First Bite: Benchmark Sports Bar

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I'm always looking for a good place to kill the couple hours between when I get out of work and weeknight Predators games start at 7:00. Bonus features in such a hang-out include good bar food, cheap drink prices, accessible affordable parking and at least somewhere to sit down without being jostled by tourists enthusiastically requesting "FRIIIIIIENDS IN LOOOOOW PLAAAAACES!" from the bar band.

Benchmark Sports Bar hits most of those marks for me, but as of yet seems relatively undiscovered by the downtown sports and tourist crowds. It's at 117 Second Ave. N. in the former location of Mulligans Irish Pub, and the new ownership hasn't made too many major changes to the interior. There are still two separate bar areas to which they have added a slew of big-screen HDTVs for your sports viewing pleasure, including a 70-inch behemoth upstairs. Initially, the concept was to separate the two areas into Big 10 football watching on one floor and SEC on the other, but the last couple of times I've visited there wasn't enough of a crowd to warrant opening and staffing the upstairs area. It is available for private luncheon or party rental, and I'm sure both bars are hopping when there are major games on.

I'm not gonna lie to you, the bar and wait staff are also really attractive. Call me an objectifier, but I wasn't the one who hired and clothed them in those catsuits. If that sort of thing bothers you but you still want some tasty hot wings, Hooters is right up the street.

Anyhoo, the staff has always been very attentive, and service is efficient enough to get you in and out in an hour before a sporting event or downtown show. The menu is short but well-executed. Wings are available in both "Right WIng" and "Left Wing" varieties, with the former being more traditional spicy Buffalo-style and the latter featuring a garlic-honey barbecue sauce. To appease those Big 10 fans, Benchmark also offers a unique batter-fried cheese curd plate served with horseradish ranch dressing. It's better than it sounds.

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In addition to the traditional nachos, burgers, chicken sandwiches and hot dogs that you would expect at a sports bar, Benchmark also features a selection of specialty skewers.

I've sampled several of the skewer plates and can report that all of them were perfectly cooked and expertly seasoned. You have a choice of grilled chicken, marinated steak, shrimp, vegetables or tofu as well as a "Skewer of the Day" special.

I do have to admit that the presentation of these skewers is a bit overdone. Well, actually it's silly. They come to your table with the sides of rice and grilled vegetables on a full-size plate sitting on top of a cast-iron ring that is attached to a 2-foot-tall crook with three hooks on the front of it. Hanging off of these hooks (which are right at eye-level, by the way) are one to three sharp skewers dangling over the pilaf. This humongous claw is quite literally, overwrought, as in iron.

But once you deconstruct the post-modern Erector Set construction and enjoy the individual elements of the dish, I still recommend the skewers. Just have a sense of humor about it and some pity for the poor soul in the kitchen who has to wash all of those monstrosities.

Benchmark Sports Bar is open seven days a week with live music most nights and Trivia Night on Tuesday. Check it out and report back in the comments, as always. Just remember to wear your safety goggles around that iron claw.

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