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What’s the best bar in the South? Raleigh’s Players Retreat could win the title.

At The Players’ Retreat, a sports bar in Raleigh, N.C. State fans, from left, Joe Zaborowski, Brian Schilling, Joe Kasperski and Matt Kasperski, celebrate the Wolfpack’s 66-63 victory over Georgetown in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 18, 2012.
At The Players’ Retreat, a sports bar in Raleigh, N.C. State fans, from left, Joe Zaborowski, Brian Schilling, Joe Kasperski and Matt Kasperski, celebrate the Wolfpack’s 66-63 victory over Georgetown in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 18, 2012. tiwabu@newsobserver.com

Update: The Players’ Retreat could bring a championship to the Triangle.

In a blowout, not a buzzer-beater, Raleigh’s beloved PR defeated The Griffon of Charleston, S.C., to advance to the finals of Garden & Gun’s bracket of the South’s favorite bar. The Hillsborough Street institution is most closely aligned with NC State, but bragging rights for best bar could be a source of pride for the entire region.

Garden & Gun set up a favorite bar bracket at the start of March Madness, leaving it to voters to pick the winner in each matchup. In the final, the venerable PR faces Callaghan’s Irish Social Club of Mobile, Ala.

Voting ends Thursday, April 4, at midnight, with votes allowed once per hour. Unlike previous rounds, however, the current score is kept hidden.

To vote visit gardenandgun.com/extras/southern-bar-bracket/.

Original story published Friday, March 29.

Duke and UNC are still dancing, but Raleigh bar the Players’ Retreat already has reached a different kind of Final Four.

The PR, as it’s affectionately known, is one of four bars still standing in Garden & Gun magazine’s bar bracket searching out the South’s Favorite Bar. It’s the only North Carolina bar remaining.

It started with 32 of the South’s most cherished drinking spots, from dives with hearts of gold, temples to craft beer and cocktail bars, whittled down over the last week to four favored local landmarks.

They are the Players’ Retreat versus The Griffon in Charleston, S.C.; and the Bluegrass Tavern in Lexington, Ky., versus Callaghan’s Irish Social Club in Mobile, Ala.

In the bar battle of the Carolinas, the PR’s foe The Griffon is a proper pub tucked away in a dead-end alley in the middle of Charleston’s most touristy blocks.

So far the PR has bested bars from Memphis, Florida and South Carolina, including the much-hyped Bar at Husk in Charleston, a destination for bourbon lovers.

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In a different part of the bracket, Chapel Hill’s The Crunkleton defeated San Antonio’s The Esquire Tavern in the first round but lost to Old Hickory Whiskey Bar from Pensacola, Fla., in the next round. The Griffon represents this bracket.

Beth Littlejohn, chef at Players’ Retreat, said beating Husk was a joyous surprise.

“I was very nervous,” Littlejohn said. “Originally we were happy just to get out of the first round, but I didn’t think it was possible to beat a place like Husk. I underestimated the power of our clientele and the PR family.”

Since 1951, the Hillsborough Street haunt has nursed a thousand Wolfpack heartbreaks and toasted the handful of NC State triumphs. It self-proclaims its shelves as North Carolina’s deepest bench for Scotch varieties, but you can always count on a $2 PBR.

As of Friday afternoon, the Players’ Retreat was ahead and surging, starting the day a few percentage points behind, but carrying a 7-percentage point lead into the evening.

Littlejohn said PR owner Richard “Gus” Gusler has been in Europe during all this March Madness, but that he’s been calling every few days to make sure everyone is voting.

Littlejohn, herself, said she has voted at least 100 times throughout the contest.

Fans can vote once per hour on the magazine’s website at gardenandgun.com. Voting for the fourth round ends Monday, April 1, at 12 midnight and could send the PR into the finals, which begins the morning of April 2.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.


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