Sports bar? How about three?
Barstool Sports, the digital media company founded by the controversial Dave Portnoy and backed by Wyomissing-based Penn National Gaming, opened its Philadelphia sports bar on a March Madness Friday, adding to a bustling nightlife zone in Washington Square West.
It’s accessible through a modest entrance at 1213 Sansom St., smack across the narrow street from the landmark Fergie’s Pub and within a block of many bars and restaurants including Finn McCool’s, El Vez, Sampan, Time, Bar, and Barbuzzo.
Barstool Sansom Street — as this location is branded, following the first location that opened in Chicago in January — has three bars, topped with dozens of TV screens, scattered around the sprawling double-wide property. The operators, New York-based Stanton & Bowery Hospitality, kept the brick walls from previous occupant Brickwall Tavern.
Portnoy, who founded Barstool 18 years ago, is a polarizing influencer known to his acolytes as “El Presidente.” He is known for his “One-Bite Pizza” reviews on YouTube as well as for his Barstool Fund, which has given more than $40 million to hundreds of small businesses during the pandemic.
Last year, Portnoy was accused of sexual misconduct in a Business Insider article in which two women accused him of violent sexual behavior, and former and current employees alleged he cultivated a workplace environment of racism, sexism, and misogyny. Portnoy denied the allegations.
Barstool may look like other hypersized sports bars — with two dozen beer taps and, in the middle of Friday afternoon, the arrival of delivery pallets of Tito’s Handmade Vodka being brought in — but Barstool is using it to leverage its brand as a gaming app. This is an immersive experience at the confluence of media, sports, and gambling.
Such next-generation sports bars are not betting parlors and thus do not require gaming licenses, as would a sportsbook with kiosks at a casino. The bars provide an atmosphere, including food, drinks, TVs, and advertising, aimed at younger customers. The Barstool venue will promote its popular mobile sports-betting app, available in 11 states; the company said in 2020 it has upward of 66 million active monthly users.
Bankroll Club, a sports bar now under construction on the site of the Boyd Theater in Rittenhouse with a Stephen Starr restaurant, is due to open in the fall.
Penn National Gaming, which paid about $163 million in early 2020 for a 36% stake in Barstool, bills itself as North America’s largest regional gaming operator.
The early line on Barstool Sansom Street sawa steady stream of patrons had grown to more than 100 people by noon, an hour after opening. Philadelphia lawyer Jordan Freeman, stopping in after a court date, said he liked the bar setup, noting that an internal wall had been partly removed to allow for a more open floor plan.
It is open weekdays from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekends.
The bar’s Instagam account reposted a story from user @cfd_chuck, who boasted at 7:26 a.m. that he was first in line. Contacted later for his reaction, Chuck Lynam, a Temple University dental student, said he lives nearby and simply stopped to take a short video before heading to class.