We watched the Islanders’ opener at UBS Arena from all 17 bars

Sports

The New York Islanders know their audience.

The team’s lease with Empire State Development prohibits tailgating at UBS Arena, the team’s new home next to Belmont Park. Those gatherings were part of the culture at Nassau Coliseum. To compensate — and to maximize revenue potential — UBS Arena has more than two dozen adult beverage points of sale around the building, including 17 bars for the general public and premium ticket holders.

On Saturday night, the arena finally opened its doors to Islanders fans, as New York hosted the Calgary Flames. To fully understand the UBS Arena fan experience, we initiated a sociological investigation: watching the game from all 17 of the arena’s official indoor and outdoor bars.

Please note that there was no imbibing by this reporter while compiling this story, which was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the assignment.

Here’s what opening night at UBS Arena looked like inside the watering holes, some of which certainly make the Islanders’ new home a unique one.


Belmont Hall (5:53 p.m.)

Before we begin the crawl, a word about pricing. The majority of the bars at UBS Arena offer “packaged beer” — you might otherwise know it as “a can” — for $17, which is the same price as a premium cocktail; wine is $18, while “ultra premium cocktails” are $19.

When I attended the ribbon cutting at UBS Arena on Friday, Belmont Hall looked like it would be the hopping pregame spot. It had outdoor space with heaters and picnic tables on the ground level, visible to fans as they walked in through the front entrance. Inside, it looked like a classic craft brewery, including a window dedicated solely to beer sales. Yet it was surprisingly empty save for a few patrons who said they heard about the spot through its association with The Harrison, a popular local eatery in Floral Park. Congrats to those who found it, as there appeared to be a 1:1 ratio of pregamers to employees.

While most of the interior is brick, there are a few walls plastered with sports and music posters. One of the Islanders signs had the names of famous alumni on it. One of those names was John Tavares, who became a franchise pariah after leaving the team as a free agent to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018. Erin Longo took notice. The Islanders fan grabbed a Sharpie, walked over to the wall and drew a large black X over his name.

“There,” she said, capping the marker. “Now it’s fixed.”

Tailgate Bar (6:25 p.m.)

A little too on the nose when searching for pregame festivities? Perhaps. The Tailgate Bar spans seven sections over one of the arena’s end zones, featuring a 100-foot bar. It’s a part of the concourse around the upper deck, which does make it a little congested. But it has great views of the ice and a view of my favorite features of the arena on the wall above it: Logos from all of the Islanders’ fan meet-up groups from around the world, including the U.K. and Brazil.

The bar had potential — and an $18 frozen Grenache from the South of France — but again, it wasn’t exactly packed. Where’s the action in this place?

Heineken Terrace (6:35 p.m.)

Oh, that’s where the action is.

The Heineken Terrace is the outdoor venue that overlooks the paddock area at Belmont Park, something that no doubt translates better when it’s not a pitch black, 42-degree November evening. It’s a party deck: Live DJ, green uplighting, a chance to lift a mini keg above a hockey net like it’s the Stanley Cup.

There was dancing. There was smoking, of various substances. It was like that loud club at the shore where the pretty people all seem to party. The kind of place where Tyler Cameron, runner-up on “The Bachelorette,” collects an appearance fee. Oh look, there he is, handing out draft beer at the Islanders game …

As the players hit the ice for warm-ups, fans started leaving the party. Some used the souvenir flags they received upon entry as batons, leading their friends to their seats like tour guides on a field trip. I followed one tour back to the Tailgate Bar to see if the action had shifted there.

Tailgate Bar, Part 2 (7 p.m.)

It’s a little more crowded, but the most interesting patrons were the ones seated at the 14-seat counters overlooking the ice.

In theory, they were meant for people to buy some food and a beverage, consume them in these seats and then head back to the ones on their tickets when done. In reality, fans from the farthest reaches of the upper deck were planting themselves at these counters and planning to watch the game from there. A fan named Joe with a backward “Isles” hat said he and his friend Josh did a lap around the arena and saw the counter open. “I said, we should sit there until someone asks us to move. And no one has asked us to move,” he said, adding that their seats were located near the top of section 312.

There was speculation from the ushers around the section that these seats might end up being tickets at some point, but for now they’re first come, first served and outstanding seats — with electrical outlets, no less!

At 7:02, beloved Islanders announcer Jiggs McDonald stood a few steps from the Tailgate Bar, right above where the Islanders’ “Blue and Orange Army” fan group is seated. (The team renamed section 229 as “Section 329,” which is where they sat at Nassau.) McDonald welcomed everyone to “USB Arena” twice before the crowd reminded him it was “UBS Arena.” Guess he’s not plugged in.

There were fans standing and watching the first moments of the action at the arena. I wondered what the terrace looked like.

Heineken Terrace, Part 2 (7:20 p.m.)

The terrace looked … barren. It immediately became apparent that this was one of those bars that is hopping during the pregame, the postgame and between periods. Kudos to the DJ who kept dancing with himself.

