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Official Review by John McCurdy, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
When Philips Arena opened up in 1999, a spot in my heart opened up - for hockey.
What is this "˜ice'? We put that in drinks. What are these "˜skates'? Ours have always had wheels. And what do you mean "˜check'? That's what I get in the mail on my birthday.
Ten seasons in, our Southern vocabularies have expanded, the rink has its own special nickname in "˜Blueland,' and the Atlanta Thrashers faithful are their own breed entirely.
Considering the squad's limited success, this species must be characterized by extremely short memories. But all the better for a young franchise trying to get a hold in this bastion of warm weather.
And of course, it doesn't hurt to have some decent digs.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The most options for regular ticket-holders are on a lower-level 'indoor street' called Hawk Walk. If one can ignore the fact that it's named for the building's other tenant, it is here that a Thrash fan can get good food.
I personally really like the burger and fries (around $11); the portions are generous and the taste is better than fast food, though not as good as a sit-down grill. There are plenty of options if your tastes are different from mine, though; look for grilled sandwiches (chicken, turkey, etc.), big SoCal-style burritos and of course barbecue.
Around the rest of the arena, the usual fare can be found every 10 steps or so. Nuts, popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, soda and beer (at $8.25 for domestic, $9.25 for imported) are everywhere. A nice bonus here is that the packaging - like drink caddies, bags, wrappers, etc. - is more solid than the typical, so you've got a good chance to actually get to your seat without spilling
As previously stated, the NHL has not been in Atlanta for long, so if you ask me to evaluate the sense of hockey history and tradition in this place, I'm going to be honest.
We've made the Playoffs once. Of our three banners hanging, one is just that "Inaugural Season" thing. Just how long can that be left up, anyway?
To me, the interior of Philips has always felt cutting-edge; I guess that makes sense for a place named after a technology company. The dark paint job contrasts beautifully with the neon advertisements, scoreboards and bright-white ice, giving the hockey in here an even greater sense of theater than the basketball.
But besides the hanging Thrasher heads that blow flame during intros and home-team goals, there is little that is specific to the squad, especially when contrasted with all the branding the Hawks have throughout. And the intermission entertainment is invariably bush-league.
The arena and the CNN Center (and its food court) are all in the same complex, and I would recommend taking advantage of the cheaper food and wider selection; it's more or less just like a mall food court, with fast food galore. It's also just a good place to hang out beforehand if you get there early.
If you're making a day of it and the weather's nice, check out Centennial Olympic Park, about a block and a half away. It's hard for us residents to believe it's been almost 15 years since we had the Games, but we'll always have the fountains and flora of this place to remember it by.
For a nice date, there's a Legal Sea Foods not half a mile away, a left out of the front doors and a left on Marietta St. They have a big, big variety of fresh seafood - everything from fish & chips to lobster and calamari - and some cheaper options via their sandwiches and rolls. Really not a bad deal, and the wine list is massive to boot.
But for a really nice date, you better go to Bacchanalia. Yep, this is the fixed-price kind of place, not really suitable for sporting-event nosh...unless you're chilling in club level or your own private suite. The cash you'd be forking over goes towards some really creative dishes made with local, fresh ingredients, though, so consider it if you've got someone to impress.
As alluded to before, there are indeed hockey nuts this far below the Mason-Dixon. You want proof? How about the booming chorus of 'KNIGHTS!' (referencing the city's old minor league team) at the end of 'Gave proof through the...' during the National Anthem?
They come in their jerseys, their hats. They come with their wives, their kids. For whatever reason, they have chosen to love a sport that can't be played easily where they live. I admire the heck out of them.
That being said, I've yet to meet someone at a Thrashers game who really knows the NHL inside and out. As it is in a lot of places, the game is about hard hits, breakaways, and fast slappers. That's what's going to get them on their feet, not the brilliant consistency of a Luongo or the finesse of a Iginla.
But I'm not using that to criticize them; they call them 'True Blue' for a reason. Thrashers fans are in it for their team to win it.
Getting to the downtown ATL stinks; always has, always will. I stand by MARTA, our public transportation system, but I am more or less alone in this. For anyone who's interested, all but a couple of the stations are found inside the perimeter (meaning I-285), so if you're staying more than 15 miles out, you're going to have to get in your car anyway.
If you're going to park anywhere nearby, you're coming in on I-20 (east or west approach) or 75/85 (north and south). For 20, you want the McDaniel or Spring St. exit, with the former providing an opportunity to use the 'back door' but the latter being more direct. On 75/85, you have options, though Williams St. is the most common, followed by MLK Jr. Dr. and Harris St.
Surface lots abound on the roads right around like Marietta, Spring, and Northside Dr., while decks are mostly on Andrew Young International Blvd. and Centennial Olympic Dr., the two paths that form the perimeter of the complex. Expect to pay up to $20 if you're getting in right across the way.
Inside is a different matter, though. The whole is laid out nicely, with restrooms well-labeled and well-kept. I still puzzle over the single staircase to the second level followed by a single escalator to the third, but you'll get there eventually.
Thrashers tickets are just a touch cheaper than those to Hawks games, but the same problems persist: The sensible price range gets you stuck under the overhang, so your options really are to go cheap and try to move down to the front of the upper deck (not all that hard) or pay for some real seats.
For hockey, I prefer the $30 range, where I can easily shift my way to row one of the top deck and get a nice bird's-eye view of the action. That's the best perspective for this particular game in my opinion; I mean, can you really keep track of who's who when they're skating that fast anyway?
Club level just isn't worth it the way it's worth it for basketball. The boards, the netting, and the ice change the feel entirely and make any sort of classy ambiance really pretty inappropriate.
I mean, I want to see somebody lose some teeth here, not order a cocktail!
Just like in my Hawks review, a point goes for the faÃ§ade out front. Just in case you don't know what town you're in, it lets you know.
Unfortunately, the mascot (creatively named 'Thrash'), his antics and the silly audience games don't come close to that of their hardwood counterparts. Part of this is the nature of hockey, but part of it is an inexcusable delay in the extras catching up to the product on the ice.
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Philips Arena-100 Techwood Drive Northwest
Atlanta, GA 30303