Meet at the Junction
It is 10:01 p.m. on April 4, 2011. The Butler University Bulldogs are playing the University of Connecticut Huskies in the NCAA National Championship game on 43 separate TVs inside of Junction Bar & Grill (160 W. Gray). Incidentally, they are also playing in real life at Reliant Stadium (1 Reliant Park) exactly 7.5 miles from here. Regardless of where people are watching, though, they're all seeing the same thing: Butler gracelessly veering off the path to a storybook ending.
Still, the room is buzzing. There are about as many empty seats here as at Reliant (three, maybe four). People are talking, laughing, eating and drinking. It is a successful night.
Just a little more than seven months ago, Junction existed as a separate, less fulfilling sports bar called The Wet Spot.
Now, it's not entirely accurate to say that the place has "exploded" in popularity since new ownership took over last September — despite occasional warnings on review sites about subpar food and irksome service practices, The Wet Spot had a fair following — but the space has certainly gotten more popular since then. And it's gotten a different kind of popular, too; indisputable proof of that lies in Jamie Dammel's pants.
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Or, more accurately, the proof is her pants.
"I wouldn't say it feels like a 'sports bar,'" says Dammel, 28. "It's clean here, not dingy or trashy. I can sit on this couch, and it doesn't feel crusty. I can wear these white pants and not get dirty. If you can wear white pants to a bar and keep them clean, that's pretty impressive."
This is an easy observation, but an important one.
See, you might not have noticed, but sports bars are a place where men typically dominate. The only women you regularly see in them are waitresses and the disappointed girlfriends of guys who care a lot about college football. No right group of ladies has ever gotten all dressed up and been like, "We look good, girls. You know where we should go tonight? Buffalo Wild Wings!"
But they go to Junction, and it's hardly by accident.
"When we did the renovations, we wanted to make it so that women would feel comfortable here," says co-owner David Perez. "We painted all of the walls, knocked out the wall facing downtown so there'd be a view, try to keep everything as clean as possible. We don't have a specific demographic we're going after, we just want people to come here and have a good time."
It's a business plan that's paid off heartily. When big games happen, the venue — divided into two separate patios, an interior bar and a lounge area — can see upward of 450 people wander in. And it's almost always a mixed bag, too.
Tonight, for example, Joe Stewart from Stewart Cadillac is standing a few feet away from Perez while he answers questions; two younger-looking men in jeans and baseball caps sit near Stewart at the bar watching Butler's implosion; and two twentysomething women looking for somewhere to sit wander past the two men.
Add in the Plenty of Parking thing, the No Dress Code thing and the Never a Cover Charge thing, and you've got a trendy bar that doesn't rely on trendiness to pull in customers.
"If you don't feel like messing with the cops or the parking or some of the other hassles that come with going to some of the other bars in the area, you can come here," says Perez.
The proof is in the pants. Even Butler fans have to feel good about that.
This is a neat trick and should be mentioned: When games are playing, Perez will sit at his laptop while he watches and, soon as a commercial break starts, flip the sound system over to music. What's most impressive, though, is that the songs that are played are dictated by the flow of the game. If the home team needs a lift (Junction is the official game-viewing bar for UT), he'll play something like Eminem's "Lose Yourself." If a player named Billy makes a significant play, you're likely to hear "Billy Don't You Lose My Number" by Phil Collins. A team chokes? "Never Let Me Down Again" by Depeche Mode. The World Cup is on? "Coming to America" by Neil Diamond. It's a little thing, but it's a big thing. Respect.
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