Game On

Where can you go to watch sports around town? Here’s the lineup.

By now, you’ve already seen evidence of football season’s pending arrival: Redskins jerseys and others surfacing despite the August heat; a suspicious number of friends cutting out of work early to attend fantasy drafts; and a seemingly endless array of Facebook posts from people about their favorite college teams.

But football isn’t the only game in town. Most area sports bars are year-round operations that push a lot more than pigskin. They’re also turning out killer crab cakes while showing dozens of NHL games (Crystal City Sports Pub); teaching newbies about European club soccer and how to smoke a hookah (Babylon Futbol Club); and trying to get fans to ignite their “Natitude” (Hard Times Café).

Even as seasons come and go, it’s the friendly, comfortable atmosphere that keeps the area’s legion of sports bars successful. Sure, fans can watch the game at home, but they’d rather do it together. “People come here because they like to meet with other friends and talk about soccer,” says Ed Makouar of Babylon FC in Falls Church.

Ramesh Chopra of Ballston’s First Down Sports Bar & Grill has witnessed a similar fervor among NFL fans.

“Even when it’s the Redskins, and they can watch it at home, people still come out,” he says. “It’s that energy…you can’t get that at home. You want to cheer on your team with other people.”

Here are some of the sports bars in our area that have cultivated their own fan bases.

Crystal City Sports Pub

The Sports Pub is a home-away-from-home for so many college football fans, it’s hard for manager-owner Jim Madden (no relation to NFL’s John Madden) to keep track. Followers of South Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, Ohio State, Washington, Auburn, Marshall, East Carolina and Arizona State all organize parties here—in official or unofficial capacities—for weekly games.

With three floors, 12,000 square feet and a whopping 97 high-definition TVs, the sports pub can accommodate all that and more, Madden says. For the most part, staff abstain from choosing sides; Saturday bartender Gary Gross even changes his shirt several times a day during college football Saturdays. (The self-proclaimed “T-shirt whore” promises to wear any team’s colors at a fan’s request, during their games.)

But the Sports Pub does make an effort to stay attuned to which rivals want to watch rivalry games together—and which ones don’t.

“Some groups go out of their way to do a co-game watch,” Madden says, citing the annual University of Washington vs. Washington State game. “Others make a point to reserve space on different floors.” (He’s talking about you, Iowa and Iowa State.)

529 S. 23rd St., Crystal City, 703-521-8215, www.ccsportspub.com

First Down Sports Bar & Grill

Anyone who thought the $2 beer was dead in the Washington region, take note. It lives on in Ballston, where happy hour at First Down includes $2 domestic beers daily until 8 p.m. The long bar snakes down some stairs and around a corner in the deceptively spacious hole-in-the-wall across from the Ballston Metro—a spot that owner Ramesh Chopra took over with his father, Vinod, in 2009.

With its maroon walls and framed ’Skins jerseys as décor, First Down is clearly Redskins territory. Like most bars in Northern Virginia, it also welcomes a healthy Virginia Tech contingent during football season. West Virginia and Michigan State fans also gather here.

But with 20 high-definition TVs, a bar menu (try the loaded nachos) and those beer specials, it has also become a neighborhood place, even for folks whose eyes aren’t glued to the gridiron.

“If you keep those prices competitive, even if it’s not for sports, you’re going to get people to come in and enjoy your bar,” says Chopra.

4213 N. Fairfax Drive, Ballston, 703-465-8888, www.firstdownsportsbar.com

Babylon Futbol Club

Babylon FC partner Ed Makouar grew up playing soccer in his native Morocco. He vowed to one day follow in the footsteps of his uncle, who helped build the empire that is now Casablanca’s Wydad Athletic Club—a premier Moroccan athletic franchise whose soccer team leads its portfolio.

Sitting in the lounge at Babylon with a Euro Cup game about to start, Makouar feels he’s made it. “This is, for me, like my stadium,” he says.

It is for others too, considering Babylon is now one of the more favored spots in the area for watching professional soccer. With 38 high-definition TVs and a huge screen for showing marquee games, it draws diverse crowds to watch everything from D.C. United to Barca to World Cup qualifier games.

The menu is equally international, featuring Latin, Ethiopian and Middle Eastern dishes in addition to traditional American pub fare. Hookahs, with an offering of traditional flavored tobaccos, are a prominent order along with food and drink.

