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Church! The Best Places To Watch Football

At approximately 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 1, Casey Brockman will walk to the line. The Murray State quarterback will look across the field to find Louisville’s stud linebacker Dexter Heyman, hoping to God the Cardinals’ won’t blitz on first. The 6’2’’ junior will lean over center Brock Rydeck, ignore the jeers of the Cardinals’ crowd, and demand the ball.

In all likelihood, it will be a bad day for Casey, Brock and the Murray State Racers, but an excellent day for the rest of us. Because on that day, when Rydeck snaps that ball and Heyman drives Brockman into the field of Cardinal’s Stadium, football will once again be with us (this NFL preseason crap doesn't count).

It’s been said that this game of grace and violence is our national religion. If that’s the case, then the sports bar is our house of worship. Being a fan of far-away teams (South Florida, Buccaneers), it took me a while to find a few decent bars and restaurants in the D.C. area to watch football. The region may be inundated with sports bars, but few offer the trifecta of great beer, good food and the promise of your team on the screen (unless you’re a Skins fan, in which case any Chili’s will do).

Well, friends, I’m here to help. Below are my top five bars and restaurants in the DMV to watch the faux-pros on Saturday and Pro Bowlers on Sunday. 

1. The Black Squirrel: The Black Squirrel has three floors, 49 taps and 11 TVs (and if you call ahead, the third floor can be your private sports bar). Owner Amy Bowman keeps this Best Beer Bar stocked with a top tier line-up of craft beers, while the talented Gene Sohn runs the kitchen (order the burger). Is it a coincidence that on game days all the TVs are tuned in? Nope, The Black Squirrel was co-founded by former sports columnist Tom Knott. (Disclosure: I’m friends with Amy and Tom. Still, The Black Squirrel is a great place to watch football.) 

2. Iron Horse Taproom: If the Iron Horse Taproom opened at noon on weekends it would be the best place in D.C. to watch football. The multi-level bar is big, filled with TVs, has a great selection of craft beers, and features the best menu in town -- by not featuring a menu at all. The Penn Quarter tavern (pictured above) doesn’t have a kitchen, so it allows patrons to bring in food or have it delivered. Want to dig into some Texas barbecue while watching the Lone Star Showdown? No problemo. Grab a pound of brisket from Hill Country or better yet, a burrito from Capital Q and head to the Iron Horse. How about some lamb vindaloo while you watch the John Beck/Rex Grossman quarterback controversy unfold this season? Mehak is just down the street. Just make sure your game doesn’t start before 5 p.m. If it does, you’ll need to head elsewhere. 

3. Frisco Tap House: What’s more American than football? Excess. The Frisco Tap House has 50 taps, a beer engine, a table where you can pour your own draft beer, an extensive bottle and can list, great burritos and eight giant flat screen TVs (with more coming this fall). Sure, the Columbia, Md., bar is a hike if you live in Logan Circle. But if you live in Maryland, you have one hell of a place to watch football.

4. Capitol Lounge: This is where it started for me. When I moved from Tampa to D.C. in the late 90s, Cap Lounge was the only place in town I could reliably catch Bucs games. It helped that one of the bartenders was a Bucs fan and wanted to watch the games, too. The Capitol Hill bar continues to be a great spot to catch a game, with a mess of TVs tucked and hung throughout the two-floor restaurant, and a stellar selection of craft beers on draft and in bottles and cans.  

41380020 5. Rustico: These days, it’s tough to write a story about beer without mentioning ChurchKey and its downstairs sister, Birch & Barley. But before there was CKBB there was Rustico, owner Michael Babin’s first crack at a craft beer establishment. While ChurchKey is unabashedly a beer bar, a fine one at that, Babin makes sure his two Rustico restaurants remain casual neighborhood spots, which makes them ideal for watching the game. Greg Engert oversaw the beer program at the original Rustico in Alexandria before heading over to ChurchKey, and continues to curate the draft and bottle lists for his original restaurant and the newer Ballston location. Although neither will be mistaken for a sports bar, the Rusticos have just enough TVs to catch most of the marquee games. And if the beer list and full menu aren’t enough to attract you, they’re offering beer specials as well. Beginning September 10, both Rustico locations will offer $3.50 cans of craft beer, including G’Knight, Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub and Ten Fidy (they clearly have a thing for Oskar Blues’ beers), and $2.50 cans of college beer (because you or your buddy don’t know better) during games. 

