The neighborhood vibe in Columbia City is especially pronounced because its restaurants and bars are designed so folks can talk instead of watch TV - which is infuriating when there's a very important game on.
When Alabama played LSU for the first time this season, my husband and I had evening plans in Columbia City, so figured we'd catch the game in the neighborhood beforehand. It took us five or six attempts to find a TV tuned to the game (we ended up at Jones Barbeque, which meant we had to make do with smoked chicken instead of beer. I liked the sauce.)
For the most recent Tigers-Tide match-up, we headed back to Columbia City to check out Rookies, a snazzy new sports bar on South Ferdinand Street.
There are basically three kinds of sports bars: There are the scruffy bars with a flickering television or two, where everyone roots for the same team and drinks too much cheap beer. These bars invariably have a tailgate feel. There are the wholesome, brightly-lit bars with menus dominated by potato skins and mozzarella sticks, bars which do their best to replicate a ticket holder's experience. And then there are the fancy sports bars, almost always dimly-lit and furnished with lots of black lacquer, which take the luxury box as their model.
Rookies is that kind of sports bar. The kitchen serves steaks and shrimp sauteed in white wine, although it also traffics in pub grub classics. The dining room, surrounded by 12 flat-screen TVs perfectly angled for viewing, is sleek: The floor was salvaged from a high school gym, and the bar's topped with wooden planks from a bowling alley. Although I ordered my traditional football Bloody Mary, here rimmed with bacon salt and garnished with a Slim Jim segment, lots of Rookies' customers are prone to drinking wine.
Still, you hardly have to dress like an NBA coach to feel comfortable at Rookies. My Bloody Mary was $5, as was a platter of gooey chili con queso nachos. The servers are terrifically enthusiastic: "We got your 'chos!," our server crowed when he deliver the appetizer.
The nachos were decent, but a few of the items I sampled were better than I'd anticipated, which counts as high praise for sports bar fare. The chicken wings weren't fully crisped, but the traditional sauce had the right tang, and the accompanying carrot and celery sticks were fresh. Rookies buys its breads, including a starter pretzel, from Columbia City Bakery: The sourcing makes a difference on its sandwiches. I especially liked a French Dip with brawny slices of beef.
If there's a drawback to Rookies, it's the calmness of the room. Perhaps there aren't too many Alabama or LSU boosters living in Columbia City, but the busy restaurant was oddly quiet the night I visited. Then again, maybe the fans were just enjoying their pretzels.