Sports bars and pubs have become a mainstay in the American franchise landscape, and entrepreneurs who want a piece of the action have an array of options available on this list of the 16 best sports bar/pub franchises.
There is no specific reporting on the sports bar market as a niche, but in 2017 the overall bar and tavern industry had sales of just under $20 billion, and as much as a third of that may be attributed to sports bar establishments.
Sports bars came onto the scene in force back in the 1980s as a way of giving people a better gathering place than the dark, smoke-filled bars of the past with their paltry menu offerings. The modern sports bar appeals to all kinds of people, and the food is meant to be good enough to be a draw in and of itself, whether you like sports or not.
While all have at least some emphasis on the sports angle, the offerings here can be further categorized into those that have a primary focus on wings, those with a wider food menu, those that are often called “breastaurants” with scantily-clad waitresses, those offering craft beer and microbrews, and those that may be considered hipster bars or that have a focus on music.
Here are our picks for the top 16 sports bar/pub franchises of 2018:
1. Buffalo Wild Wings
Buffalo Wild Wings may be best known for its wings and 12 signature sauces, but there’s more to the menu, including a wide array of appetizers, burgers, tacos, salads, and desserts. But perhaps even more important is the sports bar aspect. Each location features at least 50 screens for watching sports and other televised content.
During the past couple of years, all new restaurants being built for the chain are adhering to a new design giving guests the feeling that they’re in a sports stadium. In addition, wait staff wear uniforms consisting of gray shorts and jerseys with the number 82 on them in honor of the first restaurant opened in 1982.
Franchising since 1991, the number of locations has expanded during the past 10 years from 560 in 2008 to the current total of 1,238, of which 625 are company-owned and 36 of which are located outside the U.S.
Hooters tries to play down the fact that its waitresses tend to be well-endowed, which is emphasized all the more by the skimpy outfits they wear. The target demographic here is clearly high-testosterone guys. And the chain is unapologetic about its gimmick in spite of lawsuits over the years. As stated on the company website: “…sex appeal is part of our thing, but it’s not the only thing. Hooters has no plans to alter the concept and feels doing so would be a tremendous disservice to its franchisees, employees, and you.”
Hooters locations tend to have a kind of beach theme with a menu of pretty standard American fare, along with lots of large television screens for watching sports.
Founded in 1983 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has held relatively steady at 426, of which 197 are company-owned and 90 of which are located outside the U.S.
3. Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar
Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar has been around for more than 50 years with a menu that includes gourmet pizzas, pastas, burgers, wings, and more (items and prices vary by location). The chain often runs a special offer of a pizza and a pint of beer for just $10. Multiple large screens are positioned throughout the restaurant so that every seat has a good view to watch whatever sports are being aired.
Each location offers a large selection of name-brand beers, specialty beers, and a changing selection of local, regional, and seasonal favorites. They’ll even suggest which beer will pair well with the gourmet pizza a customer orders.
Founded in 1963 and franchising since 1968, the number of locations has hovered around the 400 mark for over 10 years and currently stands at 418, of which two are company-owned and 389 are located outside the U.S., mostly in Canada (under the name Boston Pizza).
4. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Family Sports Pub
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Family Sports Pub has the feel of an Irish pub, but at the same time is family-friendly in that it doesn’t serve hard liquor. The menu, however, is pretty standard American fare without any discernible Irish influences. Daily specials include Burger Mondays, Tacos on Tuesdays, Wing Wednesdays, Fajita Thursdays, and Seafood Combo Fridays and it promotes the special pricing of these themed days heavily in its social media accounts.
Each location features a unique array of sports memorabilia and plenty of television screens for watching a wide range of available sporting events.
Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1998, the number of locations has fallen in recent years from a high of 261 in 2009 to the current total of 172, of which 13 are company-owned.
