Sportswriter Joe Rhoads once wrote this about Penn’s basketball gym, the Palestra: “It’s a basketball chamber where every sound is amplified, where 100 people sound like 1,000, where 1,000 sound like 10,000, and where 10,000 sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before.” There were only a handful of people at the bar Saturday night, and this is high praise, but it’s true: T.A. Flannery’s is the drinking equivalent of the Palestra.
I realized what was happening sometime around the fifth inning.
We went to T.A. Flannery’s to watch the Flyers play the Blackhawks in the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals; a friend had recommended it as a great hockey bar. Saturday night, it was only open because of the Flyers’ improbable playoff run.
Then something else happened, something bigger. I checked the Phillies box score on my phone during a break in the action. The Marlins didn’t have a hit yet. I decided not to say anything, wary of jinxing it.
I kept checking my phone, and by the seventh inning I started passing it around, showing people. One of baseball’s great superstitions is to never mention the words “no-hitter” when a pitcher has one going. “Look at this,” I said, shoving the phone in my friend’s face. “Look at this!”
Bartender Butch Flannery switched the TVs to the Phillies when the first period ended. A guy down the bar said, “Do you think we have something more here?” Something more than a no-hitter? No way, I thought. The eighth inning ended. Phillies announcer Tom McCarthy blasted out of the speakers: “Twenty-four up and twenty-four down!”
Everyone at the bar gasped in excitement.
I hadn’t even considered Roy Halladay was pitching a perfect game. Sure, he’s a great pitcher, but there had only been 19 in modern baseball history. People still talk about Phillies pitcher Jim Bunning’s perfect game, which was on Father’s Day in 1964, in hushed tones.
Suddenly, the Phillies game was on center stage. When Halladay got a groundout for the 27th and final out of the game, the small crowd went nuts. I thought one dude was going to cry. I whooped so loudly I’m sure I scared the two people I was with.
T.A. Flannery’s is best-known as the bar owned by the family of Kate Flannery, who plays Meredith on The Office. (There’s a huge signed cast photo high above the bar.) But it also might be the best sports bar in the city. There are more than enough televisions, the beer is cheap and the bartender is knowledgeable about sports. Most attempts at sports conversation with bartenders end in disaster, but that’s not the case with Butch. We chatted about Flyers past and present, the legendary Big 5 and CYO basketball. He even suggested sports stories I should write.
It’s a simple spot, really, with a long bar, a handful of unadorned tables, simple bathrooms and five flat-screen TVs. That’s sort of what makes it such a wonderful place to watch a sporting event, though. There’s a refreshing lack of neon beer signs; instead, the walls are filled with memorabilia: A photo of the Penn football team from the 1920s, shots of old-timey basketball players and even a copy of the May 30, 1918, edition of the Hibernian Journal, warning about the coming of Prohibition. (“To imbed the fundamental law of a national with the transient opinions of a majority is to fetter the future and to prostitute the Constitution to the legislative vices of a single generation,” the paper reads, a level of writing I can only dream of reaching.)
Unfortunately, the night didn’t end perfectly. The Flyers blew several leads and ended up losing, 6-5. Sure, we got a round on Butch when the Flyers took a late first-period lead, but the loss was quite disappointing in the end. Had the Flyers won, it would have been one of the greatest days in Philadelphia sports history. A lot of hockey fans I know don’t like basketball, but after the Flyers lost, Butch switched the TVs to the Western Conference finals, and we chatted about the NBA for a good half-hour.
Unfortunately, he’s a Celtics fan. Hey, nobody’s perfect.
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