FDR, and on April 7 beer became legal for the first time in more than 13 years. Part of Palermo’s Confectionery was converted to a tavern and opened that same month.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS:
Paul Palermo, right, and Joe Schmidt man the hot dog stand on a Summer afternoon before a Cardinals game in 1938. Paul and his 11-year old son, Joe, built the first hot dog stand outside of Sportsman Park in April of 1923.
By the time World War II ended Paul had experienced some health problems and Jimmy had spent the last four years in the Army. That left only Joe to look after the family's five taverns. Upon returning from Europe in March of '46, Jimmy expected to go back to his professional umpiring career. But because his father was ill, and Joe needed his help, he joined the family business.
Business boomed in the post-war years as the Cardinals drew large crowds and nearby Carter Carburetor had shifts running 24 hours a day. To accommodate all the workers, the tavern opened at 7 a.m. The early birds enjoyed a hearty breakfast, and many had a shot or two before clocking in.
AMERICA'S ORIGINAL SPORTS BAR PROPRIETORS:
Paul and Mary Palermo with their sons Jimmy, left, and Joe. Mary and Paul were your typical hardy and hard-working immigrants of the early 20th century. Paul worked in the coal mines of Illinois as a child, and Mary was lucky to make it to the United Stated from Sicily because her vessel was rocked by a violent Atlantic storm that killed the captain and almost sank the ship. This photo was taken right after World War II.
It was during the late 40s that the tavern began to assume a sports motif. It all started when Jimmy was given several letter-sized black and white bust photos of the Browns players. Because Jimmy had been part of the St. Louis Browns organization from 1927 to 1941, he had many good friends (and customers) who worked for both the Cardinals and Browns - including the players and coaches.
THESE BATS, including those of Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Ralph Kiner, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider decorated the walls of America's Original Sports Bar.
FAVORITE GATHERING PLACE
Once a few of the photos were hung, the tavern's walls rapidly filled up with framed pictures of many of the Browns and Cardinal players of the day. Then in 1947, the tavern became a favorite gathering place every Friday night to have a beer and watch the fights on the newest technology - a 12-inch Farnsworth television. Thereafter, Palermo's Tavern, already a recognized stop-off before or after a Browns or Cardinals game, became a destination to listen to, or watch, sporting events while enjoying a favorite brew.
In the early 1950s, the tavern was remodeled and eventually decorated with game-used equipment from all 16 Major League teams including uniforms, caps, gloves, balls and hundreds of cracked bats. All of the items were brought over from the ballpark by Freddie Buchholtz, a good friend of Jimmy's who worked as batboy for the Browns and Cardinals from 1950-1955.
After the remodel in 1950 the house draft beer was Griesedieck. But when Gussie Busch purchased the Cardinals in February 1953, the house beer was changed to Budweiser. Gussie, a consummate marketer, enjoyed stopping by the tavern several times a year with his entourage and would shake hands and buy everybody a few rounds of the drink of their choice.
TABLE SHUFFLEBOARD was a popular bar game during the 40's and 50s and also with the patrons of America's Original Sports Bar. Above, Jimmy Palermo, far left, takes a turn. At far right is Joe Palermo, and to his right is his wife Mary Catherine and Jimmy's wife Nadine.
KING OF BEER:
When Gussie Busch purchased the Cardinals in February 1953, he enjoyed stopping by America's Original Sports Bar to shake hands and buy everybody a few rounds.
Palermo's Tavern, a forerunner in establishing the sports bar format, offered all of the popular games of the day including billiards, table shuffleboard, pinball and once a week in the kitchen - poker. When a sporting event wasn't on television or radio, a jukebox belted out a favorite tune.
By 1956 the tavern offered televisions in both far corners, and one over the bar. Even though many people had their own sets by this time, Palermo's was still the place to be to enjoy a pleasant meal, cold beer and good friends.