But above all, the love of soccer—or, as many of its patrons are used to calling it, football—unites the restaurant’s clientele. “Whether they lose or win, it’s that moment when they’re playing, it’s the most important,” says Makouar, who’s a Barca fan. “We love it…we love it.”

3501 S. Jefferson St., Bailey’s Crossroads, 703-820-3900, babylonfc.com

 

Thirsty Bernie. Photo by Amy MooreThirsty Bernie Sports Bar and Grill

It was welcome news four years ago when North Arlington residents got wind of a sports bar opening on the corner of Lee Highway and Glebe Road. Until then, the area had suffered from a dearth of bars, compared with other parts of the county.

Given the local demographics, it’s no surprise that Thirsty Bernie is now the quintessential family-friendly sports bar. Dads stop in while their kids are in ballet class nearby, and whole families come to have dinner and watch games. The kitchen has responded by adding a kids’ menu with items like grilled cheese, plain pasta and chicken fingers. For the adults, there’s upscale bar food including house-made sausages, hangar steak salad and cured pastrami sandwiches.

Unlike many of its counterparts, Bernie’s doesn’t affiliate with any specific team. “We figured, we’re right in the middle of Washington, there’s fans of all the teams,” says Lisa Cedrone, general manager and bartender extraordinaire, as she pours drinks without having to ask and wishes a customer a belated happy birthday. “Why pin ourselves down?”

It seems to work, she adds. “One thing I’ve learned, you don’t talk about religion or politics, and you don’t give someone crap about their team.”

2163 N. Glebe Road, Arlington, 703-248-9300, www.thirstybernie.com

Dogwood Tavern

Every NFL Sunday at Dogwood begins with about 10 minutes of chaos as staffers simultaneously take down brunch orders, determine which teams’ fans are on the premises, arrange tables in front of TVs, and introduce people to their new friends, says manager Tammy Powell.

Although Dogwood is a Redskins bar, it routinely hosts other contingents, including fans of the Green Bay Packers, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets. “We’re always seeing who’s here, looking for green or blue jerseys,” says Powell, noting that patrons are encouraged to wear their gear on game days.

 There’s a bit of heckling (everyone has to put up with a little gloating if the Redskins actually score) but, generally, it’s a fun, good-natured atmosphere, she says. The bar plays the “Hail to the Redskins” fight song after every ’Skins touchdown—something that hasn’t happened too often over the years, jokes owner Chris Lefbom.

132 West Broad St., Falls Church, 703-237-8333, dogwoodtavern.com

Mister Day’s

When he opened the first Mister Day’s in D.C., Bobby Lee envisioned a Mister Day’s for sports fans and a Mister Night’s nightclub next door. Now, more than three decades later, his spot in Clarendon has melded the two concepts into one.

Clarendon’s flagship sports bar boasts too many TVs to count (Lee puts the total at “60-something”) as well as two projection screens available for big games. Sports fans come to watch games and then stay to party at night as the DJ or live musician takes the stage.

Mister Day’s is a Redskins bar (it runs a bus to all the home games), although on college football Saturdays it also draws big followings for Ohio State, Georgia Tech and Mizzou. The bar is also the go-to place to watch some big rivalries. Harvard-Yale and Army-Navy games pack the place.

To accommodate Clarendon’s sizable brunch crowd, the kitchen this fall is rolling out an expanded brunch menu, including several hash-brown-centric dishes prepared in various styles, as well as prime rib and eggs.

3100 Clarendon Blvd., Clarendon, 703-527-1600, www.misterdays.com

Grevey’s

This Falls Church institution, owned by former Washington Bullet Kevin Grevey, has a friendly, outgoing spirit that makes it easy to forget you’re in a strip mall on Route 50. Customers can watch games on the outdoor covered patio, or grab a booth equipped with their own personal screen. (Reservations are strongly recommended for those booths on big game days.)  

The happy-hour food specials are tough to beat: $1.95 for a loaded quarter-pound hot dog and full plate of fries; $3.95 for a burger; or $5.95 for a half pound of peel-and-eat shrimp.

In addition to having affiliations with D.C. teams and others that Grevey himself played for—the Milwaukee Bucks and the University of Kentucky among them—the bar has become a local hub for Buffalo Bills fans. According to bartender Patrick Dunnegan, hordes of jersey-clad Bills fans fill the front section, screaming and playing the team’s unofficial fight song, “Shout,” after every score.

