D.C. Rank and File -- Top Five Places to Watch Your Favorite Team Play

Where do you most enjoy watching your favorite team play? One of the places on this list will suprise you.

Now that the Capitals, Wizards and Redskins are all in full gear, there will be a game on almost every day and/or night. Throughout the course of these seasons, we will catch our favorite teams on TV at home, live in person at the venue or at a variety of other places.

In the past, attending a game was the best way to catch the action. The sights, sounds and smells of the ballpark have traditionally driven fans through the turnstiles, and over the years, have also driven up ticket prices. In 2010, the package the networks deliver to your living room is in many ways superior to the stadium experience.

But those aren't the only ways to catch a game. Over the years, I have watched my teams from a very wide range of locations. Each offer unique advantages and pluses that add to the experience of rooting on your boys on any given night. But which one is the best? That's the topic we will explore in today's Rank and File.

For the purpose of this ranking, I am going to exclude the stadium option. I attend every Redskins game as well as a great deal of Caps and Wizards games. I love it. But not everyone does. In fact, it would be fair to suggest that for many, attending the event in person is either rarely or never an option. So instead, I thought I would rank a handful of my favorite alternatives. If you can't make it to the game, perhaps one of these options is your preferred way to cheer for the home team

No. 1: Sports Bar

We could (and probably will) dedicate a whole column to D.C. sports bars at some point. Today, I offer up the great American sports bar as the top place to go and watch a game. From the neighborhood corner bar to the well-known chains, there is no shortage of shapes and sizes to choose from. Some bars cater to just one sport. Others cater to just one team. Finally, several others plaster the walls with TV's to cover them all. There is just something great about ponying up to a bar, having a beer poured and delivered and sitting among fellow fans. It's okay to scream and shout. It's okay to get crazy. They'll do the cooking and the cleaning and they'll even provide an attractive bartender or waitress who actually wants to hear your theories on the 4-3 defense (she will at least pretend to anyway).

In fact, pretty much every option beyond this is a variation of this one. For male and female readers alike, there is a certain sense of pride and satisfaction when you walk in the door to your favorite sports bar and there is a frosty beverage waiting for you by the time you find your bar stool. The crowd at the bar gives you a little of the "being at the game" feeling, without the gridlock traffic and ridiculous beer prices. Some of my favorites:

  • Hard Times Cafe (great food)
  • Rocket Bar (no food)
  • BlackFinn (TV at the table)
  • Buffalo Bill's (huge place where you can almost always find a group of folks watching and rooting for your favorite team)
  • Spider Kelly's in Arlington

No. 2: Basement/Man-cave

Ahhhhh ... the man-cave. To be honest, I don't really like the term "mancave." It has kind of gone commercial, and in doing so, has lost a bit of the real meaning in my opinion. I get that dudes like to soup up their basement and turn it into the ultimate hangout area, but we don't need TV shows about it, or how-to guides. These have only served to create more "metrosexual" basements than actual cave-like surroundings. The key word in mancave is cave! Not a sermon ... just a thought.

As I noted above, the delivered product that networks have come up with in recent years is sublime. The High Definition picture, the graphics, the game breaks, the analysis and the absence of all the downfalls of attending the game in-person make watching the game in your own dwelling a very amazing experience. You control the clicker, the menu and the beer prices. You control the guest list, and most importantly, you get the most comfortable seat in the house. It's your own personal owner's suite. It is a Golden Age for sports viewing parties.

As much as I enjoy going to the game or to the bar, I can honestly say i am seldom disappointed when I stay home to watch games. As an added bonus for all you married guys out there: wives and girlfriends are so excited when you stay home to watch games instead of going out that they will often times contribute cooking and preparation services, which keeps your butt planted in that recliner for even more precious minutes.

No. 3: Airport bar

This one might seem odd to you, but think about it: where else is there a more diverse mix of fans than at an airport? I have watched many a game at an airport bar. I have scheduled layovers to catch the Wizards and I can honestly say I got to the airport almost FOUR hours before a flight once to watch a Capitals game.

The reason? Once you get through that security line and you are waiting for that flight, what better way to pass the time than to watch a game? The food is generally awful at these airport bars, but depending on the city, you can have a pretty amazing selection of local beers on tap. And hey ... someone else is doing the piloting, so you can get drunk, right? (Make sure you are not flying with the pilot sitting next to you at the bar.) 

I have had some of the best sports conversations/debates at airport bars. You never know what city the guy sitting next to you is from. Take a second to say hello, and you might find yourself talking to a fan as passionate about his/her team as you are. The perspective you get sometimes from folks who are from out of town, or -- if you are out of town -- from folks in their own city is amazing. It is important for sports fans to interact in this fashion, and I believe it is insanely valuable. We might adamantly disagree, but it is generally fruitful to bounce your views off a fan from an opposing city.

The best memory I have of this was when I watched a Wizards-Mavericks game in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. I was wearing my Darrell Green jersey at the T.G.I. Fridays and sitting among mostly Dallas fans. The guy sitting next to me was a Cowgirls fan, and we took turns buying beers depending on the way the Wizards' game was going. He had Jason Terry and I had Gilbert Arenas. Whichever guy had the most three-pointers when it was time to buy the next round determined which one if us had to buy. To this day, I couldn't tell you which player had more points. I am just lucky I made my flight and got home.

No. 4: Tailgate

Here is an under-rated place to catch the game. It is more of a football-centric idea, since that is where you find your more elaborate tailgates. Go to the game and tailgate with your crew. Then when everyone goes into the game, stay at the tailgate and watch it from there on TV. Now that you can get HD signals over the air, you can get perfect high definition pictures in the parking lot without needing to have a satellite. You keep the party going and you save yourself the hassle of fighting the crowd inside, as well as the money you would spend on concessions.

Tailgating has become as much of an art form as the creation of man-caves. The grill, the tent, the accessories and the music are all customized to the crew you have. Not only is it great for the people who don't have tickets, but it is very helpful for those who do. If folks are going to stay out at the tailgate and watch the game, then you don't have to waste valuable tailgating time breaking down everything. Even better, after the game, everything is still set up and ready to go! You get the flavor of the home crowd without the expense of entering the stadium.

I highly encourage you to give this one a try. It seems a little counter-intuitive, but I think you will find that spending the day at the park tailgating is as good a way to spend a day as any.

No. 5: Casino

For many, this would be No. 1 on the list. The Sports Book at almost any casino in Las Vegas is a very fun place to be at just about any time of day. It falls a little lower on my list mostly because I am not really a huge gambler.

If I am in Vegas, I will of course put some action on my team, but the draw for me is the vast amount of TV screens. There is so much going on that I almost can't even really follow it. Unlike at the tables, where the drinks are free, you have to run a tab at the Sports Book bar. That is a minor inconvenience and is made up for in spades by the sheer amount of action in front of you. I went to a casino for one night of NBA playoffs in Reno one year, and it nearly killed me. I put money on every game played that night, and then settled into a comfortable chair in front of the bank of screens to watch my dough. I broke even, which is to say I lost a little to the house that night. But the series of heart attacks that I survived make it seem like I lost a lot more. (Would I do it again? Uhhh ..... yeah .... hell yeah.)

The casino as a sports-viewing location can be dicey, but for the hardcore sports fan, it offers a rush. And for the Washington sports fan, it not only offers the guarantee that your game will be on, it gives you a chance to invest more than just your emotions in your team.

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