Eat & Drink Where The Racers Play From Laguna Seca To Watkins Glen
Before I ever saw a car turn a lap on a racetrack, my PR mentor at the time made sure I knew one of the most important elements of being on the road for racing professionals: the signature bars that are associated with each venue.
These are not motorsports themed bars, mind you, but places people at the races – team staff, team owners and often the drivers themselves – frequent when in town, which makes the venues as legendary as the tracks themselves. They are the must-go-to places when you go to a race at these tracks.
This article is a result of my personal experiences in motorsports PR with a couple of the sports cars series’, manufacturers and IndyCar/CART.
Armed with this first-hand experience, PubClub.com presents the best motorsports bars in America.
Since it’s really impossible to rank them because each has its particular virtues, they are listed in alphabetical order, along with their associated race track.
• Baja Cantina, Laguna Seca
The owner of this location of Baja Cantina – there’s one in LA’s Marina Del Rey, too – is a huge race fan and walking into it is like going to a motorsports museum. It has vintage automobile memorabilia and is a true racing fan’s bar. Be sure someone else drives to it, tho; the strength of its margaritas are legendary among the racing community.
• Bucks, Mid-Ohio
Buck’s Bar And Grill is as unassuming as the area in which it is located. This low-key place is known throughout the motorsports world for its super-friendly staff and cheap food and drinks. We once went there with a picnic-table full of PR people and the entire bill was less than 100 bucks. At Buck’s! The menu has the kind of food you would expect to get in the middle of Ohio, and that is to say a lot of fried stuff in baskets. Plus slow-roasted BBQ ribs.
• Paulie’s Pub & Eatery, Milwaukee Mile
Right across the street from the Milwaukee Mile is this nice pub that adds live music to the motorsports bar mix. There’s also sports on the many TVs, so you can catch up on the other races and games you missed during the day while you were at the track. There’s a lot of history at that track, too. It’s the oldest operating motor speedway in the world, hosting at least one auto race every year since 1903, excluding during World War II. It was also the Milwaukee home of the Green Bay Packers from 1934-1943.
• Ocean Deck, Daytona International Speedway
This bar has nothing to do with racing or the Speedway, but one cannot go to Daytona Beach without “hitting the Deck.” It’s right off the sand, which gets onto it concrete floor, to inside the bar. There’s live music from the house reggae band and the drink to get here is the rum-heavy Red Tide. Served, in typical Florida beach bar style, in a souvenir plastic cup. I once watched a night space shuttle launch barefoot in the sand just outside of Ocean Deck and it was a spectacular sight.
• Seneca Lodge, Watkins Glen
Take in the history of Watkins Glen racing at the Tavern Room bar. Behind the bar, laurel wreaths from the Formula 1 races of the 1970s hang from hundreds of arrows shot into the wall by ace archers who frequent the lodge for archery championships. Suspended from the ceiling are tires from NASCAR champions. I used to drink the local “Ginny beer” from the Genesee Brewing Company here but the place now has its own craft beer. The Tavern Room has long been a hangout of racing mechanics – as well as the occasional PR person.
• Siebkens Resort, Road America
When you go to Road America, this is the only place you need to be when you are not at the track. There’s an inn, a nice restaurant and – best of all – the Stop-Inn Tavern, all on the property. The tavern is where ALL the racers (drivers included) congregate at night on race weekends. The drink here is Jagermaster and Siebkens goes through more of it than any other place in the Midwest. And they are only open half the year! They used to have a musician who changed the words of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” to the “Jager Man.” The chorus became “and soon we’ll be drinking all night!” I became somewhat of a legend there myself when I introduced the bartenders to a popular shot from my resident town of the time, Manhattan Beach, CA, the “Surfers On Acid” (Jager, Malibu rum and pineapple juice and trust me, it’s way better then it sounds). Soon everybody was drinking it, so much so that the bartenders were constantly having me run out to the outside vending machine to get them the pineapple juice.
• St. Elmo’s & Union Jack Pub, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Yes, Indy has two places. One is a high-end downtown restaurant with “steaks as long as your arm” as a motorsports friend once told me. St. Elmo’s Steakhouse is as much of a tradition at Indy as drinking milk in Victory Circle. It is also famous among its customers for its shrimp cocktail with super-spicy horseradish sauce. Roger Penske has his own room here and while most of the places in this story are primarily bars, St. Elmo’s is such a part of the Indy experience that it has to be included here. On the opposite end of the culinary and atmosphere spectrum is Union Jack’s. Located in Speedway, IN, this is casual racing-themed bar a few blocks from the Speedway with a patio, pub room and Chicago-style pizza as its signature food item.
In Case You Are Wondering, These Places (Sadly) No Longer Exit
The Savoy, an awesome rock ‘n roll bar in downtown Watkins Glen…The Ragamount Inn, a fantastic restaurant where the waitressed dressed up like pilgrims, in Salsbury, CT (Lime Rock)…Bridgeport Brewing Company, where all of us PR types had our annual Thursday gathering before races in Portland.