8130 Arlington Blvd., Merrifield, 703-560-8530, www.greveys.com

 

The Greene Turtle. Courtesy of the Greene TurtleSpider Kelly’s

Longtime devotees of Spider Kelly’s remember when it was a gritty dive with little more than a few bar stools and really great burgers.

The burgers are still there (and they’re a steal on Tuesdays for half-price burger night), but the neighborhood watering hole has come a long way since it took over several adjacent storefronts and turned into an 8,000-square-foot multi-room bar, restaurant and late-night hangout.

Owners Nick Freshman and Nick Langman tend not to use the term “sports bar” as a descriptor for Spider’s. But with 31 high-definition TVs and three separate rooms, it’s a pretty good place to catch a game. The wait staff and bartenders strive to accommodate any customer’s request to tune into a specific match-up, and there are four separate sound zones, meaning fans can typically hear the play-by-play as they watch their sport of choice, says Freshman.

Which teams dominate the screens? Football fan favorites include the Redskins, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and to a lesser extent, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.

But for those who aren’t interested in watching the tube, there’s plenty else to do: one of the bar’s three areas is full of pool and shuffleboard tables, dart boards, and skee ball and basketball games.

3181 Wilson Blvd., Clarendon, 703-312-8888, www.spiderkellys.com

Velocity 5

Velocity 5 packed the house for World Cup events on the big screen in 2010, and the space has been a stopping point ever since—for sports fans and for those who simply enjoy a good pint.

The restaurant’s extensive covered patio is the place to be as fall’s cooler weather comes around. It can comfortably fit 200 people, and although the big screen is gone (something about it blocking other restaurants in the Courthouse Plaza) several TVs inside the restaurant face out from the bar’s wall of windows.

College fans who gather here include those rooting for Clemson, the University of Central Florida and Virginia Tech. Major soccer games and Caps games also tend to draw a crowd.

This year, the bar is offering a special stadium-themed bar menu during football games, with deals on hot pretzels, popcorn, nachos and other items specific to the game—such as cheesesteaks when the Redskins are playing the Eagles, says manager Peter Ciaramella.

2300 Clarendon Blvd., Courthouse (also has a Falls Church location at 8111 Lee Highway, Merrifield), 703-243-4900, www.velocity5.com

Hard Times Café

Hard Times Café has been a family favorite ever since it opened its first location in 1980. But it wasn’t until 2009 that the chili joint became a sports-watching destination in Clarendon. That’s when Hard Times turned the space above the restaurant into a sports-lover’s paradise, with 43 TVs and every cable sports package imaginable.

It already had one of the sports bar must-haves in its arsenal: signature chicken wings. Hard Times’ wings are finished on the grill after their buffalo sauce bath, minimizing the mess and adding a final, smoky touch, explains General Manager John Pecynski.

Hard Times has engendered lots of local sports loyalty: The bar bleeds orange and maroon for Virginia Tech; the Redskins get top billing on the biggest screens on NFL Sundays; and both the Washington Nationals and Capitals host fan events here.

3028 Wilson Blvd., Clarendon, 703-528-2233, www.hardtimes.com

The Greene Turtle

Having just opened its Arlington location in January, this new kid on the block has yet to experience football season in Ballston, although manager Jeremy Sundheimer says the bar has been prepping with basketball, soccer and the Olympics. The three-decades-old chain opened its first restaurant in Ocean City, Md., in 1976 and has since grown to 36 locations.

Because it’s located in Virginia Tech’s Arlington campus building, this particular Turtle outpost has a natural affiliation with Tech. The bartenders have even created a special VT-themed drink menu, with selections such as the “Beamer Bomb” (raspberry vodka, raspberry liquor and Red Bull), which is named after Tech head football coach Frank Beamer; the “Maroon Effect” (peach vodka, cranberry juice, tonic and lime) and the “Vick-tory”—a straight-up tequila shot named for now-infamous tech alum Michael Vick.

In addition to Hokies, there will be fan parties for University of Maryland and University of South Carolina games. As for the NFL, the Redskins will rule. The bar is also capitalizing on its proximity to the Washington Capitals practice arena to draw in Caps fans. (Some of the Caps themselves have already stopped by, Sundheimer says.)

In addition to appetizers such as wings (in 12 flavors) and pulled-pork sliders, the menu offers ribs, steak, pork chops and other hearty entrées.

