Hockey's back, which means hockey fans will soon be returning to Penn Quarter sports bars and restaurants near the Verizon Center. The home opener for the Caps will be Jan. 22, postponed from the fall courtesy of the lockout that dragged on for months. Surrounding bars will be happy for the cash infusion that will come with the shortened game schedule (if the full season was canceled, the Board of Trade estimated $2.5 million in tax revenue lost for the city, most from food and beverage sales). But they'll also have to deal with a hockey crowd that may be a little disillusioned with the team and the NHL after the delays.
"The impact was large — we double our business when the Caps are playing in town," said Brian Johnson, director of operations for Thompson Hospitality's Austin Grill, which has a Penn Quarter location, who called the abbreviated season "better than nothing." "The fans have been waiting for this to happen and miss their hockey big time as you know from the sell out crowd for the Hersey game a few weeks ago," he added.
Restaurants with additional locations elsewhere found it easier to weather the revenue loss that comes from the Caps lockout.
"We're certainly not sad to see it end, but it didn't hit us as bad as you might think," said Bob Barry, CEO of The Greene Turtle, which has a location connected to the Verizon Center. "Obviously the lockout affected our Verizon Center restaurant, which operates in the same venue where the Capitals play, but that's just one of 35 locations and most of the other sites didn't feel the pinch as hard." Plenty of other sports were still going on, and the company continues to expand in other locations.
Time will tell whether the return of hockey will cause restaurants and bars to offer specials to lure fans back into their restaurants. The Greene Turtle didn't have anything specific planned, nor did a rep for Legal Seafood, which has a location across the street from Verizon Center.
But Austin Grill is planning to launch two new appetizers in conjunction with the season - a large baked pretzel with dipping sauces, and a "Walking Nachos", that fans can take on their way to the game. "We will also have beverage discounts," said Johnson. And those who snag seats at the Acela Club will get the chance to try out some of the locally inspired food that chef Kevin Holler is experimenting with, from chicken with mambo sauce to crab cakes.
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[Photo: Austin Grill]