Most days, the Firehouse Bar is treated as a club catering to its 21-and-over college crowd with drink specials, spiced popcorn, loud music and the promise of a lingering hangover the next morning. But on fall weekends, Firehouse turns into a sports bar for football fans looking to turn their favorite pastime into a boisterous experience.
The staff knew better than to be unprepared for such an occasion. On Thursday -- two days before the college football season would officially begin -- workers were rushing back and forth throughout the bar, carrying boxes, tools and cords, while the suppliers stocked coolers with beer. Technicians installed DIRECTV services onto every TV screen at Firehouse, as well as its neighboring tavern Doxx Warehouse Bar.
Pauly Andersen, the owner of both establishments, suspected that nearly 50 TV screens were installed between the Firehouse and Doxx, allowing guests a chance to watch a college football game from just about every angle. “We came out hard and strong this year,” Andersen said. “It’s going to be insane.”
That’s a safe assumption to make. The Iowa Hawkeye games always go over well at Firehouse, especially with drink specials to indulge in, stuffed footballs to throw around and raffles to be a part of. Anyone who has driven near Floyd Boulevard within 10 minutes of game time will know just how many people partake in the Firehouse festivities. The energy and tempo inside the bar are high during college football games. “It’s like being down in Iowa City,” said Andersen.
Transitioning the bar from a club to a sports bar is no easy feat. Andersen said a “small army” of workers come to Firehouse early in the morning to clean up the previous night’s craziness and prepare for a new one. Although no amount of prep work and elbow grease is enough -- “We’re never quite ready,” said Andersen.
Preparations for Firehouse’s football season started more than a month ago. Andersen acquired more TVs and added more tables and chairs for game day visitors. Most important, he made sure the sound was ready and everything was re-wired and working properly, because the last thing you want as a bar owner on game day is a tavern full of televisions with no sound.
The rest of the time is spent getting bartenders -- nicknamed the Hawkettes -- trained for football season. “This is my favorite time of the year,” said Andersen. “The hooting, the hollering, the screaming-- it’s just amazing.”
And while customers are juggling TV screens and slamming back shots of Fireball and Jägermeister at Firehouse, some other football fans prefer a more subdued environment for the family to enjoy. The Sioux City restaurant and sports bar, Bob Roe’s Point After, is just one such place.
Bob Roe and his daughter Terri Rexius have already upgraded all of the restaurant’s TVs, acquiring larger screens whenever possible. Most important, Rexius said she and the staff make sure all of the TV receivers work. “Because if you’re missing a game, that kinda ticks people off,” said Rexius.
Bob Roe’s Point After also increases its staff during football games. On a busy night, Rexius said 20 to 25 people are working at the Transit Plaza Shopping Center restaurant. Like Firehouse, the Point After workers began prep work nearly a month ago and the bar also installed its DIRECTV services, which costs the restaurant close to $6,000 a year. But it usually pays off. Rexius said Bob Roe’s Point After sees a 70 to 80 percent increase in customers during football season.
Smaller bars like Miles Inn also play host to college football games, albeit in their own reserved way.
The Leech Avenue bar known for its Charlie Boy sandwiches and beers served in frosted schooners doesn’t change a whole lot when it comes to football season. Owner Brett Lias said the atmosphere is low key during Iowa, Iowa State and Nebraska games, but Miles Inn certainly caters to a football crowd. After all, it is a sports bar.
"More so now than we ever have been,” said Lias. The ceiling tiles depicting all kinds of football team logos prove that point. And if you needed more convincing, take a look at the huge Iowa Hawkeye insignia painted on the ceiling above the bar.
Other fans may venture to Miles Inn for familiar traditions. The bar still intends on serving its beer (as well as a $5 Bloody Mary) in chilled schooners. And after an hour or two spent in the small neighborhood bar, guests’ clothes will permeate with the smell of unknown spices found in the Miles Inn's top secret Charlie Boy recipe.
Traditions at other bars will also be put to the test during football season. Marty’s Tap’s new owners Kelly Quinn and Mac Dolan sought to keep the bar’s status as a Hawkeye hangout intact when they bought the Court Street pub in May.
“Marty’s was the original Hawkeye bar in this town,” said Quinn. “And we’re going to get back to that.”
He improved Marty’s look with an updated outdoor area as well as a brighter interior. Quinn also decided that Marty’s Tap deserved a special group for diehard Iowa fans, eventually creating the Hawks Club.
“It’s something we decided to do right away when we took the bar over, but we didn’t know how to really implement it,” said Quinn. “We didn’t know how many people would sign up. Right now it’s been overwhelming.”
Members of the Hawks Club pay a one-time fee and get a gold T-shirt complete with a Hawks Club logo on the front. Those who wear the shirt during game days are eligible for drink specials, raffles and other fun prizes. When the Hawkeyes played against the Miami RedHawks last weekend, patrons were surprised with free Jell-O shots when Iowa scored touchdowns. Iowa finished the game 45-21.
Quinn prepared Marty’s Tap for football season with new projectors, a new audio system, new furniture on the patio, a new grill --- the list goes on. “We’re kind of going all in,” said Quinn. “A lot of people wanted to make sure that we kept the integrity of Hawkeye football at Marty’s.”
As someone who remembers going to Marty’s Tap to watch Hawkeye football games in the past, Quinn was determined to keep his promise to his regulars and make the bar a destination for Iowa fans.
“Living in Iowa City for five years and being somebody who definitely lived the tailgating life of Iowa football games, I think that gives me an advantage of what it’s like at the game,” said Quinn.
“I’ve been to many games and I’ve been to many tailgates. I want that atmosphere. We want people to be throwing around a football in the parking lot. We want you to be there all day having fun.”