The Wright Bar (7:22 p.m.)

There’s a mural hanging over the entrance to the arena that features luminaries with connections to Belmont Park. Some make immediate sense, like Secretariat. The Wright Brothers’ inclusion seems a little more random, but they actually flew in a 1910 aviation tournament before their historic moment at Kitty Hawk. This bar carries their name, although it has also been called the “Bacardi Bar” and “The 204 Escalator Bar” on maps and materials. It also doesn’t appear to have any connection to Orville and Wilbur. Heck, you can’t even order a flight of beer.

Just as the Flames went up 1-0, a fan named Dave in a Matt Martin jersey stomped over to the bar, its only patron while I was there. As he ordered two whiskeys for himself, he lamented the fact that he and his wife had just gotten into the arena due to a confusing parking situation. The arena’s garage won’t be ready until March 2022. He said he ended up looping back to the Cross Island Parkway rather than parking in his intended lot.

“I followed the masses once, and I wasn’t going to do it again,” he said, adding that they parked on a side street and walked over a half mile to the building. Now that’s cause for a double-sized order.

Heineken Tower Bar (7:28 p.m.)

It’s subtle, but you might have noticed that Heineken is, in fact, the exclusive beer and hard seltzer partner of UBS Arena. This bar is located near Section 310 and is notable for having a name (“Tower Bar”) whose origins no one there could explain. This will become a recurring theme.

Offside Tavern (7:39 p.m.)

The Offside Tavern, on the other hand, has a lot of meaning behind its name.

Before it was found inside UBS Arena, it was a Manhattan sports bar, the first in the borough dedicated to the Islanders. It opened in 2017, taking over from an existing bar in Chelsea that was floundering. It connected quickly with the fans, was packed for playoff games and was the site of Islanders-centric events. Then COVID-19 hit and like every watering hole in the city, Offside had to shutter.

“But the landlords were still allowed to charge us rent, funny enough,” said its owner, Nick Costa.

The bar reopened for outdoor dining during the 2020 playoffs, but the numbers weren’t adding up. He sent a tweet to the Tavern’s followers that announced it was closing. He sat in his bedroom alone, watching the responses roll in. “That was when it finally sunk in. That it was ‘uh-oh,'” he said.

Twitter taketh away, and Twitter giveth. It was suggested on social media that the Islanders revive Offside Tavern inside their new arena. Eventually, Costa revealed to his fans that it would be reborn as an upper concourse watering hole, a 20-foot-long L-shaped bar with a view of the ice.

It’s not exactly like the Tavern has been ported over. It’s a sports bar without a TV, for one. It has some Islanders knickknacks and one holdover trinket from the Tavern — a sign that reads “Fort Ever Booze,” a reference to the Coliseum’s nickname “Fort Never Lose” — but it’s fairly staid otherwise.

“All my cool stuff from the old bar was Isles memorabilia. And it kinda loses its luster inside the building in which they’re playing. A signed Mariusz Czerkawski puck doesn’t really move the needle as far as a ‘wow’ factor,” Costa said.

He said there will be more singular uniqueness added over time, including on the drink menu, which is standardized at the moment. He said there will be specially themed drinks, but not player-specific ones like he had at the old bar, like the instantly memorable “Josh Ho-Tang.” At the new Offside Tavern, he has had to contend with a new bar manager: GM Lou Lamoriello, whom Costa said has ruled out player-centric drinks in favor of team-first beverages. (And yes, Lamoriello manages on that micro of a level.)

The bar starts filling up with about four minutes left in the first period, and it jumps to life when the Islanders score their first goal to cut the Calgary lead to 2-1. It fills up even more as the period ends. An Islanders fan in a bright orange jacket turns to his father, points at the Offside Tavern sign on the wall and says, “this is it” as they get in line for a beverage.

With that, the upper deck tour is done. It was time to see how the other half lives.

UBS Club (8:06 p.m.)

There are five premium bars for the premium ticket buyers at the arena.

The suite level is split into traditional corporate boxes and the UBS Club Reserves, which are opera-style box seats, with cushy chairs you might find in a luxury hotel lobby. Purchasing the latter gives one access to the UBS Club, where the food and non-alcoholic beverages are part of the ticket price. The star here is the food, which ranges from standard stadium fare to an entire oven of rotating rotisserie chickens. Based on our observation, it’s a club for mingling; if you’re watching the game, chances are you’re in your opera box.

Hyundai Club (8:18 p.m.)

Down from the suite level is this club, which is the most “sports bar” thing in this sports arena, albeit one for those who purchase premium seating.

There’s a large bar festooned with bobblehead dolls that has a video screen “ticker” on top of it. The walls are covered in Islanders jerseys and banners; the ceiling is covered in hockey sticks and photos of current and former players. There are three rows of seats in the end zone. There’s also an empanada duo for $12. We need more sports bars with empanada duos.

DIME Club (8:23 p.m.)

