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March 23, 2019

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Our hometown hockey pub: MacKenzie River Pizza is Golden Knights central

VGK Fans at MacKenzie River Pizza

Steve Marcus

Fans chant “Go Knights Go!” as they watch a live broadcast of the Vegas Golden Knights against the Pittsburgh Penguins at MacKenzie River Pizza, a bar and grill inside the teams practice facility at City National Arena, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. From left: Jim Canada, Bryan Cannon, and David Byer.

The Las Vegas Valley is absolutely littered with sports bars, lively places you can find your fellow fans and cheer for just about any pro team in existence — that old adage that Las Vegans all come from some other city is still largely true, and we bring our home teams along with us.

Of course, these days we have a real home team — a winning one — and naturally plenty of local sports bars have adopted the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s all part of the community coming together to support its first major league professional sports franchise, an exciting movement that deserves to be described as a phenomenon.

Unless the Knights are at home and you’ve got tickets to T-Mobile Arena, it’s tough to find a more uniquely electric atmosphere to watch the game than MacKenzie River Pizza. The restaurant and bar is located on the second floor at the $30 million City National Arena, the Golden Knights’ practice facility and headquarters in Downtown Summerlin.

The arena is a home-away-from-home for the players, and fans are starting to feel the same way about the cozy tavern upstairs. If you want to get a table or even a seat at the bar during a Golden Knights game, plan to arrive at the pub at least a few hours before the puck drops.

VGK Fans at MacKenzie River Pizza

Fans chant Launch slideshow »

“We started out pretty busy but gradually, the crowds during games have gotten bigger,” says MacKenzie River General Manager Jason Anderson. “We don’t have outside signage or anything like that so we rely totally on word-of-mouth. First people started coming to the team’s practices and finding their way here, then we were only really busy during away games. But now it’s packed no matter what, and things are just continuing to get crazier.”

Anderson was working in a fine dining restaurant across the street, T-bones Chophouse at the Red Rock Resort, when he heard about the hockey happenings coming to Downtown Summerlin. Bill Foley, the owner of the Golden Knights and the Montana-based Glacier Restaurant Group that includes the MacKenzie River Pizza chain, was a frequent guest at T-bones.

“It was a combination of the NHL side of things and seeing Mr. Foley come in at Red Rock and seeing what he was all about, and being a part of something brand new that the community could get excited about,” Anderson says. “And coming from the Midwest — I was born in Wisconsin — the hockey element was appealing to me. I think it was something to gravitate to for a lot of people in Las Vegas.”

The hockey pub definitely is a force of gravity. Every seat in the expansive dining room and around the rectangular bar offers great views of several hi-def TV screens, and the seats along both sides look over City National Arena’s twin ice rinks. The restaurant cranks the volume when the Knights are on those screens, but you still can’t hear the game when the home team scores and the capacity crowd erupts. Chants of “Go Knights Go!” come next, just like at home games at T-Mobile.

The most popular game-time dishes and drinks are massive plates of Cowboy Nachos, Good Ol’ Boy (pepperoni) and MacKenzie River (veggie) pizzas and the made-in-Henderson Golden Nites Bohemian Pilsner from Lovelady Brewing. “That always turns into our top selling beer on game nights,” Anderson says.

It’s a popular place to work, too, as the staff hasn’t seen much turnover since opening in early September—a rare feat for a new restaurant. It’s all hands on deck for game-night crowds, but the MacKenzie River team seems to have found its groove, and just in time. With more youth hockey programs, adult leagues and other events filling up the rinks at the arena, the restaurant is busier than ever.

And the more time you spend hanging out at this friendly neighborhood sports bar, the more chance you have of running into one of the Golden Knights, who spend a lot of time at the arena and restaurant when they’re not on the ice. “A lot of them will hang around after practice or go skating with their families and then pop in and have a pizza. You can bump into anyone any time,” says Anderson.