Locals celebrate March Madness at Cape Fear bars

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WILMINGTON & LELAND, NC (WWAY) — Men and women around the Cape Fear enjoyed loosened COVID-19 restrictions for the first time, watching the NCAA Tournament at local bars.

Crowds started off steady Friday afternoon, but just before the UNC Chapel Hill/Wisconsin game, crowds quickly grew.

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“I absolutely love it,” said Fox and Hound general manager, Shawn Higham.  “You know, the past year has been an absolute nightmare. And just being able to see people come back into the restaurant and enjoy themselves and have fun, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

It’s a tradition long forgotten since the pandemic’s start, said Dan Curbelo, a New England transplant.

“It feels really good to get out,” said Curbelo. “You know, I feel like we were all captured in our houses. So it’s a good feeling to get outside.”

March Madness fans gathered at water holes like Local’s Tavern in Leland, cheering their teams on TV screens, chasing baskets with beers.

“You have the people who are running their brackets,” said Local’s manager, Dan Meltom. “You have the people who want to watch their hometown team that have moved in here locally. And of course, everybody wants to see…. the Heels.”

After a steady crowd for the Ohio State game upset, taverns quickly filled as many attempted to grab a seat at the bar for the big UNC and Wisconsin game.

“These kinds of sporting events…. you want to be around people that have similar likes,” said Higham. “Everybody plays off of each other. They just have a great time.”

But for some, tonight wasn’t about the games of the drinks. It was about the people they spent that time with, and the businesses they hoped to support.

“I lost my home in hurricane Florence. One year to the day prior, I lost my husband,” said Local’s Tavern bar goer, Vicky Zelenka. “If it wasn’t for the comradery here, the friends, the people here, They’re just wonderful. It’s like…. family.”

Win or lose, for the first time in a year, some people felt like Friday night was a win in itself.