The DIME club is named for a bank or something. And it’s massive. It’s like if the aforementioned UBS Club and a sportsbook had a child, and that child had an endless variety of sliders.

If you’re watching an Islanders game and see empty seats in the lower bowl, just remember: There’s an endless variety of sliders. The DIME Club has the same issue as other premium bars, in that they all feel isolated.

At some point, Andrew Mangiapane scored to give the Flames a 3-1 lead. It got the same reaction as the buffet running short on charcuterie.

Verizon Club (8:31 p.m.)

Fans can purchase access to this event-level club as an add-on to their ticket. It doesn’t have a view of the ice, and about a dozen people were following the game on four TVs.

In full disclosure, this club was ruined for me before opening night. It was the site of the post-ribbon-cutting mixer on Friday, and featured people riding stationary bikes that powered blenders making frozen tequila drinks. They were absent on opening night, and their presence was missed.

Spotlight Club (8:41 p.m.)

Down in the bowels of UBS Arena are the Spotlight Suites, the most premium of premium seating. They’re like visiting your rich friend’s tricked-out basement to watch a game.

But those suites get you access to both ice-level seats and the Spotlight Club, which is an absolutely swanky bar. The highlight here: The bar sits between the walkways for the Islanders and their opponents to head to their respective locker rooms. And really, there’s nothing the Islanders want to see more when losing their home opener than someone smiling at them with a mouth full of carving station beef after the second period.

The Glass House (9:06 p.m.)

Having finished the high-end bars, I return to the “commoners” in the 100 level.

As I arrive at this main concourse bar, the fans have just watched Brock Nelson cut the deficit to 3-2 via two large TVs hanging on the wall. (A third isn’t working at the moment, like the Islanders’ power play.) The Glass House is a standard fare bar that leads to a gargantuan terrace with views of Belmont Park and the new Long Island Railroad Station. The terrace was sparsely populated during the third period, with about five fans braving the cold, listening to the game’s radio broadcast.

“A billion-two for this place and they can’t afford a Samsung out here,” said an Islanders fan on that terrace, in between drags of a cigarette.

Speakeasy Bar (9:14 p.m.)

The joy of the modern speakeasy bar is finding where it’s hidden and how to access it. The problem with having one inside a hockey arena on opening night is that no one will look for it, nor how to access it.

So Joanne, the bartender, decided to swing the non-descript wooden doors near Section 101 open and spread the word to food vendors in the vicinity: Send your customers to the Speakeasy. Which seems counterintuitive, but you gotta get them through the door somehow.

It was a one-goal game in the third period, but you’d never know it here, as there are no TVs or radio calls inside a bar populated by five patrons. There was changeable sign that advertised an “Elitist Shot” at the bar. Joanne tells me that a group of women ordered vodka pineapple shots and said they would return to order more if she put it on their sign. “They’ve come back twice. They actually just left again,” she said.

The Islanders tell me there will eventually be a password system to gain access to the bar, which has brass benches and posh, cushioned seats. Obviously it should be a word that’s familiar and meaningful to Islanders fans. May we suggest “Milbury?”

Heineken Red Star Bar (9:20 p.m.)

This large bar has eight different draft beer stations with five taps apiece. Like at the Tailgate Bar upstairs, fans claimed counter space early in the game and remained there throughout.

Brendan and Jimmy think the view from their upper-deck seats was better — they’re actually seated behind cameramen here — but the easy access to the bar and the bathrooms made this a preferred spot for them. Brandon also admits that superstition has kept him from leaving, fearing that abandoning his seat will have some supernatural impact on the Islanders. Such are hockey fans.

Heineken Southside Bar (9:27 p.m.)

There’s an interesting timeline tracing the history of Heineken products. And it has a view of the ice. Sorry, that’s really all I’ve got for this one.

Harriet’s (9:30 p.m.)

Another bar with seating overlooking the ice and plenty of wall space around the rink to post up with a beverage. It’s located near a food court and a BBQ kiosk, giving this spot some of the best smells in the building.

I asked some of the bartenders, and no one had any idea about the namesake of the bar. In fact, a couple of them were unaware the bar had a name. Fans were quiet and tense here, as the Islanders tried to rally in the third period.

Eddie’s (9:38 p.m.)

Here it is. Bar No. 17 in our epic crawl through UBS Arena.

It has basically the same layout as Harriet’s. The bartenders believe it’s named after Ed Westfall, a former player and broadcaster. I arrive just in time to see the Islanders give up an empty-net goal and then another. Fans began to get up from the four long counters in back of the bar overlooking the rink and started heading for the exits. An Islanders fan with three tallboys in front of him turns to his friends and says, “Welp, we did it guys. First game in the books.”

The amount of options at UBS Arena for fans might seem overwhelming, but each one offers something a little different so fans can find a place that suits them. Based on what we heard and saw at the arena on opening night, Islanders fans have finally found their place — one that was a long time coming. Cheers to them.

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