CHAPEL HILL – March Madness is officially under way in Chapel Hill, with the Tar Heels set to begin ACC Tournament play Friday night—and across town, local restaurants and sports bars are preparing for a big weekend.

“We’re definitely looking for a crowd,” says Patrick Cowden, the executive chef at the new Tobacco Road Sports Café at East 54. “We’re adding a few extra seats, definitely having a nice full staff ready to take on anybody who wants to come and spend the day watching ACC basketball…

“We’ve got over 50 TVs, (so) any kind of tournament, any kind of game you want to see, we’ll definitely have it on.”

Tobacco Road has other locations in the Triangle, but this is the first ACC tourney for its new home in Chapel Hill.

And while the staff at Tobacco Road gets ready for its first ACC tournament experience, longtime institutions like Top of the Hill on Franklin Street are gearing up as well.

“What’s interesting about the ACC tourney is, you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” says Top of the Hill proprietor Scott Maitland. “Because it’s spring break, it gets a little bit of a different crowd than we normally would for a game–but it’s something that we definitely have to stay flexible on and prepare for big crowds.”

The ACC tourney provides a sizable economic boost for local businesses like Topo and Tobacco Road, though the NCAA tournament tends to be an even bigger moneymaker. Still, it’s going to be an exciting weekend—especially with St. Patrick’s Day falling on Sunday.

“We’ll definitely have our Irish on for the weekend–plenty of corned beef and cabbage and reubens and Guinness in the house as well,” says Cowden. (So if you happen to have any Carolina green gear, now’s the time to pull it out.)

The Tar Heels begin their run through the ACC Friday night at 9:00 pm. It’s ACC quarterfinal day: WCHL will broadcast all four games from the Greensboro Coliseum, beginning with pregame coverage at 11:00 a.m. before Miami takes on Boston College at noon. At 5:00 Ron Stutts and Art Chansky will be live from Bailey’s Sports Grille for a special one-hour edition of Countdown to Tipoff, presented by Harrington Bank.