I’m no hockey fan, but I had a great time watching the Blackhawks suddenly steal the Stanley Cup in Boston last week. Maybe it was because the end of the game was so exciting, or maybe it was because I watched it on a giant screen over a plate of roast beef and horseradish sliders and a refreshing cocktail of Belvedere pink grapefruit, ginger beer and absinthe. These activities are commonplace at the Ainsworth, a slick yet cozy sports bar at the Hard Rock Hotel.
With all the changes at the Hard Rock in recent years, it was easy to miss the addition of this small, cool venue last fall. It’s pinched into the casino corner near Vinyl. The décor is dark and inviting, lots of chocolate-colored wood embedded with TV screens and slightly industrial chandeliers hanging overhead. There are portraits of a young Michael Jackson shooting hoops near the bar. In afternoons and evenings—and during the day when it’s football season—the Ainsworth is all about catching the game over some bites and sips, but later, DJs plug in and a party-lounge vibe arrives.
Beer is usually the focus at sports bars, and you can certainly find the brew of your choice at this one, but there are curious cocktails to choose from, too, starting with the aforementioned Blind Stud: vodka with fresh lime and sour with splashes of ginger beer and absinthe to punch up the flavors. The Ainsworth’s namesake drink mixes Ketel One with Grand Marnier and Cointreau for a rich sip, and a spicy margarita gets its heat from fresh jalapeño, plus a savory complement of a smoked salt rim. (All these drinks are $15.)
The food menu at the Ainsworth isn’t surprising, but the deliciousness might catch you off guard. Crunchy, addictive tuna mini-tacos ($16) are packed with fresh fish mixed with red onion and scallions in a spicy red chili vinaigrette, cooled by generous dollops of guacamole. There are Buffalo wings and a hearty chicken quesadilla, a couple salads and three different slider selections—I recommend those hot roast beef, cheddar and horseradish cream mini-sandwiches, assembled on pretzel rolls ($12). For a bigger appetite, opt for a full-size burger, a turkey club sandwich or herb-roasted chicken ($18) with mashed potatoes and gravy.
It’s not really a restaurant and it’s much more than a sports bar. The Ainsworth operates in that nice space in between party and dinner, which adds up to casual, customizable fun.
The Ainsworth. Hard Rock Hotel, 522-8120. Monday-Wednesday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Thursday, noon-2 a.m.; Friday, noon-3 a.m.; Saturday, noon-4 a.m.; Sunday, noon-midnight.