During the Loyola men’s basketball team’s remarkable run to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, Rambler fever was evident throughout the nation as people rallied behind the Cinderella story of March Madness.
The fever certainly swept through Rogers Park and Edgewater, as local establishments such as Bar 63 and Bulldog Ale House became hot spots for game watch parties, producing some of the most memorable scenes from Loyola’s run.
The rapid rise in customers resulted in a big rise in profits. The restaurant saw a 30 percent increase in profits on game days, according to Bulldog general manager Michael Blaha. The restaurant was packed before each game.
“It was shoulder-to-shoulder. There was certainly no room, there were no tables, everything was filled,” junior Paul Witry, 21, said about the scene at Bulldog for Loyola’s second round game against Tennessee. “You could barely turn around, there was so many people packed in watching it on the TVs.”
Bulldog — which is known as the “official game day headquarters sponsor of Loyola Athletics” — had to make special preparations for such a large event. Those preparations included switching from silverware to plasticware, working a full staff including four bartenders and putting an employee at the door to make sure the restaurant didn’t go over capacity.
A huge line spilled out of the restaurant and down the road. People had to get in line by noon if they wanted to secure a spot in the restaurant for Loyola’s Final Four game against Michigan, which tipped off at 5:09 p.m.
Blaha credited the increase in customers mainly to the new addition of people from the suburbs and elsewhere outside Rogers Park who jumped on the Rambler bandwagon.
“That’s the difference. We’re seeing a hike, not just from residents, not just from alumni, not just from students, but from people that are actually outside wanting to come join in on the festivities,” Blaha said.
Another new variable Bulldog had to account for was the addition of television cameras. As Loyola’s story grew with each tournament victory, local news stations began showing up to the establishment to capture the excitement of the community.
The restaurant became a mouthpiece for Rambler fans to the outside world. Fans gave interviews, and videos of the frenzied reactions to Loyola wins at the restaurant — whether they were taken by fans or news cameras — wound up on national television.
“It’s great to see the workers have a chance to be on TV. It’s good to see that Loyola’s getting their recognition and we get to facilitate a spot where the fans can communicate with the media and the rest of the nation,” Blaha said.
Loyola’s 69-57 loss in the national semifinal to Michigan signaled the end of the Ramblers’ 2018 season and the end of the frenzy on Sheridan Road.
Bulldog will look to next season, hoping more Rambler success brings customers its way.