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Of Pasta and Pass Receptions

For nearly two decades, Nick's Place has offered a unique combination.

Harry Coyle's request seems ordinary enough: He would simply like for a man to catch a ball that has been thrown to him.

Now, there is no room for considering the speed at which the ball has been thrown, or the presence of another man whose sole purpose is to stop the first from catching the ball, either by deft athleticism or blunt force trauma to the body. The demands are the demands are the demands.

There is a ball. It is spiraling through the air. So secure it.

When the man does not catch the ball, Coyle's proclamation is plain enough, too: "He's a jackass."

Coyle, a right-away likable 66-year-old man who works in the airline sales and marketing business, is sitting inside of Nick's Place (2713 Rockyridge Dr.), a right-away likable bar, watching a football game.

He is facing three televisions, all of which are tuned to the same game. He sits with six people. They're amused by his chagrin, if not surprised. This is a common scene.

The venue became Nick's Place in 1993, but Coyle has been a part of its decor since a few years before then, back when it was owned by an attorney and didn't concentrate so much on Italian foodstuffs.

"I've been coming here for 20 years," says Coyle. "That was before it was Nick's. I'm very good friends with Nick."

This, it appears, is also common. Start a conversation with someone inside at the bar or out on the patio, and they'll almost always mention Nick personally. It's easy to understand why.

If you scroll through the Yelp page for Nick's Place, near the bottom is a comment left by a user named Steven S. about a less than impressive Nick's pizza — usually a point of pride here. Immediately under that is a reply from Nick, asking him to come back and try it again, on the house.

Now, this isn't groundbreaking, but that's mostly the point. Nick, like his place, doesn't try to be something he's not.

There are dozens of TVs, two tightly packed common areas that make for good communal bonding during important games, and some red, green and white accents that remind its patrons of the pasta on offer. The rooms are kept dark enough to make it easy to see the game, and the volume is kept high enough for you to hear it over the crowd (an often overlooked, but important, character trait for a place that shows a lot of sporting events). It is as neighborly as neighborhood bars get; a comfortable, enjoyable, entirely accessible bar.

"It's a good melting pot," says Bob Jones, who has frequented Nick's regularly for four years. "There are people from all different places. I'll say this: If you go to a place long enough, you make friends. Sometimes the service might suffer a little bit because we're monopolizing the staff, people are talking to them and stuff, but it's fun. That's part of it. This place is great."

"I live inside the Loop," says Stephanie Blair, a 31-year-old bartender, "and I rarely go outside it to go out. But I make an exception for this place. It's worth it."

But it's Coyle, one of Nick's Place's sturdiest pieces, who eventually ­offers the most meaningful praise:

"I think this place has all of the ambience you could ever want in a sports bar," says Coyle.

Now, if that jackass on the TV could just catch the ball.
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LAST CALL

Scott Gertner's at Houston Pavilions

Ring the bells, bang the gongs, make loud noises, etc.: Remember Scott Gertner's Skybar, Houston's R&B epicenter that was unceremoniously forced to close in July 2010, after the building it was housed in was purchased in auction and summarily neglected? Well, a new iteration of it, located downtown and called Scott Gertner's at Houston Pavilions (1201 Fannin), is finally approaching its official opening date (February). Soft openings and private viewings began this month. Word is, it's very nice. Replacing Skybar in totality is impossible, but replicating its atmospherics seems entirely within Gertner's capabilities. More on this later, for certain.

 
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