900 Glebe Road, Ballston, 703-741-0901, www.thegreeneturtle.com

 

Also on the Roster

Courthouse

Arlington Rooftop Bar & Grill
2424 Wilson Blvd.
www.arlingtonrooftopbarandgrill.com
703-528-3030
The upscale bar above Delhi Dhaba and Subway offers TVs on the rooftop for outdoor sports viewing.

Ireland’s Four Courts
2051 Wilson Blvd.
703-535-3600
www.irelandsfourcourts.com
An Irish bar with followings for the Boston Red Sox, D.C. United and lots of international soccer games.

Ragtime
1345 N. Courthouse Road
703-243-4003
ragtimerestaurant.com
This go-to bar for West Virginia University fans offers different specials after every quarter of NFL games, using a “wheel of specials” that customers spin.

Rhodeside Grill
1836 Wilson Blvd.
703-243-0145
www.rhodesidegrill.com
The neighborhood bar is swarmed by Texas fans on college football Saturdays, in honor of the owner’s home state.

Summers
1520 N. Courthouse Road
703-528-8278
www.summers-restaurant.com
A large, no-frills bar catering to big soccer and college football crowds.

Clarendon

American Tap Room
3101 Wilson Blvd.
703-312-9080
www.americantaproom.com
The Arlington location offers a larger and more changing assortment of taps than its Reston and Bethesda counterparts.

O’Sullivan’s
3207 Washington Blvd.
703-812-0939
www.osullivansirishpub.com
Popular among soccer fans and lovers of live Irish music, the pub is expanding into the neighboring storefront.

Whitlow’s on Wilson
2854 Wilson Blvd.
703-726-9693
www.whitlows.com
Fans of the Redskins, Caps, Nationals and Virginia Tech flock here. Others just come for the tiki-themed rooftop.

Ballston

Carpool
4000 Fairfax Drive
703-532-7665
www.gocarpool.com
Billiards, shuffleboard and darts share billing with sports at this official Penn State viewing location.

The Front Page
4201 Wilson Blvd.
703-248-9990
www.frontpagearlington.com
A favorite haunt among Caps fans, given its proximity to the team’s practice ice. Also offers $2 beers.

World of Beer
901 N. Glebe Road, Suite105
arlingtonva.wobusa.com
Grand opening pending at press time.

Crystal City/Pentagon City

Buffalo Wild Wings
2450 Crystal Drive (second location opening in Ballston at 950 N. Glebe Road)
703-413-0160
www.buffalowildwings.com
Offers dozens of types of wings and TVs on top of TVs on top of TVs.

Champps Americana
1201 S. Joyce St., # C-10
703-414-3601
www.champps.com/
Champps’ space is divided between its dining room and more loungey areas for sports watching. It offers a wide variety of margaritas in addition to the usual wings and beer.

Siné
1301 S. Joyce St.
703-415-4420
www.sineirishpub.com
The Irish pub along Pentagon Row caters to football fans and other sports-watching crowds at both the bar and the restaurant’s tables.

 Columbia Pike

P. Brennan’s Irish Pub
2910 Columbia Pike
703-553-1090
www.pbrennans.com
The Irish bar highlights European soccer, but has a number of HD TVs and a 10-foot screen for watching all kinds of sports.

William Jeffrey’s Tavern
2301 Columbia Pike
703-746-6333
williamjeffreystavern.com
A Prohibition-themed bar with an upscale feel and several different viewing areas for sports fans.

 Westover

Westover Beer Garden
5863 North Washington Blvd.
703-276-7826
www.westovermarket.com/_BEER_GARDEN.html
The outdoor beer garden attached to Westover Market tunes in to European soccer games and Redskins games on weekends, offering a solid craft beer selection.

 Falls Church City

Clare & Don’s Beach Shack
130 North Washington St.
703-532-9283
www.clareanddons.com
A tiki-themed joint with indoor and outdoor seating that caters to sports fans of all kinds at the inside bar.

Public House No. 7
6315 Leesburg Pike
703-942-6383
www.publichouseno7.com
English premier league soccer fans stop here for a pint of British brew or a classic cocktail such as the Pimm’s Cup.

Merrifield

Sweetwater Tavern
3066 Gatehouse Plaza
703-645-8100
www.greatamericanrestaurants.com/sweetmainmeri/
The Western-themed bar maintains several overhead TVs and an in-house brewery that fills growlers.

Rebecca Cooper is a freelance writer and chicken wing aficionado who lives in Rosslyn.

Categories: Food & Drink
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