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Spirit of 66 sports bar honors historic team

Gaby Velasquez

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of the term “sports bar” is a murky, grimy venue with a billiards table in the corner and the lingering smell of cigarettes.

But a new El Paso bar is looking to change the stereotype of grubby sports bars.

Located near the corner of Cincinnati Avenue and Mesa Street is Spirit of 66. A new sports boutique bar that caters to people of all ages and backgrounds. Spirit of 66 is unlike any other bar on Cincinnati Avenue. Immediately guests are greeted with televisions playing ESPN throughout the bar and surrounded by priceless sports memorabilia that decorate the walls and ceilings. True to its name, a Texas Western neon sign glows throughout the building.

Spirit of 66 is founded on the grounds of reliving the 1966 Texas Western national basketball championship. Among the other sports and teams that are showcased in the bar, none stand out like the memorabilia honoring the local championship team.  Also in the facility is a must-see mural of legendary head coach Don Haskins, painted by former El Paso Times cartoonist Nacho Garcia.

Inspired by her grandfather, who used to take her to UTEP basketball games, Isabel Salcido opened the bar because she understood the importance of the 1966 basketball team and believs that by opening this bar, it fully celebrates the historic team.

“I’m an alumni of UTEP and I wanted to make sure I brought some rich El Paso history into my next El Paso business venture,” said Salcido, who also owns Barfly on the Eastside. “I wanted to bring forth a business with a purpose, and the purpose is to share the rich history of 1966 with all ages of people and for them to revive the history of the team.”

With the national championship victory over Kentucky, Texas Western became the first team to start five African-American players in a championship game and still today is the only men’s basketball team in Texas to win a national championship.

“He (her grandfather) would always tell me about this game—the 1966 championship game,” Salcido said. “He told me, ‘this is the game that changed the game.’ It always resonated with me and since this is close to UTEP, I wanted to tie it all together and deliver this.”

In fact, the location adds to the purpose of the sports bar. General manager Normando Bustamante believes that by its location and theme, the bar will be an incentive for UTEP students and the UTEP community.

“We understand what the name Spirit of 66 holds and we know how important it is to this city. Creating this concept is bringing (head coach) Don Haskins’ legacy back to life,” Bustamante said. “We welcome everyone and we understand we will get a lot of UTEP alumni and UTEP students.”

Unlike the other sports bars that cater predominately to males, more specifically older men, Spirit of 66 prides themselves in their gender-neutral ambiance. It doesn’t feel like a bar for a focused group, but rather a bar that anyone can go to.

“Walking in you see all the colors and the colors pop out at you,” Bustamante said. “People have this misconception of sports bars being very dark, dirty, musky, very masculine, but when you step into the Spirit of 66, you right away see everything pop out at you. It’s a great environment.”

By day, the bar is inviting to day-to-day workers to stop by during their lunch break and eat while watching sports. Also, according to Bustamante, the bar hopes to be a stop before families make their way to the Miner game right across the street. During the day at Spirit of 66, the lights are bright, the music is dropped and the delightful food is not your typical bar grub. 

By night, the bar aims to attract the Cincinnati-goers and help them to enjoy the night at their bar. Spirit of 66 turns down their lights, cranks up their music and opens up their back patio for all to enjoy. There’s plenty of standing and sitting room about the bar and they feature different drink specials depending on the night.

“My goal is to see us succeed as a business and thrive in this area. Even though we aren’t technically on Cincinnati, we’re part of the Cincinnati neighborhood. If we are able to thrive, they are able to thrive, so it’s going to be us working together to help Cincinnati to grow,” said Salcido. “We want to help El Paso grow as a place like Austin, where they have Sixth Street.”

Now that their doors are open, Bustamante’s only promise to his customers, or clients as he formally addresses them as, is that the bar’s efforts and mission will wow them.

“They’re going to be very surprised to what they’re going to see—the staff, the ambiance, the food, the drinks,” Bustamante said. “It’s going to be a very personal feel, something that’s going to touch them a lot.”

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About the Contributors
Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor
Adrian Broaddus is the sports editor for The Prospector. He is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in political science.   Adrian was born and raised in El Paso, TX, and is a graduate of Franklin high school. He entered college in the fall of 2015 in hopes to better his career in journalism.   Along with sports, Adrian enjoys writing music reviews, perspective columns and news stories on politics.   Although he is pursuing his degree in journalism, Adrian would like to go to law school and be an attorney while doing part-time work in journalism.  
Gaby Velasquez, Photo editor
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Spirit of 66 sports bar honors historic team