Although the building stands today, and is still a neighborhood tavern, the end for America's Original Sports Bar came when the Cardinals moved to their new downtown stadium and many of the long-time patrons relocated to the suburbs.
When a helicopter symbolically carried home plate to the new Busch Memorial Stadium after the last game at Sportsman's Park on May 12, 1966, it signified the end of an era for St. Louis baseball and America's Original Sports Bar.
UP, UP AND AWAY:
Sportsman's Park/Busch Stadium groundskeeper Bill Stocksick, an old friend of Jimmy Palermo and patron of Palermo's Tavern, carries homeplate to a helicopter on May 12, 1966 for the transfer to the new downtown Busch Memorial Stadium. The park played host to more Major League games than any other in history.
FOUR DECADES LATER:
The building at 3701 Sullivan Ave. that housed America's Original Sports Bar from 1933 to 1966 continues to stand today and is, appropriately, still a neighborhood tavern. In the above photo, taken in early 2005, are Jimmy Palermo, now 85-years old, and his son Jim.
I am extremely bullish on the use of wearable technology in the restaurant industry. Devices like the Apple Watch can provide subtle notifications, reminders, and guest details that are much less intrusive than a smartphone.
In many restaurants, servers are directly told not to use their smartphones. This is for good reason. Personal smartphone use, such as messaging and Snapchatting, can quickly detract from a server’s focus on their tables. Once you open the door to staff smartphone use on the restaurant floor, you are supporting a habit that sees the average person check their phone 85 times per day.
Taking advantage of wearable restaurant technology
The real question is, “How do you leverage the technological benefits of a smartphone without threatening the overall experience?”
The answer is wearable technology.
Wearable technology like a smart watch benefits from a simplicity in communication that only requires a glance. Everything from a back-of-house alert that a guest’s order is ready to a front-of-house notification that a VIP has just walked through the front door. Wearables can serve as a critical link in sharing just-in-time information.
A smart watch provided to staff also eliminates the threat of personal messages interfering with business communication.
Wearable tech in its infancy
While the days of wearable technology permeating the restaurant industry are still young, savvy operators are beginning to test the waters. Danny Meyer, of Union Square Hospitality Group and Shake Shack, will be utilizing Apple Watchesin his soon-to-reopen flagship, Union Square Café.
In a partnership with reservation and restaurant management platform Resy (a new on the scene OpenTable rival), all restaurant managers and sommeliers at Union Square Café will wear an Apple Watch. The initial app will alert managers to VIP guests, real-time inventory information, and will communicate with sommeliers when a table has requested a bottle of wine.
Even though the initial launch is not staff-wide, it’s only a matter of time until all front-of-house staff are wearing Apple watches. Servers using wearable technology is where where the tech rises above smartphones in the restaurant environment.
Arguably, managers can be trusted to use their smartphones respectfully on the restaurant floor to access important information. For servers, hosts, and other restaurant staff, wearable technology can be an invaluable customer service tool.
Here are five uses for wearable technology in the restaurant industry:
1. Communicate specialized guest information to front-of-house staff
This could include everything from VIP, loyalty status, and visit frequency to known allergies.
2. Track real-time metrics from the floor
Rather than having to spend time in the back office, managers can receive real-time inventory information right on the restaurant floor in a “glanceable” format. This gives them more time with guests while continuing their managerial duties.
3. Communicate important staff information
Rather than relying on printed signs in the kitchen or staff room, Apple Watches can serve as a valuable internal communications tool. Wearable technology can ensure that all staff receive important messages in a timely manner. No more chasing staff down or playing operator.
4. Facilitate guest requests
With connected systems that enable guests to request another drink or assistance from a tabletop top tablet or smart device, a server with an Apple Watch will be alerted in real-time. This paves the way for providing the highest level of guest service.
5. Alert servers of guests’ mobile payments
As reported, 43% of restaurants planning to implement mobile payments in the next two years. That means an increasing number of guests will choose to pay with their smartphones. To keep up, servers will need to be seamlessly alerted when guest checks are paid.
