Sweetwater tops Rock Hill SC restaurant, sports bar bracket
If there’s a sport playing in front of a network or cable video camera, it’s probably transmitted directly to Lake Wylie.
On the home side of SC 49, a few hills from the lake, is a restaurant and bar started by avid bikers. Yet it has always been a place for families, like the community itself where enrollment in the Clover School District is growing year over year as people move into newer and newer subdivisions.
“We’ve just been so lucky to have such a great community behind us,” said Chris Lorusso, Managing Partner of Sweetwater Sports Bar & Grill. “The area has developed insanely over the past few years, so that has certainly helped.”
Sweetwater has over 30 televisions. It has all the sports packages available that its owners could satellite or broadcast. On a typical day, a lunch or dinner customer can see a golf tournament, basketball game, sports show, and football clip without having to turn left or right to order. .
“We really try to be as diverse as possible in showing sports, whatever people might want to watch,” Lorusso said.
Then there are the atypical days. Maybe the men or women of the United States have a World Cup soccer game. Maybe it’s the NBA Finals or the World Series. Pretty much anytime, the Carolina Panthers game will do for the gathering place just south of Charlotte.
“We are definitely playing for the football season,” Lorusso said.
This weekend brings a gift for Sweetwater.
The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments had been scheduled for a long time, but recent games have brought some pretty tantalizing matchups. Rivals Duke and North Carolina, both with eager fanbases in the region, will meet on Saturday – for the first time in an NCAA tournament game. And Larusso thought last Saturday was busy.
“It will definitely be an eventful day,” Lorusso said.
On the women’s side, South Carolina will play its last round on Friday. Championship matches will follow for the women on Sunday, the men on Monday.
According to at least one account, Sweetwater may be the best place to catch these games.
Hardwood Hotspot Rack
The Herald asked readers a fairly simple question. Where’s the best place to grab a bite or a drink and watch some sports? The sports bars were working. Restaurants with televisions worked. A bowling alley and a pool hall were on the list. The Herald took reader feedback and created a group of 16 teams, then gave readers the whole month to go online and pick their favorites.
A highly unscientific seeding system that considered reader input, number of locations in three counties, and other details placed Sweetwater in 9th place. The first-round game was No. 8 Lake Wylie Bowl N’ Bounce.
Sweetwater topped its cross-community opponent with 84% of the vote. The next round, Sweetwater drew No. 1 Towne Tavern. In the tightest contest of the quarter-final round, Sweetwater beat the restaurant group with locations in Fort Mill, Rock Hill, York and Indian Land by a count of 52% to 48%. The home-and-away game was the second straight upset for Sweetwater, with two more to come.
The semi-final saw Sweetwater take on tournament sweetheart and No. 13 R&B Pub House in York. Sweetwater got 55% of the vote to advance to the final.
The final saw more online votes cast than the previous rounds combined. There were 28,572 votes cast when Sweetwater took on Rock Hill’s No. 6 Burgers & Barley. Several times over the past day, both restaurants got half the votes. In the end, Sweetwater took the lead with 52%. Sweetwater garnered nearly 15,000 votes in the last round alone.
Taste of fresh water
Lorusso’s father, Steve, decided to bring a restaurant concept to the building he and Mad Dog Custom Cycles owned over a decade ago. What started as Wylie Gators became Sweetwater. The restaurant grew in popularity and parking, at one point buying the former Checkers drive-thru restaurant site next to Sweetwater just for the extra space.
Chris Lorusso has been involved since 2011. There are now around 70 employees, many of whom have been there for years. There is an outdoor patio with televisions which has just been screened. The place is as famous now for its Southwestern chopped salads as it is for its drinks or bar food.
The burgers are handmade and cooked to order. Many menu items and sauces are prepared by hand.
“We just do comfort food really well,” Lorusso said. “We don’t have anything too extravagant on the menu, nothing you haven’t heard of before. We just do it carefully, with consistency.
The recent run through the Hardwood bracket shows a strong fanbase, but Sweetwater Sports Bar & Grill isn’t alone. Most restaurants or bars still open after the COVID pandemic have had their supporters. Lorusso said it was a confusing time to go from the status quo to takeout or outside only, or 10 feet away, and then slowly return to normal.
“The last two years have definitely been the toughest times in this industry,” Lorusso said. “But again, without the support of this community, I’m not sure we would have made it.”
Sweetwater is trying to do her part. When the Panthers held a Super Bowl a few years ago, the restaurant held a kick-off event with giveaways. Sweetwater employs many local high school or college students, to further promote the family atmosphere.
For his part, Lorusso takes what, in some situations, might seem like a fair-weather fanatic approach. For him, it’s just good business. Duke or Caroline? Home or road team? Underdog or big favourite? For Lorusso, it’s all about hospitality.
“I encourage whoever the guest encourages at that time,” he said.
Want to go?
NCAA basketball tournaments still have plenty of action with local interest. There are four teams remaining in the men’s and women’s Division I tournaments. The women hold the semifinals on Friday and the championship on Sunday. The men play the semi-finals on Saturday and their championship on Monday.
Here, according to ncaa.comare the matches that will decide the parentheses:
▪ Women’s semifinal, South Carolina vs. Louisville, 7 p.m. Friday
▪ Women’s semifinal, Stanford vs Connecticut, 9:30 p.m. Friday
▪ Men’s semifinal, Villanova vs. Kansas, 6:09 p.m. Saturday
▪ Men’s semifinal, North Carolina vs. Duke, 8:49 p.m. Saturday
▪ Women’s final, Sunday 8 p.m.
▪ Men’s final, 9:20 p.m. Monday
This story was originally published March 31, 2022 5:02 p.m.