Washington Capitals fans were without hockey for more than 100 days during the National Hockey League lockout — and bar owners around Verizon Center were without Caps fans.
When the lockout ended and the Caps played their first game Saturday at Tampa Bay, fans were reunited with their go-to places to watch hockey.
“Caps fans are back. It was great,” said Daniel Williams, general manager of the Iron Horse bar, a few blocks from Verizon Center. “They obviously were waiting for something.”
Williams said his bar was flooded with fans in Capitals jerseys Saturday night, and most were intensely focused on the game.
It was the first of just 48 regular-season games, slightly more than half the normal 82. Melissa Smith, manager at the Rocket Bar, said she doesn’t think the shortened regular season will mean fewer fans for each game.
“We’re anticipating maybe more because there’s so few games,” Smith said. “With twenty games quickly in a couple months, we think that every home game is going to be big. It’s almost like the playoffs start from the beginning.”
Big crowds will be welcome news for spots near the arena, which include Clyde’s, RFD and Penn Quarter Sports Tavern along with the Iron Horse and the Rocket Bar.
Arvind Nair, general manager at Clyde’s, said the lockout had a “devastating impact” on business, estimating that the restaurant lost about $150,000 in sales each month. Nair said the restaurant won’t be making up that lost revenue, but he’s still increasing staff and preparing for a major influx in business.
For Brent Armsworthy, manager at Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, said the added hockey business is coming at an opportune time. He said the National Football League playoffs and President Obama’s inauguration helped sales, but both events will soon be in the rearview mirror.
“After that, we were looking at nothing that we could plan on,” Armsworthy said. “That’s comforting as a business owner and business operator that you know you can rely on that business. So like I said, we’re just happy to have hockey back.”
Much of the added business will be thanks to the return of hockey season regulars. Managers at each of the bars around the Verizon Center said their main business is during pregame and postgame hours. Most of the customers are season ticket holders, Smith said.
Williams said most of his hockey regulars didn’t live in the area and that without hockey, there wasn’t reason for many of them to venture to Chinatown.
“We’re definitely excited to see the hockey crowd come back,” Williams said. “We’ve managed to cultivate a really cool core group of hockey regulars that come in, and we haven’t seen these guys in over a year at this point.”
The crowds at the Verizon Center are expected to be big for the Capitals’ home opener Tuesday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
“All we want to do is open the doors and say welcome, hockey’s back. We’re ready to go,” Williams said. “We’re kind of glad that the three month long national nightmare is over.”