A by-the-book sports bar
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Jan. 28, 2011
Fans heading for a game at the Verizon Center aren't short of pre- or post-game drinking options. Start with the Greene Turtle, which has a doorway that leads to the arena from the bar, and Bar Louie, mere steps from a ticket-scanner. Options within a block or two include Rocket Bar and Iron Horse Tap Room, both of which have plenty of TVs (and skeeball!), and the Gordon Biersch and District Chophouse brewpubs. A little farther away is Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, one of the area's top sports bars.
Plunging into this crowded market is Redline, an upscale sports bar - sorry, an "upscale gastrolounge and bar," to use its own description - that opened in the old Indebleu space half a block from the Verizon Center at the end of November.
From the exposed-brick walls covered with flat-screen TVs to the gleaming hardwood floors to the ginormous leather booths armed with personal tap handles in the middle of the table, Redline knows its hook: It's a textbook loft-style lounge that's certain to attract people who want something nicer than the Greene Turtle but still want to wear a jersey while watching the game. (Of course, there's also the 20 wines by the glass, including sparkling options from France. Makes it much easier to persuade sports-bar-hating significant others to join you.)
Make no mistake: This place wants to be a big-game destination. There are three dozen TVs, including a huge projection model over the bar. Large LED tickers flash the latest Vegas odds on the night's games, even though you can't really do anything with them. And before the Capitals take to the ice across the street, the bar is a sea of red jerseys. (Wizards gear is oddly lacking on their home-game days, however.)
The natural comparison is to Public Bar or Velocity Five, but where those places take themselves a little less seriously - shot specials for customers after touchdowns, cut-rate happy hours - Redline always tries to have on its game face.
The scene: On the days when the Caps and Wizards are out of town, Redline is your average nice-looking bar with tons of TVs. It gets a decent happy-hour crowd that seems a little older than you'd find at some neighboring watering holes - more suits and ties than T-shirts and caps.
The table taps are a solid weekend draw. Redline joins Meridian Pint as the only bars in the city that allow customers to pour their own beer at their table. (Beer is priced by the ounce; an electronic screen allows customers to see their tab and amount poured, and lets the staff make sure that consumption is kept to a "reasonable" level.) Honestly, the spacious U-shaped leather booths are so comfortable, I'd want to sit in one even if I wasn't drinking.
Food is good, beer is okay, the high ceilings and the TV screens are nice amenities, but other than the table taps being a prime destination after hockey games, I'm struggling for something that's memorable about Redline or something that would compel me to return outside of game night. It's a good-looking sports bar that would appeal to a date, a group of friends, even your parents, but it doesn't always do the sports-bar thing just right, either. When a co-worker dropped in to watch a Capitals road game one night, he was surprised that he had to hunt down a bartender and make him put it on a TV.
Of course, it's less of a sports bar on weekends when DJs spin Top 40 remixes and the vibe becomes distinctly more singles-oriented.
In your glass: For an "upscale gastrolounge," the beer selection is decidedly workaday. Sitting at those fancy tap tables, you may be offered a choice of Miller Lite and Yuengling. That's it. At the bar, the fanciest option is a seasonal from Starr Hill, a well-respected brewery located near Charlottesville. The rest is Guinness/Bud Light/Shock Top, plus a tap for the Caps-friendly Rockin' Red Ale, made by Leinenkugel.
On your plate: "Gastro" is in the name, and Redline chef Fabrice Reymond has worked in Switzerland, been a personal chef for an ambassador and had stints at Indebleu and Hook. As with the decor, Redline wants to go above expectations, and sometimes it hits: The Buffalo-style wings are meaty, are coated in a tangy sauce and arrive in a deep bowl with sour cream and jimica. The fried calamari and zucchini weren't over-battered, and the sauce had plenty of zip. But the burger was $11 worth of overcooked angus.
The menu features 10 appetizers, two salads and five entrees, including marinated hanger steak ($24) and half of a Peruvian roast chicken ($22).
Price points: Both draft and bottled beers average $6. Wines are predominantly less than $10 but go as high as $14. Two-thirds of the appetizers cost $10 or more. (The outlier is a $6 plate of hummus.)
Nice to know: Redline offers free Wi-Fi and plans to develop an app that would allow customers to order from an iPhone or iPad and have food delivered to their table.