Sports bars are amidst a very unique market. Promoting and marketing one allows for unique, informal, and outside the box ways of doing so. They can tend to come a dime a dozen so setting yours apart from others is very crucial. These methods can show that you mean business, and failure to do so can mean the end of yours.
SUPPORT LOCAL TEAMS
Show you customers that you are on their side. Fans want a place that feels like home where they can feel comfortable rooting for their favorite team. Make sure you know when the home team is playing and have the game ready to go on the big screen.
SPECIALS DURING BIG GAMES
If you aren’t offering drink special during the big games, you can bet that someone else is. You can also bet that the fans will be flocking to those who are.
FEATURE OTHER SPORTS EVENTS
If you have the arsenal, show other big sporting events on other screens even if the home team is playing. Stay on top of what is going on in the sports world. This can mean more customers than just home team fans.
UTILIZE SOCIAL MEDIA
This can be one of the biggest mistakes a sports bar can make. Many people rely on social media for much of their news and information. Make sure your presence is felt on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Pass out flyers around town featuring deals and events coming up. This is a in your face way of promoting and can rapidly make your name known around town.
Put signs out front of your restaurant with clever sayings and food and drink deals. This will catch the attention of anyone walking by. It may even persuade some customers to stop in right then.
Once or twice a week, feature a half priced drink night, or two dollar draft beers. You will notice some regulars coming in for this weekly deal and word will get around town.
What’s better than drink Specials? Food Specials! Plenty of places offer drink specials but not all feature great deals on food. This could be the finishing touch. Offer 25 cent wings once a week or half off appetizers.
Everyone likes a chance to win something. Every once and a while throw a contest. Whether it’s a video games or a putt-putt competition, give people a reason to come out, have some drinks, and have some fun.
Show that you are part of the community. Make a statement by hosting events in the community to show that you care. It could be raising money for a charity or supporting a local kid’s sports league in town. Show your customers that you are a part of the community and here to stay.
Get attention of the work force. You can have advertisements featured on local radio shows, or even better try to have local radio personalities do a show from your restaurant.
Make sure your website is up to date. Show your customers that you are with the times and make sure your website isn’t lacking. Make sure it also features links to all your social media sites.
Not everything has to be about sports. Give people a reason to party. Host a party for the beginning or summer or Cinco de Mayo. People are looking for a reason to have a good time so give them one.
Once a week or so, have a local musician come in and play a show. This could be a free or cheap way for you to host an event and draw in an extra crowd as some local artists are just looking to get their name out.
HOST CELEBRITIES OR SPORTS PLAYERS
See if you can get a local celebrity or athlete to come in a sign autographs and hang out for a while. You can bet this will draw an extra crowd. This will also show the area that if you can attract celebrities then your place might be worth their time as well.
Sports bars have the ability to market to customers in a creative and fun way. Try these ideas to help increase the sales and foot traffic at your bar.
In what ways have you marketed your sports bar that has shown great results?
Like everything else in life, sports bars are continually changing and evolving. And just like on the playing field, it’s all about amping up the action. Rapidly shifting consumer tastes and desires are combining with ever-savvier owners, resulting in next-wave concepts that are once again reinventing the notion of what exactly comprises a sports bar.
Long gone are the days when a venue could air The Big Game on a 25-inch television behind the bar and call itself a sports bar. To compete in today’s crowded marketplace, it’s critical to discover new ways to create excitement so your customers think of you first when it’s time to choose a venue at which to cheer their favorite team.
Today’s establishments have totally redefined this genre, in many cases blending elements of other successful dining and nightclub concepts. And developers of these next-generation sports bars find customers are responding not only with loyalty but also with their wallets.
So what are patrons are looking for today? As with guests of most segments of the industry, the mantra these days for sport-minded patrons is more options and more value. And those establishments mastering both categories are reaching the finish line quickest.
