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Posted at 3:52 PM ET, 09/12/2008

New on Wisconsin Avenue

By Fritz Hahn

It was an interesting weekend on Wisconsin Avenue as Champions of Georgetown, the city's first real sports bar, made a triumphant return after a four-year hiatus, and the Late Night Shots-loving denizens of Glover Park got their first look at Gin & Tonic, the "classic American tavern" that replaced the longtime live-music dive Grog & Tankard.

Champions is back in the alley at 1206 Wisconsin, reclaiming the building from Blue Gin, a high-end lounge that had lost some of its luster in recent years. Champions occupied this space for almost two decades before closing in 2002, shortly after the Alcohol Beverage Control Board suspended the bar's license for multiple instances of underage drinking.

In its heyday, Champions was the area's preeminent sports bar, a memorabilia-covered hangout offering multiple screens and satellite packages when such things were the exception, not the norm. Professional athletes hung out in their off-time, and the owners eventually launched a chain of Champions sports bars throughout the region. Eventually, though, Champions of Georgetown became known as a rowdy college hangout where fake IDs and fights went hand-in-hand on a Saturday night. When the upscale martini lounge Blue Gin took its place, no one was shocked.

Blue Gin recently changed hands, though, and the Woodward brothers -- who also own the nearby Rhino Bar and Pumphouse -- have brought Champions back, but it's nothing like the beer-soaked watering hole of old. The decor mixes a modern European lounge and sports bar: curving bars, high-backed banquettes and low, pigskin-colored leather couches mix comfortably with huge high-definition TVs and the framed jerseys of football stars like Bo Jackson and Joe Namath.

College students who want to hang out here may find themselves priced out: During Monday Night Football, the "special" was Miller Lite bottles for $4 each, or a bucket of five for $18. (At Rhino, beers are at least a buck cheaper.) On the second floor, menus on tables tout the bar's bottle service -- about $200 for a bottle of vodka, with a $500 minimum. The crowd watching football appeared to be late 20s and up, though the crowd that comes out for DJ-fueled parties on Saturdays is slightly younger.

One ironic touch, intentional or not: A framed Washington Capitals jersey, hanging on the wall near the bathroom. Champions, (in)famously, is where four Caps players were accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old woman at an end-of-season party in 1990. (A grand jury later declined to indict the players.)

Gin & Tonic, as I've written previously, is collaboration between Maurico Fraga-Rosenfeld, the entrepreneur behind Chi-Cha, Gazuza, Ceviche and several other lounges, and Fritz Brogan, who ran the outdoor bar the Deck in Glover Park and the members-only Gryphon Room night at the Guards in Georgetown.

The phrase "work in progress" gets thrown around a lot with new bars, but Gin & Tonic really is one. Right now, it's a one-room brick-walled shell with two bars, a DJ booth and a large deer head on the wall. By the time the grand opening rolls around on Oct. 5, they're hoping to add such amenities as tables, chairs, booths and a third bathroom. For now, it's a bare-bones spot that resembles a frat house party room, down to the power occasionally going out while the DJ is spinning.

I've been by twice, and the place has been packed both times -- a predominantly preppy crowd in polos and party dresses dancing to '80s hits, Top 40 hip-hop and, inevitably, "Don't Stop Believing," while pounding Red Bull and vodkas or light beer. Since there's no furniture, there's no designated dance floor, which makes walking to the bar akin to an obstacle course.

Until next month, Gin & Tonic is only open Thursday through Saturday. Unlike the Gryphon Room or its competitor Smith Point, there's no guest list, so anyone can stop by.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | September 12, 2008; 3:52 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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