Move over, Villanova — there’s a new bracket winner in town.
Gene’s Place, located on Louisa Street in Oakland, won the Barstool Pitt #PittMadness bracket challenge April 11, beating out student favorites like Mario’s South Side Saloon, Garage Door Saloon, Hemingway’s Cafe and Peter’s Pub — which came in second.
Originally seeded 10th, Barstool called Gene’s Place’s win a Cinderella story after winning the final round with more than half of the vote.
“[Gene’s Place] COMPLETES THE CINDERELLA STORY #PittMadness,” Barstool Pitt tweeted after the contest ended.
The cozy, wood-paneled bar narrowly beat Hofbrauhaus in the first round and edged out Hemingway’s in the second. Then it cruised past Mario’s before topping Peter’s in the final round.
To help promote the contest, the Gene’s Place Twitter adopted a sassy, sardonic tone, tweeting quips like, “Mario’s smokes the disgusting mids your friend stole from his older brother the summer after your freshman year” and “do you know how many [sic] hot dogs we’re gonna give out if we win this thing?” nodding to the bar’s tendency to give out free hot dogs.
“We were a bit tact in some of those tweets,” Gene Ney, the 55-year old eponymous owner of Gene’s Place said with a laugh.
Rich Anthony, a 29-year-old former employee at Gene’s, said the social media strategy is a representation of the humor from the people at the bar. But for this specific campaign, they were not going to make any ad hominem attacks, since it’s not in the bar’s character.
“We’re not gonna attack anybody’s business.” Anthony said. “That’s not good for anybody, especially the Oakland bars, because Gene has spent years building relationships with a lot of them.”
Although Gene’s Place took the top spot, Ney said that this is a win for Oakland bars everywhere, despite the tough competition from other neighborhoods.
“If you look at it, the win did not go to a South Side bar or some other community. It went to an Oakland bar, and it’s very much appreciated,” Ney said.
To celebrate the win, Gene’s is extending its Friday $1 well drink special by one hour and will serve free hot dogs Saturday along with a $1 well drink and shot special from 8-10 p.m.
According to Ney, the win has brought more new faces to the bar, making it more well-known to those in the Pitt community who often travel to other, larger bars.
“One of the things about this bar is that some of the things that make it good also hurt it. It’s on a side street, and there’s many people who home to Pitt and graduate never knew this bar was here,” Ney said.
Anthony added the bar’s loyal legion of regulars — some who started drinking at the bar during their undergraduate careers — helped drive Gene’s Place to its win.
“I think that the regulars at Gene’s are pretty passionate about the bar, and I think that’s what came into play,” Anthony said.
One of those regulars is Matt Smith, a senior finance and economics major who lives “30 steps from Gene’s.” He said he fell in love with the cheap beer and personable quality of the bar.
“Peter’s and Hem’s are always going to have kind of a domination on the drinking scene here — which is fine,” Smith said. “People who are smart, economical about it, they know where to go — and that’s definitely here.”
Though Thursday was her first night at the bar, Natalie Kiener, a senior supply chain major, saw its appeal.
“People like Gene’s because it’s cheap and cool, and I know it’s really popular for trivia,” she said, “It should be considered more cool.”
Jeff Hess, a 27-year-old bouncer at the bar, said that with this win, Gene’s Place has cemented its place as the Loyola University of Chicago of Oakland bars.
“We kind of are a black sheep,” Hess said. “We don’t have a dance floor, we don’t have the big club ceiling a lot of bars are going for. It’s more of a personal atmosphere.”
Shane Drennen, manager at Peter’s Pub and a 30-year-old Regent Square resident, considers Ney a friend. Despite the competition, there’s no hard feelings between the two bar workers.
“If it wasn’t us [who won], I wanted him to win, and I think he was probably feeling the same way,” Drennen said.
Despite the win and support, Ney remains humble about his small bar that has come a long way.
“I really appreciate it. I don’t know what to say. It’s unbelievable,” Ney said.
Zane Crowell and John Hamilton contributed reporting.