THE FALLS CHURCH Champions has changed its tune, in more than one way. Now if they can just get the kitchen to play along.
The newly renamed Broad St. Seafood & Barbecue is soul food for at least two senses. Four nights a week, the medium-sized storefront rocks to the old Twist & Shout cadence -- roots, boogie, blues, R&B and zydeco -- at covers that hover around the $6 to $7 standard (on weekends: weekdays are often free). That's not surprising, as the Broad St. bands are booked by T&S/Blue Bayou impresario Marc Gretschel, who's been venue-hunting for his roots-revival meetings since losing his spot at the Bethesda American Legion last summer.
And just in the last week, most of the sports memorabilia that covered the walls in the Champions mode has come down, leaving only the games-night essentials (the foosball tables, the dart boards) and a reputed pair of Jordan Airs. The plain white walls add more interest to the passing show, especially after dark: A few weeks ago, an older man passing the front door was inspired by Professor Longhair (via the Red-Hot Swinging Johnsons) to improvise a soft-shoe down the sidewalk. And frankly, the blank framing is a little easier on the eyes when the (four? five?) television sets are all on carrying assorted games.
On the other hand, as far as the food goes, you can definitely tell the old Champions players from the scorecard. The basic menu remains, which may disappoint those who take the new name too seriously. "Seafood" may be Broad St.'s middle name, but it is not its best game; the grilled catch of the day can be very good some days -- a generous and juicy piece of mako with crispy green beans and rice was a daily special at $7.95 -- but other times it has smelled of iodine and rancid grill grease; and the grilled shrimp have been chewy and acrid (and served on linguini that bore no resemblance to the advertised angel hair). The barbecue isn't a much larger part of the menu -- back ribs, half a chicken -- but it's pretty dependable.
Rumor has it the menu is in transition. Basically, though, this is just a tavern, with a mixed, mid-sized menu -- a little fajitas here, a little sandwich stuff there -- where the bar, and now the beat, are the main attraction. And in Falls Church, a good band is hard to find. Recent weekend callers have been advised to come by 7:30 to get a table for a 10 o'clock show.
Over the next several weeks, Broad St. will host old-timers Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and piano patriarch Pinetop Perkins; old-zydeco fave C. J. Chenier, new-zydeco flingers File' and new-zydecoker Terrance Simien; local guitar hot shots Tom Principato and Bill Kirchen (returning Wednesday); and Arlington's Captain Ahab of the mouth harpoon, 'Hawk Mark Wenner.
This Friday, Principato brings in his reshuffled Powerhouse (with Big Joe Maher busy with the Dynaflows and Jeff Sarli having Too Much Fun with Kirchen, T. P. and keyboardist Kevin McKendree have signed on bassist Steve Riggs and drummer Conrad Dennison).
Saturday, it's Richmond's shufflin' and scufflin' Lil' Ronnie & the Blue Beats ($10). This is a case of rock 'n' role reversal: Harmonica heavy Ronnie Keith Owens may be the nominal frontman, but the funk comes courtesy Robyn Stanley, whose vocal persona is a cross between Patti Scialfa and "Cowgirls" hitchhiker heroine Sissy Hankshaw (who was also from Richmond, theoretically); and who infuses "Hound Dog" with a new howl as a wronged-woman bump and grind.
On the next two Thursdays, Feb. 21 and 28, check out the cheekily irresistible Broads of the Blues, an all-female combo featuring Kendra Holt on keyboards, a pair of saxes and a rhythm section. (In Slickees/Wanktones style, the Broads have a slightly straighter jazz personality known as the Bad Bitches of Bebop.)
Broad St. Seafood and Barbecue is located at the intersection of West Broad and Washington streets in Falls Church; call 703/241-4112.
Incidentally, maybe Broad St. should adopt the "dance mix" version of Mary-Chapin Carpenter's "Twist & Shout" tribute as a theme song. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blues.
THIS SCUD'S FOR YOU: Meanwhile, at the old Champions, the one in Georgetown, overage partyboy Mike O'Harro has a soft heart for underage enlistees, and is wearing it on his press release. O'Harro is (unsuccessfully) trying to interest Capitol Hillies in an "emergency" bill to allow 18- to 20-year-olds on active duty to purchase beer and wine at authorized establishments.
"Who would deny a beer to a guy or gal that's responsible enough to fly a jet or shoot a machine gun?" O'Harro's mailing asks, rather floridly. This strikes us as lite thinking. On the other hand, both sides have been begging the question of responsibility for some time.
SHOOTERS & SHOT CLOCKS: If you still like the style of a sports bar, Champions' downtown challenger is the Grand Slam, on the "lagoon" level of the Grand Hyatt Hotel (the one near the convention center). Just when you thought the only bars downtown were either tourist-heavy (Hard Rock), tie-d up (Old Ebbitt) or hard of hearing (9:30), this rather endearingly old-fashioned brass rail hits an in-the-park home run. Plenty of toys and games, a disc jockey, volume control on the TVs, a generous and attractive bar staff and pretty good popcorn. It makes a good neighborhood tavern, even if it's only an illusion of a neighborhood.