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. 

Groupon's "Save the Money:" Clever Parody or Offensive Blunder?

So did ya'll catch the big game on Sunday? Of course you did! Two old-guard teams slogging it out to the end; great Super Bowl! And of course, if you don't care for the sport, there were the commercials. The Super Bowl commercial breaks are usually a foodie Sahara, dominated by the likes of Bud Light, Doritos, and Pepsi-Max, hawked by adorable puppies, and idiotic men being smashed in the head and/or crotch. There was one notable exception this year, however, as Groupon made its first foray onto America's premier commercial showcase.

I absolutely love this type of service. For those of you who are not familiar, Groupon (and similar services like LivingSocial) sells a deal-a-day for each of their individual markets, relying on a bulk of coupons sold to cultivate massive deals. One day it might be $25 for $50 worth of dry cleaning in Alexandria; the next, $100 for $225 worth of botox treatments in Dupont. Very often, these deals are for restaurants, and the savings are dramatic. While saving money is awesome, at the same time, the coupons will remind me of places I had want to go for ages, and buying the coupon gives me a financial incentive to go before it expires.

So anyway, back to the ads. Sunday night, over the course of the big game, Groupon aired a series of three ads under the banner "Save the Money." I'd go into detail, but many have you have probably seen them. For those who haven't, here is the one that caused the most hub-bub:

My first response, on seeing this last night, was dumbfounded shock. I mean, damn, it takes some major cajones to use the very well known, very real suppression of a an entire culture by a civil rights quashing Communist dictatorship to sell your product, much less to brush the significance of said oppression away summarily in the process. They used a similar tack twice further in the night, likewise parodying the "Save the Whales" and "Save the Rainforest" causes.

Groupon did not jump into this lightly. For these $3 million spots, not only did they commission the stars involved, but famed "Mockumentary" Director Christopher Guest was tapped to direct. On their blog, Groupon explains the concept as follows:

The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as “Save the Whales”), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in “Save the Money”)?

"What if," indeed? Is a "passionate call to action to help yourself" using such loaded imagery really a great sales tactic? Nothing Groupon sells is remotely a necessity -- So is it more than just First-World white guilt that has me see these ads and wonder if I shouldn't stop frittering my money away on ephemeral yuppie crap, and instead use it to further some universally good cause? Like, say... human rights, or the environment? Hell, maybe I'll give that $30 I was gonna spend on that $60 spinning class to the Sierra Club, instead...

Mine has not been the only poor reaction to the spots. In response to the negative publicity, Groupon founder Andrew Mason posted on Monday evening that the whole affair was meant to call attention to the very charities they seemed to mock. To be fair, Groupon has put up a site encouraging donations, but I am still left with a bad taste in my mouth. Whatever way you look at it, Groupon was mocking someone -- either the bleeding hearts on the charitable side, or their shallow, facile customers -- and if the campaign was intended as some super-dry post-modern pastiche, it missed its mark, given its total lack of context.

So what do you guys think? Were these ads in very bad taste, or frankly brilliant parody? If you don't use Groupon, will you start? If you already do, will these ads effect how you deal with them in the future?