The Happiest Hours

photos/Chris Busby

121 Center St., Portland


Football fans can argue about a lot of things. For example, I’d argue that Drew Bledsoe was traded to the Bills years ago in a secret plot to sabotage the Patriots’ AFC East rivals. Others would argue otherwise. They’d be wrong.

But there’s one point no local football fan can debate: Asylum is the best place in town to watch the Sunday afternoon games.

It’s easy to forget Asylum is a sports bar as well as a music venue. Asylum’s nighttime identity as a dance club and concert hall overshadows its less rockin’ side. Fans like me count on this to get a seat come 1 o’clock Sunday. But as a journalist, it’s my professional duty to spill the beans.

Free food. (OK, I said it.) Asylum is giving away free food on Sundays. You have to be a paying customer to partake of the buffet, but with great beer specials every week, that’s not hard to bear. Today it was $3 pints of Geary’s and Coors cans and drafts about as cheap as tap water – fittingly so, given this mass-produced brew’s weak taste and alcohol content. (Drink local.)

Dare I say the free wings are delicious? Or that the free pizza is tasty? Or even mention the presence of free beef tacos with all the fixin’s? And free doughnuts? Too late. Now you know.

Asylum has the NFL Sunday Ticket satellite sports package, and enough televisions to show every game – including three big-screen TVs for the most popular match-ups. The trick is to arrive early enough to secure a seat in front of the tube showing your team’s contest, though Asylum is rarely so packed you can’t get a good angle on the action that matters in your world.

In addition to the free food, there are prizes and toys. Over the seasons, I’ve accumulated a dresser-drawer’s worth of halftime (free) raffle winnings: beer and liquor company t-shirts, can coolies, and a funky, floppy green hat I never wear. Every table has a plastic megaphone and a clapping device made of three little plastic hands. I broke a hand off this afternoon in a fit of exuberance brought on by a Bills scoring drive – and in so doing, apparently jinxed the team, handing a victory to the Jets fans who outnumbered and surrounded me with their moronic chanting: “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” (Congratulations, spelling-bee champs!)

I could have structured this review like the recent reviews of Bleachers and Rivalries, listing Asylum’s strengths and weaknesses as a sports bar. But there are no weaknesses to report, and the strengths are obvious and overpowering. There may be better Buffalo wings at other bars, but there are none cheaper than free. There may be slightly better beer specials, but why quibble over quarters when the beer comes with, again, a big buffet of free food! 

You drink cheap beer; you eat free wings, pizza and tacos; and then the friendly and attentive staff showers you with prizes while you play with the clappy toys. There is no argument. Asylum rules. And Bledsoe’s still on the Pats’ payroll!


— Chris Busby


Asylum is open Mon. from 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m., Wed. from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. from 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. and Sun. from 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.

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