On the football field, you need a good blocker. As I squeeze through a beer-drenched, green-clad crowd thicker than Broad Street after the Super Bowl, I realize the same is true at Xfinity Live! during an Eagles home game.
With 5,000 to 10,000 customers coming through on game days, this may be the busiest sports bar in Philadelphia. It's also one of the most efficient exercises in corporate branding I've ever witnessed, from the Bud Light Concert Stage to the PBR: Coors Banquet Bar to the NBC Sports Arena.
The pitch is simple: You get all the stadium traffic, parking headaches, rowdy crowds and $10 Crabby Fries without the hassle of actually attending an Eagles game. Or, as spokesperson Kaja Rasmussen put it: "You can see the fireworks if they score a touchdown, and you can hear the cheers. If you can't get tickets, it's the next best experience."
As I join the slow-moving line the day of the home opener, it feels a bit like settling. "Dude, I wish I was going in — you have no idea," the guy in front of me in line mutters, gazing longingly Linc-ward.
Still, I can't help but get into the spirit. Beyond the security perimeter, Weird Philadelphia is in fine form: a manic shill urges me to score free food from Carson Wentz's somehow God-related food truck; a trumpet-playing busker rocks the Rocky theme on repeat; Philly Elmo and his drum line appear like a surreal mirage. Meanwhile, a caped man paces the line, doling out high-fives left over from February. "We're the champs, right?" he says before a bouncer kicks him out.
My $10 cover gets me into the five-bar complex — like a boozy food court arrayed around a central area with a 32-foot HD screen — and much more. There are flair bartenders, game calls from former Eagles PA announcer Dan Baker, a DJ, Eagles trivia, giveaways, endless ecstatic montages from last season's victory, and a halftime cheesesteak-eating contest (which, I can now confirm, is not a spectator sport). On a stage in the parking lot, a live pregame show is underway. It's a strange, split-screen effect: On one side, NBC sports analysts jaw under blinding TV lights, while a cover band, self-described as "Delco's finest," launches intermittently into '90s radio hits, only to be cut off abruptly at the end of each commercial break.
There are also, if objectification's your thing, a squad of house cheerleaders, not to mention the "Buckle Bunny" shot girls in crop tops and pleather chaps, and the scattered satellite bars staffed exclusively by female bartenders situated on platforms high above their customers. At one point, it apparently becomes necessary for the DJ to make this plea over the PA system: "I'm just asking for one personal favor: Don't throw your beer on the ladies."
Because the game's delayed, I take myself on an indoor bar crawl, starting with the confusingly named PBR: A Coors Banquet Bar. ("I'll take a PBR," I tell the bartender, but they don't serve that here. I play it safe and request a Coors Banquet, $5.75, instead.) PBR, I learn, stands for Professional Bull Riders, which sort of explains the woman in the Wentz shirsey bucking wildly on the mechanical bull in the center of the room. I wander into the more upscale 1100 Social, and wander out again — there's a $40 minimum to watch the game at a table here. Instead, I head for the Victory Beer Hall, which looks like a beer hall overlaid on a sound stage, but it's the best bet for quality brews, like the crisp, mildly hoppy Headwaters Pale Ale ($7.25). By kickoff, I haven't even gotten to the novelty drinks: Rum punch served in a plastic baggy that looks designed to hold intravenous fluid; a cocktail served in a cowboy boot glass, a fishbowl of something sweet and boozy served with half a dozen straws.
After all this sensory overload, the slow first half of the football game feels like a bit of a letdown. No wonder the place empties rapidly at halftime. I grab a seat on a Broad Street Line car filled with griping. We all seem to have the same idea: The place to watch the second half is from the comfort of home.
Xfinity Live! Philadelphia
1100 Pattison Ave., 267-534-4264, xfinitylive.com
When to go: Game days, of course. There's a complicated opening schedule, so check the website for hours.
Bring: Sports fans. Visitors trying to understand Philadelphia. Anyone with a short attention span; there's a lot to take in here.
Order: I'd tell you to head for the Victory Beer Hall, but would you listen? The most popular food here, overall, is wings; the most popular drink is Miller Lite.
Bathroom situation: Past a Buckle Bunny with her foot up on the sink, fishing a phone out of her cowboy boot, I find a row of stalls in moderate disarray. The floor is festooned with toilet paper that trails stylishly from my shoe as I leave.