Kushi Izakaya & Sushi

KushiKitchen1 Last March, Kushi opened its doors in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood, and brought a new kind of restaurant to Washington DC -- the Izakaya. An Izakaya is a sort of Japanese gastropub, a drinking establishment with a wealth of small plates, suitable for mixing, matching and sharing with friends over a few glasses of sake. It seems owners Darren and Ari Norris have hit upon a recipe for success, with their young sushi bar being called "the year's most exciting restaurant" by Washingtonian Magazine, and ranked 22 in their much vaunted "100 Best" list. It took awhile, but late last month, I was finally able to make the trek over to check it out.

KushiOutsideFirst of all, Kushi wins big points on personality and presentation. Coming through the doors on a frigid night, we were met by a blast of warm, savory smelling air from the giant central kitchen. The space is bustling, but pretty wide open, dominated by the open kitchen / sushi bar, with a smaller bar area and several tables placed in its orbit. The fun and lively atmosphere is accented by the hectic but disciplined kitchen, which is a great show in itself, with the chefs slinging maki and stoking the wood and charcoal fired grill. The staff worked well and cohesively through the night; while there was the occasional bit of confusion, all the servers and runners were very friendly, and happy to field questions or just shoot the breeze.

  KushiSakeSpread In addition to a handful of draughts and a decent wine list, Kushi has an extensive sake list, with some 15 sakes available by the bottle or carafe, and five different plum wines, to boot. It looks like they are working on developing an innovative cocktail program, too, which may be something to keep an eye on.

KushiFishGrill The food menu is so huge as to be a bit overwhelming. It is split into several sub-categories, reflecting the numerous styles of cuisine available, including the full range of sushis, Robata (wood grill), Kobachi (small plates), Gohan (rice and soup) and Kushiyaki (Charcoal Grilled Skewers). Frankly, I wish I had gone with more people, for being only a party of two, we could only try so much. Of course, we made a valiant effort, and did try SO much, so I'll just hit the highlights for ya.

KushiSalmon+Uni   The sushi was, across the board, of very high quality, and very well cut. The seared fatty salmon was melt-in-your-mouth soft, and served up nice and warm; the uni was clearly very fresh, and not nearly as fishy as some I have had. I was a bit disappointed that they were out of every variety of toro, but the Japanese swordfish we had instead was well textured, and also quite fresh.

KushiCustard One of the best features of the night was the special Chawanmushi, a soft egg custard made with mirin, mushrooms, and seafood. The texture was exquisitely silky, and the flavor an ethereal mix of subtle fishiness, a salty / sweet contrast, and earthy mushroom undertones. I believe they change this one up on a weekly basis -- in any case, for $7.00, this is a dish well worth trying.

KushiOctopus The grilled items were a mixed bag. While the grilled oysters we had were perfectly cooked and delicious, the clams were overcooked and rubbery. Likewise, the grilled squid legs, while pleasantly crunchy on the edges, were tough and rubbery otherwise. We also tried the grilled chicken livers and found  them overly grainy, another sign that what we were served had been overcooked. Finally, we sampled the grilled okra and leeks, which were good, and a novel approach to vegetables, but not much of a bargain at the price -- $3.00 per small portion, versus $6 to $10 for the more sizable meat plates.

KushiClam+OysterAll in all we had about 12 plates and three drinks apiece, and the bill came to just over $100.00. Not too shabby for a night out for two. Despite the hiccups in the grilling department, we had a great time, as the staff and atmosphere go a long way. If you can gather up a small group of adventurous eaters and drinkers who like a good time and don't mind the occasional failed experiment, get yourself to Kushi early and see if you can stake out some bar-space.


Kushi Izakaya & Sushi 
465 K St, NW 
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 682-3123 ‎