Wednesday night I was not only treated to an absolutely amazing hockey game between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, but I got to experience it in a place that lives and breathes hockey. To be honest I am almost reluctant to reveal this secluded spot just outside the District, but many puckheads already know about it. It’s space constrained, and as such easy to get shut out of a seat for a big game, and best of all the hockey-first, all other sports second atmosphere there is longstanding.
Wednesday night I saw a memorable Capitals’ playoff game while chowing down on seriously tasty pizza at famed Bugsy’s in Old Town.
When you first step into the old brick building you know this is not your standard sports bar. The place is littered with old time hockey photos, framed newspaper clippings, and other distinctive puck memorabilia. There’s a classic black and white image of a noggin-battered Mr. Hockey that’s worth making the trip for. It’s locker room cozy, and immediately you know you are somewhere special.
Bugsy’s is a bit of homage to an area far north of here, and a time that is long past. One of indoor smoking, hockey players without helmets, and of course tailored to a sports bar crowd for whom hockey reigns supreme. It is like a little slice of Saskatchewan or Manitoba in our own backyard.
Established in 1983 by former Capitals’ defenseman Bryan Watson and Lindy Waston, Bugsy’s was an immediate staple in the region. Coming from an NHL career of more than 17 years with the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and the Caps, it was clear Watson’s business venture would be dedicated to the sport of hockey. In fact, more than a decade after the pizzeria itself was opened an upstairs bar area known as the Penalty Box was opened. While it is now known as Bugsy’s Sports Bar, the place still holds true to its former hockey past, with walls lavishly littered with hockey mementos.
Wednesday night was my second experience in the hockey friendly bar, and it was even better than the first. Not only is the food down right solid, but the all-important beer selection is something almost no one else in the area offers. There should be a law that mandates watching playoff hockey with a Labatt Blue in your hand, and Bugsy’s has it. Sure, it’s not the best beer in the world, but it is a very hockey beer.
Obviously the food, drink, and atmosphere is good, but the real draw of Bugsy’s is the devotion to hockey, and that’s why I went there again, to eat well and take in a big game in an establishment where hockey is revered.
Bugsy’s has an assortment of about 20 flat panel televisions throughout the one floor bar area. While baseball was on when my party first arrived at about 6:30, it certainly was not on at 7. The Caps’ game dominated the family of televisions, but I was also able to slightly turn my head to the right and watch Buffalo beat Philadelphia and Tampa Bay fall in double overtime. Heaven. And piping hot pizza and cold beer was ever at the near.
The fact that I could watch three hockey games at one time I found remarkable at a D.C.-area tavern. Any other establishment in D.C. may have had the Caps on, but I guarantee you at least one of its TVs would have featured the NBA. Their playoffs are going on too, you know. But not at Bugsy’s, not on Wednesday night.
The only downside to the entire evening was the presence of a few Flyers and Penguins fans, one of which went home quietly wile the others were drowned out by everyone else watching the Caps’ thriller. That said, it wouldn’t be a worthwhile and distinctive outing if the enemy wasn’t heckled a little bit right?
Between the second and third periods there was a roar coming from the bar that immediately caught my attention. It was clearly a siren but I could not figure out where it was coming from. Not long after the siren started a red light sprung to life above the bar, and it was then I learned that the siren was not from an Alexandria fire engine, like I originally thought, but instead the bartender controlling a goal siren. While the Caps had yet to light the lamp in the game, that didn’t stop a Bugsy’s bartender from trying to send a few good vibes the team’s way.
Those good vibes certainly paid off too, as the Caps clawed their way back. During the comeback Bugsy’s felt like Madison Square Garden or the Phone Booth with its crowded passion and siren and light that was finally lit on Alex Semin’s goal. In fact, as Washington began to pile up the goals in the 3rd, the combination of the siren and the patrons made it seem louder than MSG itself. Maybe it was the building that made it seem that way, but whatever the reason it sent shivers down my spine.
The evening concluded with the place erupting into an explosion of cheering and high fives as Jason Chimera concluded the “Miracle on 34th Street,” as Steve Kolbe so accurately called it. Five hours after I had entered the little outpost of hockey heaven, I left victorious and feeling like I had just been to Canada and back.
Bugsy’s is certainly a gem in Virginia and a regional treasure that should be held dear by the region’s puckheads. It is clear any hockey fan is welcome, although if you’re from Philly or Pittsburgh don’t be surprised if you’re not shunned a little. Your pizza might even be delivered to your table slightly cool. If you are looking for a place to hold up for an evening of postseason puck, or puck at any time of year, look no further than Bugsy’s.
[For a wonderfully detailed look at what Bugsy's is like be sure to check out Mike Vogel's video tour of the place.]