There are more reasons than ever for an NFL fan to stay home on Sundays rather than go to a bar: Commercial-free cable channels with live feeds from every stadium, cheaper food and drink options and no need to crane your neck for a decent view of the action.
At Game, the huge sports bar that opened in May near Horseshoe Casino and the stadiums, the enthusiasm preceded the sorrow. Down six with a minute to play, running back Justin Forsett put Baltimore deep in Denver’s territory, a short distance away from a surprising comeback win. The optimism in Game quickly grew from a few excited yells of “Let’s do this!” to a spirited chorus of the “Seven Nation Army” riff-chant Ravens fans love to bellow.
Of course, Joe Flacco’s interception seconds later replaced joy with unprintable exclamations and a collective feeling of disbelief. But those moments of communal hope and despair illustrated the role sports bars fulfill: Team fandom demands a meeting place to share the highs and lows together in person. As I looked around the room on Sunday, I saw Ravens fans — a balanced mix of young, old, black, white and of various backgrounds — rooting for the same Baltimore. That has always been the case in the city, but given the year the city has seen, it was hard not to notice and appreciate it.
As for Game, the sports bar feels as though it was crafted in a laboratory to appease both diehard fans fully committed to watching sports as well as the easily distracted.
For the former, there are TVs and projection screens everywhere. There were roughly 130 people at Game on Sunday, and I had no trouble watching the game from a seat in every section of the 10, 000-square-foot bar. Up front, an eight-screen display with a live running sports ticker made a striking focal point. The plush leather chairs were a nice touch, too.
The latter, though, is what will have many people talking. While the chain Dave & Buster’s aims to marry arcade games with a sports-bar experience, the results feel more like a grown-up Chuck E. Cheese’s. If that is what you are looking for, fine, but I am no longer interested in exchanging a million game tickets at the prize shop. Locally, the short-lived Baltimore Bar Arcade in Canton tried to combine beer and games. It had a lot of consoles, but no personality.
Game, on the other hand, makes sense. There is plenty of space to enjoy the pool tables and air hockey, but it still feels like a bar first, thanks in large part to the sprawling layout. The games — and there are a lot, including pop-a-shot basketball, darts, foosball, “Donkey Kong, ” “Pac-Man, ” “Golden Tee, ” and beer pong — offer something for everyone bored by a blow-out or commercial, or just not interested in the game on TV. Added bonus: While pool tables cost $2 to use, many of the games are free.
Essentially split into two rooms, Game feels massive compared to most sports bars in the city. The front half is well lit, and has a large square bar in its center. If Game were only that room, it’d be big, but then there is the arcade half in the back, darker and more open. As a whole, Game is a well-designed bar that utilizes its space as an asset.
And yes, Game serves alcohol, too, but that fact feels secondary in such a playland. The back bar had four standard brands on tap (Stella Artois, Goose Island, Blue Point Brewing and Rolling Rock), while the front bar had a couple more options with local ties, like National Bohemian and The Brewer’s Art. There were bottled options, too, including Victory Brewing’s Summer Love Ale ($7), my choice for the game. The place was well staffed, so it was easy to grab another one..
Game also has a closet-like section for “The Vault, ” its collection of high-end spirits. The bar sells half-ounce samples, one-and-a-half-ounce shots and full bottles of products like Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select whiskey and Milagro Unico tequila. If you ever wanted to drop $870 on a bottle of English Harbour rum, here is the opportunity.
Most, however, will be there to watch an event or play games themselves. As the Ravens and Broncos met midfield to shake hands, a number of fans, heads hanging, predictably headed for Game’s exit. Who could blame them? Still, the appeal of Game was obvious, and I am anxious to see what the place looks and feels like after a win.