The NFL’s reputation as the “No Fun League” was bolstered yet again when word got out last month that tailgating would be banned at MetLife Stadium ahead of this year’s Super Bowl. Fortunately for area visitors, host city East Rutherford, New Jersey’s 258th most populated municipality, is a hotbed of hospitality, and we’ve spent several whole minutes online tracking down the very best venue for would-be tailgaters to take in the big game—East Rutherford’s hottest bar with a sight line of the stadium: Chili’s, on Route 17.
“It’s about making people feel special,” said General Manager Tyler Russoman, when asked the secret to his location’s success. As for game day, he hinted at all-day happy-hour prices, but unlike Super Bowl III hero Joe Namath, he would make no guarantees. He added, “We’re obviously staffing up and making sure we have enough food and people and alcohol and all that.”
Next Sunday promises to be the culmination of a half-lifetime’s worth of work for Mr. Russoman. From Livingston, N.J., the 34-year-old has been with Chili’s for 16 years, ever since he was a snot-nosed freshman, studying restaurant and hotel management at Farleigh Dickinson University. For now, he’s just trying to keep a level head.
“We’re hearing different stories,” he said. “Some people are saying, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be the busiest time of your life, and you’re gonna get crushed.’ And then I got other people saying, ‘Oh, well, you know, it might not be as busy as what’s expected.’”
However many people turn out, no one should be surprised if there ends up being a celeb sighting or two. “We do get celebrities, although now it’s more of the veterans and the old-timers,” said the general manager, citing ex-Giants Sean Landeta, Stephen Baker and Ottis Anderson. Alas, “[Jets quarterback] Mark Sanchez goes to the other Chili’s I used to work at in East Hanover.”
Mr. Russoman has been at East Rutherford’s Chili’s for about a year. In that time, he has overseen a complete overhaul of the management and staff, he says. Many regulars have applauded his tenure: “I love their new sparkling pomegranate margaritas,” raves Yelp user Theresa V., from Rutherford. But there are still some who have yet to be won over: “I feel like this place changed,” writes Yelper Ashley G., from Kearny.
“There are always changes. It’s a restaurant,” Mr. Russoman bristled. Then again, he insisted there was one thing that would never change: what the locals order. “We always stick to our core items and our core culture,” he said. “This is the place you go for ribs and fajitas.”
At this point in the conversation, we confessed that we had never actually tried Chili’s famous baby back ribs. Mr. Russoman practically hung up the phone. “What the hell you waiting for?” he scolded. “They’re really good!”