The formula for a great sports bar is relatively simple: TVs, high-def and copious; a killer sound system, no more than couple games at one time and loud enough to drown out the dude at the end of the bar; a full bar in case the guy creeps or the game turns south; beers on tap, cold and local; good grub that doesn’t always require a grease bath; and an attentive, friendly staff.

In theory, it sounds simple. But like the games being played above the din of curses and calls for shots, it’s all about execution. Rookies Sports Lodge in Willow Glen has already proven it’s capable of being a great neighborhood sports bar. A sleeker, sister location has now entered the downtown San Jose fray, replacing what used to be Billy Berks, and the early returns are promising.

As far as Silicon Valley sports bars go, one would be hard pressed to find more pixels per square foot than the new Rookies, open just a month and located on South First and San Fernando. Bigger than its predecessor, the joint has 32 flat-screens lining the sturdy brick interior walls. If there is a game being played on this planet, odds are it’s on one of the screens.

Mike Hobson, who I should disclose is a close friend, says he picked the location despite usual objections over downtown’s transient nature, and so far business has exceeded expectations.

“We’re just trying to listen to staff and guests,” Hobson says. “Nobody is ever shy, especially downtown, telling you what they think of the place.”

Joined by his brother, Ricky, who manages operations and had downtown bona fides before he ran nightclubs in West Hollywood, the place has the distinct vibe of a family affair. That familiarity has carried over to both the front and back of the house, as Hobson brought over bartenders from his Willow Glen location to smooth out the transition. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the only thing that has changed is the menu. Rather than start from scratch, Hobson chose to keep executive chef Enrique Pazos and rehire all of Billy Berks cooking staff. The eclectic menu now features fresh, locally sourced ingredients that can translate to traditional pub grub or as high-end as signature steaks, like The Tomahawk, a 38-ounce cut of USDA beef served with grilled vegetables and seasoned potatoes. Checking in at $65, the steak is probably the most expensive sports bar plate in the South Bay that doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee for finishing.

Other featured items include the 10-ounce skirt steak with chimchurri ($24) and the Fettuccine Alfredo Cajun Bowl ($18), which includes blackened chicken, Andouille sausage and prawns.

I ordered the blackened chicken sandwich ($14), which comes with seared chicken breast, pepper jack cheese, bacon, thick slices of avocado and a red pepper aioli that makes just about every sandwich better. Served with a side of fries or a salad, it’s the kind of sandwich you just don’t regret ordering. The wife went with a pan-seared
salmon entrée ($24) that comes with a choice of two sides from 12 options. The grilled vegetables and garlic-mashed potatoes were delicious, while my Cajun fries didn’t disappoint.

The siren song that will call many names, no doubt, is the Juicy Lucy burger. Double patties are stuffed with double American cheese, diced pickles and onions, finished by a dollop of Thousand Island dressing. At more than “a pound of goodness,” this $15 burger is a regional favorite of the upper Midwest, a triumph of American ingenuity and a glazed middle finger to the arteries. Just be careful—the name stems from the fact that the burger will literally squirt as one takes that big first chomp.

Like any bar and restaurant in its infancy, there will be hiccups, and some of the prices may seem high. However, Rookies has always been about top-notch service and sports—and aside from downtown’s Britannia Arms, no other sports bar in downtown San Jose comes close as a rival.

Rookies Sports Lodge
99 S. First St, San Jose
408.292.4300, $$
Sports Bar