There was a time when “sports bar” meant a place with a TV tuned to the over-the-air broadcast of a local team’s game, with free popcorn and peanuts whose shells you could toss on the floor with impunity.
Times have changed, and so has the demand for out-of-market games — not just so fans could watch West Coast NFL games and keep tabs on their fantasy football players, but so they could keep up on soccer from Africa or cricket from India.
It’s a large county, and while your favorite hangout may not have made the list, that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of your patronage. The following list is just one reporter’s view — consider this a cheat-sheet for those who couldn’t acquire a ticket to an upcoming Nationals playoff game or make it to FedEx Field for a chance to see Robert Griffin III make a dazzling play.
There are some chains and some locals and even a few wild-cards in the bunch, but they each offer something different — an inspired menu, screens filled with eclectic soccer games, or craft-brewed beer — and the chance to feel a part of something bigger while rooting for your favorite team.
Some venues were worried about running afoul of state laws on promoting alcohol specials, so be sure to follow your favorite venue on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with their latest news.
FANFARE — best place to get ballpark food in the suburbs
11861 Palace Way, Fairfax
Stop at this Glory Days Grill spinoff if you have just 20 minutes and don’t want to miss a big play. The restaurant has a small footprint compared to a traditional sports bar, but it does have ample high-definition televisions and about a dozen outdoor tables. Order a burger, chicken Philly or “ripper” (a hot dog cooked in a deep fryer until its skin rips open), and complement it with a shake or a “create-your-own” flavor from the innovative Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. Take a number and your food may be delivered to a chair that used to be in RFK Stadium. Beer and limited liquor are available. A second location will open in a yet-to-be-disclosed location in Fairfax County later this year.
“Although we want it to stand on its own, we’ve got no problem making the connection to Glory Days,” said partner Jeff Newman. “We’ve taken the best items from Glory Days and added a few new wrinkles.”
The Greene Turtle — best place to root for every team
3950 University Drive, Suite 209, Fairfax
As the popular Maryland-based chain slowly but surely moves into Virginia, this location down the road from George Mason University and the county government center currently is the only one in Fairfax County. It opened in April, just in time for the Capitals’ playoff run, and Tony Hite, one of the minority owners, is hoping the baseball playoffs and football kickoff can keep the party going.
“It’s a good sports town, and there aren’t a lot of good sports bars,” the New York native said.
The restaurant will be popular with Buffalo Bills fans, who have laid claim to a 50-person party room on Sundays, but with TV screens in every booth, supporters of any team will find themselves at home.
Glory Days Grill — best place to support the home team
Locations throughout Fairfax County — visit www.glorydaysgrill.com
Glory Days Grill has been a part of Fairfax County since the original location opened in Burke in 1996, and is known as a gathering spot for Steelers fans. The Lorton branch is a popular post-game spot after South County Secondary School games, and the chain often helps with school-related and local team fundraisers, but that doesn’t mean that Jeff Newman and his partners are only interested in the schools. There’s a spicy-spot for Capitals fans — their free wings after 5-goal games promotion has been an Alexander Ovechkin-endorsed hit. And inspired by the Nationals’ success this season, a new Ball Park Burger — topped with a grilled hot dog — (ask for it by name, it’s not on the menu) was launched earlier this week.
Grevey’s — best place to catch a former star
8130 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church
The last Washington Bullets title came in 1978, long before any members of the current Wizards team were born. But if you yearn for the championship roundball days, head to Grevey’s in the Merrifield section of Falls Church. It’s operated by Kevin Grevey, a key player from that 1978 championship team, who also was one of famed coach Adolph Rupp’s Wildcats at the University of Kentucky. He’s there often, as are regular customers and long-time staff members, who give the restaurant that “all are welcome” feel.
“Kevin wanted this to be a place like ‘Cheers,’” said manager Sue Gonzalez.
And, during the football season, Buffalo Bills fans feel the most welcome, as they pack a special section of the restaurant when they can’t make it up north for games.
