Other than former "Top Chef" contestants or the occasional professional athlete, we don't get many celebrity-owned venues in the Washington area. Maybe that explains the buzz around the Bracket Room, a Clarendon watering hole owned by former "Bachelorette" and "Bachelor Pad" contestant Chris Bukowski.
Bukowski originally promised a "female-friendly" sports bar with healthful dining options and Skinny Girl wines, with the bonus that he would be there, giving patrons smoldering looks from across the room during Monday Night Football. But calling Bracket Room a sports bar would be missing all the other things this pulsing nightspot is trying to be: trendy eatery, pickup spot, girls-night-out central. We decided the best way to judge it was by taking a he-said, she-said approach.
Fritz Hahn: Few sports bars look as attractive as the Bracket Room. Warm wood walls, sleek furniture, flattering lighting. There are televisions on every surface, all showing different games on weekends. The staff, clad in T-shirts emblazoned with "Flirty & Dirty," are generally friendly, though service sputters when the place gets going on weekends.
The first couple of times I ventured to Bracket Room, it was packed with groups of women. The only men I noticed were sitting with women. The sports angle is fine, but the crowd is way more into mixing and mingling Thursday through Saturday nights.
The music gets louder. More people are taking selfies at the bar. Some of the TVs stop showing sports in favor of those selfies (add #BracketRoomVA to your tweet or Instagram shot and it will flow onto the big screens).
Lavanya Ramanathan: I'm put off by T-shirts that say "Flirty & Dirty" or "Sassy & Classy." But compare it with other Clarendon bars, and Bracket Room largely lives up to its "sports lounge" moniker and the classiness that implies. The floors, seats and bar weren't sticky. That tell-tale smell of bleach was missing. Bonus points should be awarded for hooks under the bar to hang purses and for the outlets to plug in phones and tablets. The centerpiece of Bracket Room, however, might be the giant horseshoe-shaped bar, which offers clear sightlines to the romantic prospects on the other side of the room.
FH: This is the only sports bar I know with 40 TVs but no nachos on the menu. The buffalo wings were good - until I dipped them in a salty sriracha aioli. No complaints about the mahi mahi tacos with a jalepeno lime mayo. But there was no way I was ordering "Sea Bass in a Bag." Not here.
LR: I've never encountered a menu so comically riddled with culinary buzz words. Bao buns? Check. Farm-raised, grass-fed beef burgers? Of course. There are retro-chic cookies and milk. But the All-American Superfoods Salad is the best example of how Bracket Room's menu overreaches. Superfoods are defined as nutrient-rich fruits, greens and grains. As I picked at my family-size pile of arugula, raw broccoli, green beans, "EVOO" (that abhorrent cutesy term for extra-virgin olive oil) and about as much quinoa as salt, I was forced to agree that it was a salad. But it was not super. Most people order the chicken wings and the fries. They're the smart ones.
FH: Lots of people order Moscow Mules, as vodka and ginger beer is much more palatable than a peach-schnapps-and-cranberry "martini" or the muddle of flavors that is the gin-cucumber-jalapeno-lime cocktail. If you stick with beer, Bracket Room has some of the cheapest non-happy hour beers in Clarendon ($4 Miller Lite or Bud Light). Highlights among the 16 drafts are $6 pints of Devils Backbone and Starr Hill's Northern Lights IPA.
I hope they're ashamed of having Skinny Girl Moscato and Menage a Trois Rouge on the menu. You could get better wine next door at Trader Joe's.
The main attraction on the menu is a NCAA tournament-style bracket of shots that were either lifted from a "Best Shots You've Never Tried" book at Urban Outfitters or compiled by spring breakers who giggle over names like Silk Panties, Liquid Cocaine or the Red Snapper.
The last time any of these shots tasted good was at a debauched college party. The Berry Whipped (strawberry vodka, whipped cream vodka, grenadine) had a plasticky chemical taste. I didn't hate the Catfish Hunter (cheap bourbon, peach schnapps), but I was much happier when my date asked for two Jamesons.
LR: I raised an eyebrow at the Skinny Girl Moscato and skipped the heavily touted Bracket Room Jelly Bean, Tootsie Roll and Gummy Bear shooters. I was interested in testing the bar's mixology without having to ingest any maraschino cherries. I ordered a cucumber mojito. It was the most cloying cocktail I'd had since college. I wish I'd ordered a Lagunitas and, well, not the salad.
FH: I think "sports bar" is where Bracket Room succeeds. The place is sports-fan friendly. It seems like every other screen is showing a different game during the weekends. If you're seated at a barstool, there's an unexpected treat: Instead of your view being blocked by the storage racks that hang over the bar, there are additional screens mounted there, providing an unobstructed view of the action. If you're on the patio, there are TVs mounted in the front windows so you don't miss a minute.
LR: I worry for sports fans, who will find themselves divided on game days as the bar attempts to please everyone. Every television seemed to have a different game on, forcing fans to find their singular TV and camp out . . . until the bartenders flip on the club music.
FH: Yes, the female-to-male ratio at Bracket Room is often higher than at other Clarendon bars, particularly around happy hour. But later, especially on Saturday nights, you still get plenty of groups of women, yet you find more and more ballcap-wearing guys who obviously go there because the bar has more women than Clarendon Grill.
The best theory, from a female friend whom I dragged along for one visit: Women are here because they want to meet the guy from "The Bachelorette." Guys are here because they know the bar will be full of women who are there to meet the guy from "The Bachelorette."
LR: Everyone at Bracket Room is surreptitiously glancing at everyone else. Guys loudly discuss their prospects with cheerleaders; women loudly discuss their ex-boyfriends. For the record: Proprietor Chris Bukowski is indeed attractive - L.A. attractive, in that he's tanner, has lifted more weight and probably eats more real superfoods than anyone else in the room. But I'll give him credit for not soaking up the attentions of the female clientele. He stayed mostly in the kitchen.