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World Sports Grille aims to be a cut above a sports bar

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 11. 2013 2:13AM
Head Chef Patrick Ogle, Event Sales Manager Wendy Colby Fisher and Bar Manager Keith Hammond pose outside the new World Sports Grille at the former location of Jillian's in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - A Nevada-based company is taking sports bars upscale.

The World Sports Grille opened last week in the Millyard building off Granite Street that had been home to Jillian's, a popular national chain of sports bars featuring billiards and other games.

While staying true to its origins as a sports bar, WSG wants to be more than a place to grab a beer and burger while catching a game on one of many big-screen televisions. Beer and burgers are still very much a part of the scene, but the customers' options go well beyond draught or bottle and what kind of cheese to choose.

"We felt that the marketplace was looking for a casual environment that offered really good food and an outstanding selection of speciality craft beers and spirits," said Darren Des Roches, an area director of Reno, Nev.-based GameWorks LLC.

GameWorks is the corporate parent to about a half dozen Jillian's, two of which have been rebranded and revamped as the World Sports Grille. The first transition was last fall in Seattle, and Manchester made the transition last week, quietly welcoming dinner patrons and greeting them with a menu unlike anything they ever saw at Jillian's.

"I would say about three-quarters of the people that came in were expecting Jillian's," WSG co-manager Wendy Colby Fisher said. "It is such a change from what Jillian's was to what we are now."

The concept is a "gastropub," a term recognized in the dictionary as a bar or tavern offering high-quality meals. WSG has also beefed up the beverage lineup with dozens of speciality craft beers and an array of upscale liquor more commonly found in fine restaurants than a bar full of hockey fans catching the game on one of dozens of big-screen televisions.

"Some of these products are only offered at places that you might go to for a special occasion," Colby Fisher said. "We want to offer these products in a comfortable environment where you can come down and you can have a plate of wings and a really good beverage."

Assistant General Manager Tim Murphy handpicked about 30 speciality beers available by bottle, chilled or at room temperature for the connoisseur who believes a finely crafted brew has no business being refrigerated like some common megabrew. Some are imported, but the extensive list also includes a few more local selections like the Smuttynose Robust Porter, brewed in New Hampshire.

Murphy also took his appreciation of fine whiskey and created another extensive selection of Scotches, bourbons and a handful of American whiskeys that have their own unique qualities to separate them from the mainstream.

There are 14 Scotches, six of them the less-expensive blend variety, and a choice of eight single malts for the high-end Scotch aficionado. Murphy also selected 15 kinds of bourbon and upgraded the wine list offered under Jillian's.

WSG hired Concord native Patrick Ogle as the chef, setting him loose to come up with a menu tailored to New England and the Manchester market in particular. WSG still offers some of the regular sports-bar fare, but with a twist here and there that Ogle hopes will establish WSG as something much more than traditional.

"Even our burgers and wings and what you would consider most classic bar food is still kicked up a notch," he said.

Aesthetically, the place still appears much like it did as Jillian's, including the rows of signature billiards tables that have always been a big draw. But the video games are gone, providing a noticeable change in ambience, and a newly installed room houses four dart boards separated by lanes ready for league play or just a friendly game. Keeping with the high-end approach, the boards are made of cork, and the darts have steel tips - not plastic.

"We want to keep with the sports viewing. We're known for that," Colby Fisher said. "We just want to do it better than everybody else in a very relaxed environment."

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