Babylon Futbol Café — best place to watch a hard-to-find soccer game
3501 South Jefferson St., Falls Church
This place is a true melting pot, just like so many of the neighborhoods in Fairfax County. The best thing this sports bar/live music venue/hookah lounge has going for it is passionate owners like Ed Makouar, a Morocco native who’s lived in Northern Virginia for almost 30 years.
If there’s a game you want to watch live — soccer, cricket, polo, whatever — even if it’s on at 7 a.m., “just call me at home at six and I’ll come open up for you,” said Makouar one balmy Friday afternoon in August. Olympic basketball was on multiple television screens and patrons were streaming in the doors — even with a small cover charge — to see a live jazz band. One patron came up to Makouar and asked if a recent Libya vs. Algeria soccer game would be on. “Of course,” he said.
Hooters — best place to feel like it’s 1985
10334 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax
14441 Brookfield Tower Drive, Chantilly
You have to tip your cap to Hooters. Before it opened in Clearwater, Fla., in 1983, it wasn’t easy to find a sports bar. A TV with rabbit ears and free popcorn might have qualified. A place with ESPN was high class. If there was a jumbo satellite dish at the side of the bar, you might be able to get a pay-per-view boxing match or an out-of-town football game. Now, sports bars are everywhere. Unfortunately for this chain and its two locations in Fairfax County, sports bars have come a long way in nearly 30 years, and even with a recently updated menu that actually features a few salads, Hooters hasn’t kept up. Sightlines are terrible at the Fairfax location, with pillars blocking some TVs, and even the bar’s calling card, the orange-shorts-and-tank-top-wearing waitresses would look more at home on Magnum, P.I. than NCIS.
Dogfish Head Ale House — best place to watch sports while drinking great beer
6220 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church
13041 Lee Jackson Memorial Highway, Fairfax
The reason to visit this brew house is the beer. No doubt about it. Its famous IPAs and seasonal offerings like the just-released Punkin Ale draw in the crowds thirsting for fresh, award-winning brews at both the Fairfax and Falls Church locations. The food is solid, with something to suit just about every taste and diet. And while the restaurants are decidedly not “sports bars,” there always is a game on the wide-screen televisions in the bar area. Watch the Redskins, Capitals or a Nationals’ playoff game in a laid-back atmosphere while sipping something more substantial than a Miller Lite.
“We’re happy to have sports fans here,” said Falls Church manager Matt Wargo. “One TV is always reserved for the Redskins game but we’ll do our best to accommodate fans who want to watch something else.”
Buffalo Wing Factory — best place to challenge your tastebuds
13067 Lee Jackson Memorial Highway, Fairfax
2260-D Hunters Woods Place, Reston
Inspired by Adam Richman’s show “Man vs. Food,” want a “game within a game?” Give your tastebuds and spice tolerance a challenge at one of the four locations of this Northern Virginia original, two of which are in Fairfax County (Chantilly and Reston). Take the Flatliner Challenge an order of the hottest wings around costs $10, and if you finish them all to the satisfaction of a judge, you get your money back, a T-shirt and a place on the Wall of Flame — or just enjoy a beer and choose from a creative list of wing flavors while watching a game.
Hard Times Cafe — best place for something more than wings
4069 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax
Grilled wings set Hard Times apart from most of the beers ’n’ wings outlets in the area, but if you’re looking for something different, be sure to try the various chili combinations at R.B. Cobean’s Fairfax branch. He’ll have a slew of food and drink specials for Virginia Tech football games on Saturdays and NFL games on Sundays. While they’ll have all the games on TVs around the multi-floor bar, there will be sound for North Carolina, Michigan and the Pittsburgh Steelers games. Along with that, until Nov. 11, patrons can enter a drawing for a VIP trip to FedEx Field on Nov. 18 for the game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Champps Americana — best place to hear stories about the good old days
11694 Plaza America Drive, Reston
The Reston location of this national chain opened in 1996, when Washington Redskins players still lived around the corner (the team was based in Herndon until 1992), so it wasn’t unusual to bump into a couple of “Hogs” in the lobby or at the bar. While Champps Americana doesn’t have that same panache anymore — players are sequestered in Ashburn and Leesburg, for the most part — it does have ample seating and plenty of televisions.