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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.
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".
They have everything here! Seriously, you will not go hungry at this place. Let's start at ground level with the Coaches Club and Dewar's Courtside Club. Both clubs come fully loaded with a gourmet buffet of crab, lobster, steak, and whatever else the chef makes that day. The main concourse is the place to be for the common man, where the prices are average and the selection is above average. There is even a full-fledged restaurant and bar, The Green Turtle, which one can access without leaving the Verizon Center -- but back to the main concourse.
The stand of choice (i.e., the stand with the longest line) belongs to Hard Times Café, a local chili café with various locations around the District. The Verizon Center menu includes such things as chili mac ($9.25), Hard Times Wings ($11) and a bowl of chili ($7), along with beer, soda, Gatorade and iced tea. If you are in the mood for nachos, head on over to X-Treme Nachos, where only two of the six food items on the menu actually include nachos, and The Sandwich District offers three different kinds of sandwiches for $11.50 a piece. If you are looking for something a little more fancy, there is a station that serves hand-carved turkey sandwiches with cranberry mayo and fresh spinach on a brioche roll for $11.50. The Verizon Center offers a healthy alternative to the typical, fat-filled, greasy stadium food. My Oh! Spot is a stand serving gluten-free and vegetarian items, along with a little drink called the Moscow Mule, which is a combination of "Vodka, Ginger Beer, and Wedge of Lime with just a hint of mint," for $13.
The club level (200-level) concourse is open to all fans in attendance, and offers such succulent treats as the savory spice-rubbed, slow-cooked beef brisket sandwich served with fried onion straws and kettle chips, all on a brioche bun for only $10.50 at the BBQ Pit located outside section 229.
The Acela Club is a massive restaurant that takes up all of sections 221-224, where you can order off the traditional menu or stuff your face at the ever changing Chef's Table buffet. A one-game pass to the Acela Club can be purchased online for $15, and expect to fork out around $15-$20 for the average entree from the menu. $40 is the price of eating from the Chef's Table.
The upper concourse (300-level) offers the typical stadium fare such as hot dogs, soft pretzels and peanuts for $5 a piece. There is beer at every stand on every level, but if you really want to eat and save some money, head down to the lower concourse.
Most of the atmosphere here comes from the visiting fans, and the ushers do a pretty good job of letting them know that they are not welcome. The PA system is loud and constant beyond the point of being obnoxious, especially when juxtaposed with the near-silent crowd on the night I visited. At one point in the fourth quarter, the stadium DJ announced that if an opposing player missed two free throws in a row, everyone would get free chicken. The dead crowd came to life, only to die off again after the Pistons player made both of his free throws. The Wizards Girls are a plus, though, and the player introductions include a cool video depicting scenes of DC and highlights from the various teams calling Verizon Center home, along with pyrotechnics. Unlike the ushers, the fans are usually amiable and willing to talk sports with you.
The Verizon Center is located on the edge of the D.C. Chinatown area, where restaurants and shops abound. Attached to the Verizon Center is a three-story plaza, the Gallery Place, complete with a movie theater, bowling alley and six restaurants: Bar Louie, Clyde's of Gallery Place, Haagen-Dazs, Sushi Go Round, Thai Chili, and Zhengo.
Bar Louie, on ground level, is a modern-style bar/restaurant where the bar is a large island in the middle of the restaurant. The place is littered with comfortable couches and chairs perfect for relaxing with some friends and some beer while watching one of the many flat-screen TV's. However, Bar Louie does not allow anyone under 21 in after the game.
Clyde's is a classy, old-fashioned pub whose interior décor screams EXPENSIVE, but it's not. The booths, tables, and bar are all made of dark, solid, beautiful wood hung with gorgeous paintings. The floor is carpeted with equally aesthetic thick, dark green floral carpet, and the ceiling is studded with stained glass windows. Neither the food nor the prices will disappoint. A wonderful, massive Reuben is only $12.50, as is an equally delicious and satisfying burger with fries and, unlike Bar Louie, you do not have to be 21 or older to eat here.
There is a Metro station at the Verizon Center, so access to most of DC is easy and cheap, but more on that later. One can find everything from Japanese sushi and Chinese chicken to Irish pubs and German ice cream within walking distance of the Verizon Center, and a couple blocks down the road is the American Spy Museum. Across the road is the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and Portraiture, featuring works from the likes of Bierstadt and other famous artists.
The fans that show up are quiet and spend more time at the concession stands than in their seats. It is kind of hard to make noise when your face is constantly full of the delicious food to be found here. One thing I will give to Wizards fans -- they are not riding any bandwagon. I suppose that means they are "true" fans, but their idea of support is just showing up (sometimes). This being said, they are not the obnoxious drunks you typically find at professional games. Most of them are rather pleasant and will talk sports with you or your kids. They get special notice here because of this.
There are no parking lots at the Verizon Center, but there are plenty of garages in the surrounding area. There is also a Metro stop at the arena. Neither pre-game nor post-game traffic is at all hard to deal with, as most people either take the Metro or don't show up at all. If you have your ticket on your phone, you can enter via the Gallery Place. If you have a paper ticket, you will enter via the front door on F Street, where the ticket office is also located. Waiting in line is usually not an issue, but if it is, the team store is right there, as well.
Tickets are cheap ($15 for a front row, 300-level seat behind the basket), the food is plentiful, and the area is the capital of the United States. There may not be much of an atmosphere (if any), but the Verizon Center is a good place to see your favorite team play for a cheap price.
The neighborhood gets an extra point or two here. The Wizards occasionally have giveaway nights, and I received a free Nene bobble head last time I was there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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