“Why is everyone wearing the number 82?” Dania asked, as a waitress with a knotted-up jersey passed by their table.
“It’s the year it was founded. See?” Eleanor held up her menu, where the number was printed again, with the word “SINCE” imprinted into the bottom of the 2.
“Huh.” Dania looked back at the waiters. On one of them, walking towards their table, she could see the words “B-DUBS” printed across the chest, just above the number.
“Wouldn’t it be “B-Dub-Dub’s?” Gwen asked. She dipped a celery stick into her ranch, spinning it to prevent any dripping. “Or is the intention that ‘Dubs’ is plural?”
“Just another way of abbreviating it, I suppose,” Eleanor said. She glanced up towards the ceiling. Framed jerseys from players whose names she didn’t recognize hung, venerated, along the highest edges of the walls. Also included were flags depicting the major Chicago sports teams: Cubs, Blackhawks, White Sox, Bears, Bulls…
“I feel like I should be cracking open a cold one with the boys,” Dania observed. “You know what I mean?”
“Don’t, that meme is at least a year old,” Eleanor groaned.
“But you know what I mean, right?” Dania insisted. “Like, you know those beer ads, where the guys – you know, the guys – are all huddled around the T.V. and they’re watching The Big Game, and they have their wings and stuff on the table.”
“Then they stand up to cheer and they knock the food off the table,” Gwen added. “Yeah, I can imagine it.”
“Well, maybe that,” Dania said. “The point is, it’s, y’know…” She struck the table edge with a clenched fist. “For the boys!”
“Don’t hit the table,” Eleanor said.
“I wonder what sport they’re aiming for,” Gwen wondered, glancing at the walls. “Clearly basketball, seeing how – one, two…six of the screens I can see from here are playing it.”
“Football, too,” Eleanor said. “Your napkin has the forty and fifty yard lines on it. Mine has those X and O playbook markers. The jerseys are clearly football.”
“It could be soccer,” Gwen said. The trio looked again at a waiter. The yellow-on-black design gave the impression of hornets darting through the pinpoint-lit tables.
“Anyway, do you know what you want?” Dania asked.
“I’m looking at the flatbreads,” Gwen said, unfolding the menu. “Maybe we can get some wings for the table.”
“I’m going for sliders,” Dania said. “It comes with fries.”
“I’m already not that hungry,” Eleanor winced. “What’s the smallest thing?”
“Just get one of the appetizers.” Dania pointed to the spot on the menu. “Whatever you don’t eat, I’ll finish.”
“Don’t overeat, Dania.”
“We’re out to eat!” Dania said. She threw her arms wide. “It’s B-Dubs! Throw some wings at me!”
“Remember, Dania,” Gwen said, pointing again to the front of the menu – “‘It’s Not An Eating Contest.'”
Dania ran a finger at the line of text just beneath the slogan. “‘But It Can Be,’ Gwen. Plus…” Dania pointed towards another slogan, printed onto the faded brick wall with what appeared to be endzone paint. “‘HERE, EVERY DAY IS GAME DAY.'”
Eleanor laughed as Gwen, rolling her eyes, returned to the flatbread selection. As she selected her food, Eleanor glanced up at the televisions above the bar. One of them was dedicated to advertisements of the restaurant – something called “Boneless Twosdays,” information on booking a private event, Kids Meals were only $2.50 on Wednesdays…
“Who brings a family to Buffalo Wild Wings?” Eleanor asked.
“I dunno,” Dania said. “I mean, people bring kids everywhere. People bring kids to Chili’s.”
“But Chili’s is different, right?” Eleanor continued. “I feel like Buffalo Wild Wings is different. It’s, like, more of a bar than a restaurant, right?”
“We were certainly seated by a hostess,” Gwen said, glancing up. “That’s pretty standard for a restaurant.”
“Sure,” Eleanor admitted. “But it’s got two different bar areas in it. I don’t know, I just get this sense of being in a bar from it all.”
“Perhaps it’s the sports focus,” Gwen suggested. “That’s very bar-like.”
“But other restaurants have sports themes to them,” Dania countered. “It’s not like you come here for sports instead of the food.”
Eleanor glanced up at the television again. Parties of 7 or more will have 15% gratuity added.
“People do, though,” Gwen said. “They clearly are going all-in on the sports theming. Maybe the intention is that people would come here for games.”
“I’d rather just go to a bar,” Eleanor said. “First of all, a bar will be cheaper.”
“Yeah, this is kinda a pricey menu,” Dania commented. “Even before you get into alcohol.”