5. Bar Louie
Bar Louie has a definite hipster vibe aimed squarely at the Millennial demographic. It’s simple motto of “Eat. Drink. Be happy” gives the impression that it doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. The menu, however, is surprisingly extensive with 22 appetizers, four flatbreads, seven burgers, five salads, eight sandwiches, seven entrées, and two desserts. The drinks menu doesn’t even mention such pedestrian beverages as beer or wine and is focused instead on very creative offerings in the categories of martinis, cocktails, sangrias, margaritas, and mojitos.
While categorized as a casual sports bar, unlike other franchises on this list, sports don’t appear to be a major emphasis for the chain.
Founded in 1990 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has expanded in recent years from 68 in 2008 to the current total of 124, of which 98 are company-owned.
6. Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom
Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom is about beer first and food second, though it’s a close second. Each location is going to have around 90 different craft beer offerings that have been carefully selected from local and regional breweries as well as craft beer makers around the world. The chain stays up-to-date on craft beer trends and is all about sharing its knowledge with customers.
The food menu includes 19 different appetizers, wings, 11 deep-dish pizzas, four calzones, 17 burgers and sandwiches, seven pasta dishes, salads, soups, and desserts.
Founded in 1976 and franchising since 2000, the number of locations hasn’t changed much in recent years and currently stands at 106, of which 72 are company-owned.
7. Buffalo Wings & Rings
Buffalo Wings & Rings has evolved during the past decade from a kind of die-hard sports fan man-cave with a menu focused on fried foods, to a much more family-friendly environment with chef-prepared foods of a higher quality. The more recent approach is found in the chain’s locations built since 2013 and will probably be incorporated throughout existing locations due to its success.
It distinguishes itself from other sports bars by positioning itself as a club-level sports environment, though it’s not clear exactly what that means. Whatever it is, it seems to be working. The menu features extensive choices in appetizers, wings, salads, soups, burgers, wraps, sandwiches, quesadillas, sides, and desserts.
Founded in 1984 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations has grown during the past 10 years from 37 in 2008 to the current total of 77, of which 3 are company-owned and 21 are located outside the U.S.
8. Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks has taken the basic Hooters concept and turned it into a mountain lodge getaway complete with beautiful waitresses in skimpy lumberjack outfits, hence the motto of “Eats. Drinks. Scenic Views,” although the scenic views could be referring to the plentiful high-definition flat screen televisions for watching sports. But no, it’s definitely staking a specific claim when it says it has “better food, colder beer and hotter girls.”
It pours its beer into frosted mugs at 29°F resulting in ice crystals at the top of the glass.
Founded in 2005 and franchising since 2007, the number of locations has grown over the past 10 years from 6 in 2008 to the current total of 75, of which 31 are company-owned and one of which is located outside the U.S.
9. Tilted Kilt
Tilted Kilt is another entry in the rapidly-growing Hooters-style “breastaurant” segment, though this time the unique twist is a Celtic-theme with pretty waitresses in short kilts and plaid bikini tops. It positions itself as a an American, Scottish, and Irish sports pub. Plenty of screens are available for watching sports of all kinds, along with in-house games such as pool, darts, and Golden Tee.
The menu is a mix of both traditional and modern pub fare, including fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and “Big Arse Burgers.” The menu includes appetizers, wings, burgers, wraps, sandwiches, salads, entrées, sides, desserts, and at least 24 beers on tap along with wine, cocktails, and spirits.
Founded in 2003 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has declined in recent years from a high of 104 in 2015 to the current total of 63, one of which is company-owned and five of which are located outside the U.S.
10. Brass Tap
Brass Tap has carved out a niche for itself as a neighborhood hangout bar focused on upscale craft beer offerings. Food is offered, but only as a supporting role to the beer, which also keeps overhead costs low compared to full restaurants. Each location features up to 80 different craft beers on tap along with more than 300 varieties of bottled imports and local craft beers.
Rounding out the offerings is a large selection of premium wines and cigars. The chain also features daily entertainment in the form of local bands and HD screens for watching sports.
