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Official Review by Josh Oakes, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Located on the corner of 7th and F Streets, the Verizon Center has been home to the Washington Wizards since it first opened for the 1997-98 season. The season prior to the opening of the then-named MCI Center, the Bulls swept the Bullets in the first round of the playoffs in the Bullets final season at the Capital Centre in Landover, MD. It was in February of that season that owner Abe Pollin made an important announcement. Starting in ’97-’98 season, the name Bullets would be changed to Wizards.
On 2 December 1997, the newly-named Wizards defeated the Seattle SuperSonics 95-78 in front of a sellout crowd of 20,647. Today, hanging in the rafters high above the court, are banners commemorating the achievements of three of the stadium’s four tenants: the Bullets, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoyas. Among these banners are six NBA Eastern Conference Championship banners, an NBA Finals banner, and the retired numbers of Wes Unseld, Gus Johnson, and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. They even have the ‘78 NBA Finals trophy on display in the main concourse.
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".
For those of you with enough money to land a ticket granting access to the Courtside Club or Dewar's Club, you will not be disappointed. Both of these clubs are located on the floor level underneath the 100-level sections, and include massive spreads prepared by professional chefs. The rest of us will find the majority of the concessions around the 100-level concourse. Here you will find everything from the standard hot dog, soft pretzel, and nachos with "cheese," to burgers, chili, salad, and a station serving up hand-carved turkey sandwiches. The stand of choice among the local crowd is that belonging to the Hard Times Café, a local DC landmark serving up every kind of chili imaginable, but just be sure to use the restroom before driving home. Located in the southeast corner off the main concourse, behind sections 102 and 103, is a full-fledged restaurant, The Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille. This place is always crawling with fans of both teams before, during, and after the game. If you want a drink at halftime but don't feel like waiting in line at one of the many drink stations, just pop into the bar at The Greene Turtle.
The club level (200-level) is home to the BBQ Pit and is well worth your time. The aroma of sweet barbecue fills the concourse and spills out to the escalators taking people to the upper deck. Also located in the 200-level is the Acela Club. Passes for this club can be purchased on the Wizards website for $15, and they give you access to the club along with the restaurant, but you will need a separate game ticket to get into the arena. Once you are seated at one of the tables in the club, you can order from the traditional menu or make a go at the ever-changing chef's table. The chef's table is a gourmet buffet featuring whatever the chef decided to make that day and weighs in at around $45 per person. The traditional menu is a bit less expensive.
Finally, there is the 300-level where food is somewhat scarce. Concession stands are dotted around the upper concourse, but the variety is severely limited. This being said, the beer selection is well varied on every level.
A columnist for the Washington Post in 1997 remarked that the new name of Wizards could be worse and the same is true of the atmosphere today. It could be worse. For the most part, it is a safe place to take the family or a good place to entertain a potential business partner or client. Ushers vary from polite, helpful, and friendly, to rude, and fans are still filing in well after the opening tip off -- more on that later. Regardless of when you choose to arrive, be it two hours before tip off when the gates open, or right after the national anthem, be sure to get there in time to see the player introductions. This is when the Verizon Center shines. Spotlights rove the largely empty stands while highlights from the various greats of DC sports flash across the Jumbotron. It all comes to a point with fire shooting up from flamethrowers suspended above the baskets and the players' names and faces filling up the scoreboard and video ribbons. Aside from that, the cheerleaders make sporadic appearances on the court, and the mascot G-Wiz can be seen from time to time interacting with the fans.
The Verizon Center is bordered by Chinatown to the north, museums to the west, and a variety of restaurants and shops to the south and west. Behind sections 120 and 121 is the Gallery Place. While it is technically not part of the Verizon Center, you can go from one to the other without going outside. The Gallery Place is a four-story shopping center, complete with a gym, seven restaurants, a spa, bowling alley, and movie theater. Some of the restaurants include Bar Louie, Clyde's Restaurant, Thai Chili, and Sushi Go-Round. Bar Louie will not let anyone under twenty-one in after a night game, but every other place will. Clyde's Restaurant is a great choice for just about any occasion before or after the game, and it looks a lot more expensive than it actually is.
Opposite the Verizon Center and Gallery Place is the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and Portraiture. The museum's website has a list of what exhibits will be on display on any given week. Rembrandt, Monet, and Van Gogh have all been featured here. The best part is that it's free! Along F Street, across from the art museum and next to Hotel Monaco, is the International Spy Museum, which is not free.
As for Chinatown, it may not be as big or exciting as the one found in New York or San Francisco, but it still has a plethora of dining options. Daikaya, located on 6th Street, is a traditional Japanese restaurant that specializes in izakaya, ramen, and Sapporo ramen. Each floor is run by a different chef and is dedicated to one of these three traditional Japanese art forms. You will probably have to wait about 15-20 minutes to be seated, but the wait is well worth it.
Believe it or not, going to a Wizards game was not always high on the list events to attend in DC. Prior to the 2012-13 season, a sellout crowd was about as rare as a clean politician, but the fans that did show up were always legitimate Wizards fans. Today, sellouts, or near sellouts, are common, but most of the people who show up didn't even know DC had an NBA team before that playoff run. These new pseudo-fans spend more time on their phones while shouting the same vulgar phrases over and over again. They show up late and leave early, which just enforces the idea that very few people are actually there to watch the game. This being said, there is still a remnant of the good old fans that were fans before the recent playoff run. These people are just happy to be at a basketball game and are genuinely excited about the team's success.