“You used to get by with one TV, but now it’s bigger and better. You can’t have too many TVs with many choices and options,” says David Commer, president of Commer Beverage Consulting. “It’s critical that anyone can watch anything they want, even if that means watching a tennis match during the Super Bowl.”
Additionally, people must feel as if they’re getting their money’s worth. “You need to have added value. You have to ask why someone is going to seek out your venue rather than another,” explains Corey Nyman, director of operations with The Nyman Group, a consulting and restaurant management company.
Commer agrees. “One of the mistakes operators do is confuse value with cheap — cheap is not always cheap. Value in this instance needs to be inexpensive, but quality is important,” he says, noting that offering smaller plates with high-quality food seems to be a good game day strategy.
Retro food also is in the spotlight today, crossed with higher quality menu selections that appeal to both men and women. Message: It’s important to serve something other than just fried foods; salads and fish seem to be big hits these days — an anomaly in what used to be a fried-food-centric category.
As for drinks, experts agree some people now opt for non-traditional beers when out to watch a sporting event at their favorite watering hole. They can get the big-name brands at home, they reason, so when imbibing on-premise they want something regional and handcrafted.
Oh yeah, and flawless and informed service is a must. “People don’t want to wait 20 minutes for a drink. And your servers should know something about the sports that are being broadcast, too,” Nyman says.
Here are some establishments that have found success in an increasingly crowded field, playing to both men and women and offering something outside the tired old sports bar concept.
Celebrity VenturesBy taking a single concept and rolling it out in different cities under different names, Celebrity Ventures is tapping into the local scene with success. The company operates two outlets — deals are in place for more — named after local sports heroes rather than a generic catch-all name. Across from The Ohio State University, for example, there’s Eddie George’s Grille 27, and Pittsburgh is home to Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36. According to Bob McCarthy, partner and vice president of concept development with Celebrity Ventures, it’s critical to maximize your potential audience. And while many sports bars consider women as an afterthought, McCarthy sees appealing to the female demographic as paramount, which is why the company blended a restaurant concept with sports bar appeal.
“People looking for a sports bar experience find that, but those looking for a restaurant that has sports viewing can find it, too. Men want a place to bring wives and girlfriends, so we look for ways to attract broad-based clientele,” McCarthy says. “We knew we had to be gender neutral.”
In addition to traditional sports bar fare, the Grille menus also boast edamame, crispy tuna rolls and assorted fresh fish. That, combined with a stylish atmosphere and more than 60 flat-panel televisions, is where Celebrity Ventures’ formula really begins to play out. To grab the lunchtime crowd, channels are switched to Bloomberg News or CNBC; during commercials in sporting events, a DJ plays and then takes over on weekend nights when the games are done. The venues also utilize NanaWalls, which split larger spaces into smaller spaces quickly and easily so some guests can watch tennis while others take in a football game — all without disturbing each other.
Lagasse’s StadiumBam! Chef Emeril Lagasse is taking the sports bar concept up a notch with his newest Las Vegas outpost, Lagasse’s Stadium at the Palazzo Las Vegas. Setting the stage for an entirely new way to watch sports in a social environment, this place is more like a living room than many people’s, well, living rooms. With 109 televisions, it’s all about wall-to-wall action. And of course there is the chef’s world-renowned cuisine to enjoy while quaffing some tasty beverages and taking in the big game.
“The place is an extension of home because it is such a comfortable setting,” says general manager Marc Zakin. “And when it comes to food, we have everything from nachos and wings all the way to filets and salmon tartar.”
The combination of high tech and high taste is helping expand the venue’s target audience. Interestingly, Zakin expected patrons to be about 75 percent men, but just a few weeks after the fall opening, he finds it’s actually more of an even split. Women are particularly interested in specialty drinks and cocktails, which were co-created by distributor Southern Wines and Spirits.