Founded in 2008 and franchising since 2010, the number of locations has expanded in the last several years from just three in 2012 to the current total of 47, one of which is company-owned.
11. The Green Turtle Sports Bar & Grill
The Green Turtle Sports Bar & Grill styles itself as a community hangout for all ages to serve up good food and drinks in a casual, fun setting grounded in the unity and excitement of sports. The menu includes an array of appetizers, burgers, and other handhelds (sandwiches, wraps, tacos, flatbreads), entrées, salads, and desserts. Each location presents a wide range of beers from well-known brands to craft beers sourced locally, regionally, and nationally.
Founded in 1976 and franchising since 2003, the number of locations has grown slowly during the past 10 years from 23 in 2008 to the current total of 44, of which 11 are company-owned.
12. Native Grill and Wings
Native Grill and Wings was the first to bring chicken wings to Arizona when its founders moved there from New York, and claims a unique offering in allowing customers to order all 19 flavors by the individual wing. The menu also features appetizers, salads, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, fish entrées, and desserts. It captures the sports angle in its motto “Big Games, Big Fun, One Big Family” while its best-known food offering is seen in its slogan, “The Coolest Place for the Hottest Wings.”
Founded in 1979 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations has expanded slightly over the past 10 years from 24 in 2008 to the current total of 36, of which two are company-owned.
13. Brothers Bar & Grill
Brothers Bar & Grill positions itself as a “modernized throwback to the old Midwestern corner tavern.” It’s a place to hang out, enjoy great cold beer and other drinks, and dine on American fare and comfort foods. Lots of television screens ensure customers can catch whatever game they’re interested in watching. Each location has 35 to 40 taps of both new and standby beers, along with a range of liquors from rail to top shelf.
The menu features more than 20 appetizers, 11 sandwiches, four fresh wraps, 10 burgers (hand-formed patties, never frozen), and more. Having gotten its start in Wisconsin, it makes a big deal of its 100% Wisconsin beer-battered cheese curds.
Founded in 1990, the number of locations currently stands at 20.
14. Rock & Brews
Rock & Brews is the product of an impromptu brainstorming session involving Dave and Dell Furano (long-time rock concert tour promoters and merchandisers), restaurateur/hotelier Michael Zislis, and KISS band members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, after a KISS concert, all bound together by their love of rock and brews.
The food menu is American comfort food with a fresh or creative new spin, and includes wings, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and pizza, along with diet-conscious, gluten-free, vegetarian, and healthy options. The food is supplemented with extensive traditional and craft beer offerings with an emphasis on local craft beers.
Founded in 2010 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations has grown to 18, of which two are company-owned and one is located outside the U.S.
15. Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar
Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar has come up with what it hopes is a winning sports bar formula. It includes each location being in the range of 6,500 to 9,500 square feet, which allows enough room for more than 100 HD television screens. The bar is in the middle and features at least 40 craft, import, and domestic beers along with margaritas. Scattered around the bar are multiple separate dining rooms, each themed for a different sport.
Those less interested in sports can play various games, such as Texas Hold ‘Em, broadcast over the Buzztime network – and players can compete against those playing in other restaurants. Arooga’s also caters to families and children’s sports teams. Each booth has a small flat screen so the kids can watch cartoons and other programs, and enjoy a Rookies menu just for them.
Founded in 2007 and franchising since 2010, the number of locations currently stands at 17 (11 are in Pennsylvania), of which 10 are company-owned.
16. Growler USA
Growler USA is all about the beer and calls itself America’s microbrew pub. The name “growler” refers to the early days of beer in America and refers to the container (a steel pail) people used to carry beer home from the pub. Growler celebrates the way craft brewers take traditional brews and reinvent them with unique, creative twists. Its “True to the Brew” philosophy means it honors the brewers’ vision and intent for how their product is to be enjoyed. But there’s also food at each Growler location – American fare with a beer-centric twist.
Founded in 2013 and franchising since 2014, the number of locations currently stands at 14, one of which is company-owned.