While the Verizon Center itself does not have a parking garage, the surrounding area is full of them, charging anywhere from $15-$30-plus on game day. Websites like spothero.com and parkingpanda.com are excellent tools for finding discounted parking. If you don't feel like driving through the city, just take the DC Metro, which has a station right under the Verizon Center. Parking at all Metro stations is also free on weekends and holidays; just check the website for rail fare and parking info.
Once inside, restrooms and water fountains can be easily found on every concourse. The escalators going to the 200 and 300-levels cannot be immediately accessed from the main concourse. Instead, you will have to search for the portals that lead from the 100-level to the escalators, or just ask an usher where to find them.
Check out Parking Panda for some of the best parking options for the game. Use the promo code STADIUMJOURNEY10 for 10% off your first transaction.
The retail price for upper deck tickets starts at around $25 and the average price on the resale marketplace is around $30-$35. Depending on the night, Wizards tickets have the cheapest prices of all the pro teams in DC save the Mystics. The low prices, easy access, and location in the nation's capital all make the Verizon Center a great place to visit.
There are no obstructed view/limited view seats anywhere in the arena; even the standing room affords a great view of the action. Promotional giveaways include such items as bobbleheads and action figures of the players. The Wizards' website has a promotions schedule which outlines what they will be giving away and when.
Member Review by gtcrawley on Apr 04, 2010
Washington DC's Verizon Center is home to the NBA's Wizards, NHL's Capitals, WNBA's Mystics and Georgetown University men's basketball. Built in 1997, it was the start of the revitalization of DC's Chinatown. It is largely responsible for the area being one of the hottest spots in the city. It is a terrific venue for most events. For Wizards' basketball? Eh.
Member Review by bullock0404 on Jan 06, 2013
Where were you on December 2nd, 1997? If you were in the Chinatown area of our nation’s capital, you may have been one of over 20,000 fans witnessing the first NBA game at the newly opened MCI Center. Then-President Bill Clinton and David Stern were there right along with you watching the Wizards cruise to victory over the Seattle Supersonics.
A lot has changed since then - Hillary is now the most powerful Clinton in D.C., the Sonics moved to Oklahoma and the MCI name has been replaced by Verizon. One thing that hasn’t changed is that this arena is still a great place to catch a game - oh, and David Stern is still commissioner (until 2014).
Wizards fans have had some exciting moments over the past 15 years, including hosting the 1999 NBA Draft and 2001 NBA All-Star Game, MIchael Jordan’s second NBA comeback in 2001 and hosting playoffs games for 3 consecutive years (2006-08) against the Lebron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, success has been fleeting over the years and the Wizards have only had 4 winning seasons since they opened their arena, never exceeding 45 wins in any one campaign.
Hanging from the rafters of the Verizon Center, you will find the teams banners for their NBA Championship from 1978 and an Eastern Conference title from 1979. You will also find the retired jerseys of Earl Monroe, Gus Johnson, Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld represented hanging in the arena.
Member Review by mmspatz on Mar 18, 2013
The Washington organization does a lot to make live games at the Verizon Center entertaining regardless of the fact that the Wizards haven't exactly been competitive for quite some time. G-Man and G-Wiz are great mascots for kids and there were a lot of fun cam games and other intermission games that kept everyone involved during dead ball intermissions, including the Burrito Toss. All in all I would definitely go back. Fans don't pack the center but there are a lot of kids who do go who seem to have an absolute blast. Having Washington DC as a backdrop doesn't hurt either.
Member Review by GaryButterworth on May 10, 2013
Washington is a football town. Otherwise, fans are fickle here. And the Wizards haven't been a great team lately. On the plus side, unless a LeBron's in town, you can pick up tickets dirt cheap. And every once in a while, it's fun to just veg out in an arena that's 80% empty. But the novelty of that runs out quickly.
Lousy team in an apothetic environment? Well, at least you're in a decent building. The Verizon Center (formerly the MCI Center) is very pleasant, although not really unique. It's the fraternal twin of the Wachovia Center in Philly, only with more fickle fans and in a livelier neighborhood.
Member Review by senorr on Dec 17, 2013
The fans are not excited at all, even though this year's team is supposed to be good. The game I went to fans cheered throughout the close 4th quarter. The game went to overtime, and HALF THE FANS LEFT! If you want to visit the Verizon Center, go to a Caps game because the atmosphere is WAY better.
Member Review by Joakes on Jan 05, 2014
Named the MCI Center when it first opened in 1997, the Verizon Center has been home to the Washington Wizards since December 2nd of that year, when the Wizards defeated the Seattle SuperSonics 95-78 in front of 20,647 fans. Hanging in the rafters are banners from bygone years, when the then-named Washington Bullets won an NBA championship back in 1978, nearly 20 years before the opening of the Verizon Center. The ’78 NBA Championship trophy is also on display on the main concourse.
Member Review by alee1227 on Nov 08, 2014
The fans were silent. the only noise I really heard from fans was a couple of guys talking about RG3 the whole game. Prices for food and merch were outrageous.
701 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
705 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
7th & H St NW
Washington, DC 20001
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