“Ball is life,” Gwen intoned. She returned to the flatbreads and, selecting one, glanced up to see Dania staring at her.
“Nothing, I just…never thought I’d hear you say ‘ball is life.'” Dania’s eyes seemed to stare past Gwen, hundreds of yards beyond.
“Well, it is, for many people,” Gwen said. “People who go out to the bar for every major sports game. I get the sense – sort of what you’re saying, Eleanor – that Buffalo Wild Wings wants to be that place for people. Look at the sports jerseys on the wall, the dim lighting, the televisions. I can see…”
She counted, and re-counted.
“I can watch nine different games on thirteen different T.V.s here. It’s not for casual fans alone.”
“Maybe it is, though,” Eleanor said. “I mean, if you think about it…”
Eleanor paused briefly as a waitress, who had chosen to accent the requisite jersey with a Chicago Bulls snapback, deposited a tray of wings into the center of their table.
“You think about it,” Eleanor continued. “If you’re into sports, you go to a place where they’re watching the one game you want. Not to a place with nine games on.”
“They likely switched over to March Madness when it was happening,” Gwen pointed out. “People love March Madness.”
“I mean, sure,” Eleanor said. “But on the whole, I feel like it’s more the general idea of ‘sports’ than any specific sport.”
Eleanor reached towards the wings, but stopped short, not wanting to grab the sauce-drowned wing with her fingers. Picking up a fork, she again reached, but stopped again. She put down the fork – paused – and picked it up.
She had just put the fork down a second time when Gwen noticed. “Are you doing mime work? What’s going on?”
“I just feel like it’s weird to eat wings with a fork,” Eleanor squirmed. “I mean, I don’t really want to pick them up, but it’s like…”
“The boys,” Dania scowled, her fingers reddened with sauce.
“Exactly!” Eleanor agreed, as she gingerly lifted a wing with the tips of two fingers. “I think I get more what you’re talking about, Dania. It’s supposed to be…” She pushed her chin forward, and held the wing aloft. “Football!”
“Football!” Dania shouted, as she plunged her wing into a cup of ranch. “Touchdown!”
Gwen, her eyes widening, ducked her head. “Quiet! We’re in a restaurant!”
“It’s kind of a bar,” Dania said. She popped the wing in her mouth, barely wincing at the spice.
“Not every bar is a sports bar,” Gwen said.
“Well, not every bar serves wings,” Eleanor added. “Not every sports bar is named after wings.”
“Are wings something that people associate with sports?” Gwen said. “The connection seems tenuous.”
“Oh, totally,” Dania said. “I mean, I don’t do a lot of sports, but you think about the image of a guy in the stands, with the little cardboard tray of food. Wings are usually there, along with nachos, or chili…”
“Ooh, pretzels!” Eleanor added. “Don’t forget pretzels!”
“Do they sell pretzels here?” Gwen asked, opening the menu again. Sure enough, pretzels were listed under appetizers – “served warm with your choice of spicy mustard or your favorite BUFFALO WILD WINGS sauce.”
“Anyway,” Eleanor continued, grabbing another wing, “I don’t think it’s that weird to assume some kind of connection between sports and food.”
“Wings, perhaps,” Gwen said, with an eye on the menu. “But I’m not sure any stadium sells Five-Cheese Pepperoni Flatbread.”
“Some of them do,” Dania shrugged. “Stadiums are getting high-end nowadays. People can order fancy stuff there.”
“I mean, think of Buffalo Wild Wings like a really big suite box,” Eleanor said. “You get to watch the game from a distance while you eat fancy food away from the grime of the actual game.”
Gwen folded her menu, handing it to a passing waiter. “I feel like you’d want to truly be there, though. If you’re a legitimate sports fan. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant-cum-bar for your evening, you’d go to the actual stadium.”
“Unless you’re the kind of person who watches nine games at once,” Eleanor said.
“Ball is life,” Dania added. She glanced at Gwen expectantly.
“Maybe that’s the idea.” Gwen looked again at the surrounding restaurant, where yellow streaks of color cut through the gun-metal-grey and rubber-black interior design. “It’s for people who enjoy the fun of observing sports games, but don’t want to lose the luxury of that physical distance from the actual game.”
“And who can’t afford to get a suite above the court,” Eleanor added.
“But who can afford to eat the fourteen-dollar popcorn shrimp,” Dania grinned.
“A very specific clientele,” Gwen mused. “Impressive they get so many people in here.”
“Not just any people,” Dania said. She leaned forward, her chin hovering above the half-empty tray of wings.
Image Credit: Mark Steele Photography