Playoff hotspots

We're not doing the Super Bowl Shuffle just yet, but the road to Miami starts here. So gather your best drinking buds to cheer on the 2006 NFC North Division Champion Chicago Bears this weekend. Sure, you could stumble into any sports bar in the city on Sunday, but these winning spots have all of the essentials to make your playoffs partying extra special.

Mike Ditka's
TVs: Six in the downstairs bar, two of which are high-def plasma, and eight total HD televisions upstairs, four of which are in the swanky cigar bar
Drinks: The amount and variety of wines offered here may be surprising (including Ditka's private label varietals), but the upscale sports bar vibe also lends itself well to beer and a mean martini.
Food: Ditka's menu is much like the man himself: It gets the job done. Dig in to no-nonsense fare such as pot roast nachos ($10), the Fridge burger ($11) and Da Pork Chop ($26).
Extra point: Da Coach actually hangs out here, so you just might have a brush with Super Bowl greatness.
Penalty: Let's face it: Ditka's is going to be packed more tightly than a third-down huddle, so you'd better be practicing your spin move toward the bar.

TVs: More than 120 plasma TVs and 14 10-foot projection screens throughout the 20,000-square-foot warehouse-style space
Drinks: Down da beers while watching da Bears. Expect specials on pitchers (like Coors Light for $6) on Sunday.
Food: Bar food staples dominate the sizable menu. Feast on your choice of chicken wings: mild, teriyaki, barbecue, red hot or tongue-searing Death Valley, (10 for $5.50; 15 for $7.95; 25 for $10.75). Just make sure to keep those pitchers coming to put out the fire while you scream at the screen.
Extra point: Joe's is so huge, you're pretty much guaranteed a seat that makes you feel like Urlacher is in your lap.
Penalty: Joe's is the official home of the Chicago Steelers Club, so you may see a lot of black-and-gold-wearing Pennsylvania transplants crying in their beers.

Players Bar & Grill
TVs: A 160-inch projection screen, as well as 22 plasma TVs dotted around the gymnasium-esque surroundings
Drinks: Hunker down with your pals over $12 buckets filled with your choice of five domestic or imported beers.
Food: Players' menu goes above and beyond pub grub. Chow down on everything from freshly ground burgers ($10) to lamb chops and steaks ($18-$25). There are also daily specials to keep players on their toes.
Extra point: Players has an Eastern European flair, with Polish beers ($5) and comfort food (pierogi and goulash among them) on the menu. Bronko Nagurski--and the old-school SNL Superfans--would certainly approve.
Penalty: The service can be a bit aloof, but, hey, so can the Bears' defensive line.

Grace O'Malley's
TVs: Eight flat-screens scattered around two levels--four in the main bar, two in the dining room and two in the upstairs party room
Drinks: This is an Irish pub through and through, so you'll get a proper pint. Look for specials every day ($2.50 MGDs and Miller Lite on Saturdays, $6 mimosas and $4 Irish coffees on Sundays).
Food: Grace O'Malley's motto seems to be "Go big or go home." Fill up like a linebacker on game days: A stick-to-your-ribs, all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch is $14.95.
Extra point: Grace O'Malley's proximity to Soldier Field gives it home field advantage. They'll even let you park your car in their lot until after the game ($30).
Penalty: You may be overrun by little monsters of the Midway at this family-friendly spot.

Junior's Sports Lounge
TVs: 30 plasma TVs hung from the ceiling, plus personal flats-creen monitors in several cushy booths
Drinks: Junior's balances its sports (read: beer) and lounge (read: fancy cocktails) sides well. Fuel up on Sundays with specials on MGD and Miller Lite ($3), plus Bacardi cocktails ($5).
Food: Upscale bar food is the order of the day. Chow on Diablo chicken wings (eight for $7; 15 for $12; 30 for $21), a creative variety of burgers ($9) and Salud nachos ($6).
Extra point: Junior's has considerable star power: The bar's owners (who also helm Salud, Cans and FOUR) partnered with Bears legend Gale Sayers. Also, Lance Briggs has presided over Monday Night Football games here all season long.
Penalty: Some say Junior's is a little pricey for the 'hood, but it's the playoffs! Live a little.

Crew Bar + Grill
TVs: A total of 17, including three 72-inch high-def monitors above the bar and a 92-inch projection screen
Drinks: Sunday specials range from pitchers of Miller Lite ($9) and Great Lakes bottled beers ($3.50), to pitchers of sangria, Monsoons (rum punch) and beergaritas (beer with margarita mix) ($12).
Food: Hearty offerings include mac 'n' cheese, chicken wings, sandwiches, wraps and burgers. Wolf down sloppy joes on Saturday ($7.25) and meatloaf sandwiches on Sunday ($8.25). (Better hit the gym first so you still fit into your Grossman jersey at halftime.)
Extra point: Crew boasts a dizzying array of beers – with more than 50 domestic and imported brews on offer. The bar's credo is "Just because you're gay doesn't mean you have to drink bad beer."
Penalty: Space can be tight on game days; management suggests arriving extra early to score a seat.

Victory Liquors
TVs: 30 high-def plasma TVs plus a bitchin' 85-by-164-inch projection screen in the plush back room
Drinks: Victory is like a grown-up college bar, complete with beer specials and a bloody mary bar. On Sunday, you can grab buckets of Bud ($13) and beer pitchers ($6); those eye-opening bloodies go for $4.
Food: Don't miss the complimentary nacho bar on Sundays; the award-winning CJ's pub burger (named after a legendary Notre Dame hangout) is always on the menu ($6).
Extra point: The DePaul-area address assures plenty of PYTs will be watching the big game too.
Penalty: They may be more interested in talking than touchdowns.

McGinny's Tap
TVs: Six flat-screen TVs throughout this cozy, narrow space
Drinks: This no-frills spot has plenty of beers: cans, bottles, drafts, you name it. Bucket specials ($15) are a draw on game days, as are tasty bloody marys ($5).
Food: Apps and wraps dominate an appealing lineup of bar food. Satisfying steak tacos ($5) are served during all Bears games.
Extra point: The Miller Lite Girls will be at McGinny's during the playoffs, sweetening the deal with lots of swag and free brews. Raffles and giveaways add to the fun.
Penalty: Parking is pricey--but possible--in the nearby Second City lot across the street.

[ Wendy Wollenberg is a metromix special contributor. ]
metromix@tribune.comOriginally published Jan. 10, 2007.

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