I've argued in the past that if a bar is going to have a theme, it should go all the way with it. Sure, a subtle nod to an underlying theme is nice, but that only works in certain cases. In sports bars, I think it's usually best to take the theme as far as possible.
You may know that I'm not much of a sports guy, which could be the reason why I like a heavily themed sports bar more than a half-hearted attempt to hang a jersey or two and add some extra TVs around the bar. If I'm going into the domestic draft and fried appetizer environs, I need something extra to keep me interested. Fortunately, Champions Sports Bar takes its theme about as far as it can possibly go without requiring tryouts for patrons. The bar is located near the lobby of the Tampa Marriott Waterside, a posh waterfront hotel that seems more suited to an upscale cocktail lounge, perhaps a piano bar.
This seemingly strange choice becomes less of a mystery when considering the proximity of the St. Pete Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center, both within walking distance. I think it's safe to assume that Champions absorbs a fair amount of overflow from these venues.
The bar's entrance doubles as a free-throw area, with memorabilia in cages on either side. The entryway opens into a fairly large restaurant and bar, populated by an astonishing amount of memorabilia. A tennis net separates the main dining area from a sunken level with a few of the sports that I partake in: pool, foosball, air hockey. Even the seating is themed in certain areas, with stadium-style folding seats protected by a guardrail, completing the scene but for a strolling peanut vendor.
That's still a thing, right?
One thing that I was surprised by was the number of sports represented throughout the bar, from the Olympic barbell being deadlifted by a pair of prop arms hanging from the ceiling to an article about curling accompanied by a curling broom. To say that Champions covers all the bases is to resort to a pun that is simply unavoidable.
I mentioned that Champions was truly set up for the sports fan; that's especially the case when it comes to the entertainment system. Several flat-screens are positioned around seating areas, and there are massive projection screens throughout, including a colossal one behind the bar that looks like it would be equally useful in a movie theater. On this screen, the players are not life-size, they're actually larger. This is all accompanied by a booming audio setup reminiscent of a decked-out home theater, with rumbling subwoofers and strategically-positioned satellite speakers. I can only imagine the chaos that ensues during big games.
We can't forget about the drinks, of course, and Champions serves up mostly what you'd expect from a sports bar. This means lots of ice-cold domestic drafts and basic cocktails, but the prices are surprisingly reasonable for a hotel bar, with even most high-end drinks sporting single-digit prices. The 23-ounce drafts are also a great bargain, especially when considering that a mere pint of Cigar City or Dunedin brews will cost you $5 to $7 at most places.
Overall, Champions is good fun. I'm sure that most people will find enough to keep them interested, whether they're true sports fans or just casual observers. You may even find the odd nostalgic piece of memorabilia somewhere — for me, it was the '92 NBA Dream Team cutout. And although I'm not usually known to watch sports, I would be interested to see a big game on that massive screen, audio system blazing, with 23 ounces of draft beer in my hand.