The 24,000-square-foot space also has themed rooms, each focusing on a particular sport. And since it’s Las Vegas, there is a sports book available right there to make watching games a little more interesting.
Xtreme Sports Bar + LoungeIn Reno, Nev., the Grand Sierra Resort has opened the Xtreme Sports Bar + Lounge. Rather than just focus on the big sports such as football and baseball, this place is an homage to extreme sports like snowboarding, skateboarding and motocross. Turns out Reno is a major encampment for extreme sports athletes and their fans, so going this route was natural.
“There’s a whole generation of people today where sports are something totally different,” explains President and CEO Richard Silverman. “[The bar] is absolutely at least 50 percent focused on the extreme athletes of the world.”
Walls are adorned with 40-foot murals of Olympic athletes, BMX champs and local favorites; food menus appear on snowboards, beer menus on skateboards. Plus, the Xtreme Girls serve up the food offerings, all of which are extreme versions of bar food found elsewhere in the country. As for drinks, expect kegs rather than traditional bottle service.
The bar also has authentic memorabilia and features 25 high-definition 42-inch plasmas and one LCD high-definition projection with a 12-by-8-foot screen. More than 30,000 watts of power drive a 50-plus speaker sound system, which comes in handy when the place turns into a nightclub several nights a week. And even that’s gone extreme, as the house DJ plays alongside the house band Audioboxx in a major musical mash-up. It’s all helped create a venue that appeals to men and women equally, according to Silverman.
Tilted KiltRuling the Midwest and Southwest with a plaid skirt is the Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, and the Tempe, Ariz.-based franchising company is looking to dominate the rest of the country; 26 locations are now open and seven are in the works.
Casual and comfortable, the Tilted Kilt is the perfect antidote for those looking for something other than a serious and upscale sports bar. Here, the focus is on delivering good food in a fun, sports-oriented atmosphere. Its all-female wait staff is clad in the official “uniform:” a miniskirt-style kilt, starched button-down shirt tied to bare the midriff, sporran, stockings and flashings. The chain’s tagline is “The Best-looking Sports Pub You’ve Ever Seen,” and the 2010 calendar featuring the staff was released this fall amid much fanfare in the restaurants. Décor-wise, the pubs play on a traditional Celtic theme but inject the atmosphere with a comical twist. There are humorous limericks on the walls, and a variety of cheeky displays encourage customers to let their guard down and have some fun.
Of course there are plenty of HDTV screens to watch the game, along with pool tables and dart boards. The food menu is also as casual as the atmosphere, delivering the requisite wings alongside “Sloppy Janes,” “Drunken Clams” and updated versions of Irish classics such as Shepherd’s Pie and bangers and mash. Steaks, chicken and stews round out the menu, which also features seasonal specialties. NCB
Games People Play
Capturing business at sports bars isn’t all about the newest technology. In fact some folks like to completely unplug when visiting a sports bar.
At New York City’s Southern Hospitality, for example, it’s all about creating a laid-back atmosphere, says director of operations Chris Russell. “This place is about being who you are, and we are not about following tech trends. We have an old school heart,” he says. Instead of over the top accoutrements, management focuses on basic college drinking games like beer pong and quarters. Beer pong has proved to be a great sales tool, as pitchers for a game cost just $10.
“We want to turn trial customers into long-term customers,” Russell says. “And long-term relationships are built on old school games.”
On the plugged-in side, one old school game that has proven popular for two decades at bars is Golden Tee. According to Gary Colabuono, marketing director with Incredible Technologies, this classic game is still a lynchpin strategy for many bars. Some operators are also leveraging the popularity of sports-oriented gaming systems such as those available from NTN Buzztime, TouchTunes and others. Additionally, recreational leagues for games like darts, pool and even skeeball help establishments capture repeat customers.
“This is a nice melding of all things going into why bar games are popular. It comes down to social competitiveness. You play with buddies, have a beer and while one plays the others scope out the place for ladies,” Colabuono quips.