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Three cheers for sports bars

We've compiled a list of 10 of the best sports bars/restaurants in the Baltimore metropolitan area from which to view all the Baltimore sporting action, from Preakness to the Orioles.

So whether you're looking for a relaxed atmosphere or a place where you can cheer and yell at the screen, we've got you covered.

FOR HARD-CORE SPORTS FANS
ESPN Zone
601 E. Pratt St., 410-685-3776.

The 35,000-square-foot, two-level complex at the Inner Harbor uses state-of-the-art technology to provide the ultimate sports-viewing experience and an all-out assault on the senses. We're talking more than 200 video monitors, including over a dozen in the bathrooms.

ESPN Zone is made up of three components. One is the Studio Grill, where patrons can choose from a menu of more than 70 items (standard bar food mixed in with some entrees) and dine at replicas of ESPN studio broadcasting sets, such as SportsCenter, while they watch the games.

Then there's the Screening Room, which includes a 16-foot video monitor, surrounded by a dozen 36-inch screens, and a video wall that provides the latest scores and statistical updates. Each table has audio speakers (you can choose which game you want to hear) and some have built-in video monitors. If you're really lucky, you may land a seat on one of the seven leather recliners, otherwise known as "Zone Thrones."

Finally, for those who consider themselves athletes in addition to being supporters of athletes, ESPN Zone has the Sports Arena, where more than 200 customers at a time can participate in actual and virtual games.

SO CLOSE TO ESPN, YET SO FAR
Downtowne Sports Exchange
200 W. Pratt St., 410-659-5844.

Downtowne Sports Exchange is within walking distance of ESPN Zone, but the two establishments couldn't be more different. If ESPN Zone is a little too corporate or high-tech for your tastes, this could be the place for you.

Also referred to as DSX and formerly known as Balls, Downtowne Sports Exchange allows you to soak up the atmosphere of the Inner Harbor without all the glitz of the theme restaurants. Operating in a building that was constructed more than two centuries ago, the place has a Fells Point-like charm.

And although Downtowne Sports Exchange may lack some of the amenities of its neighbor down the street, it does have 30 television screens. Customers can view multiple games at once from anywhere in the bar.

As for the food, we recommend the Louisiana clam chowder and the shrimp salad, the latter of which Orioles' Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson has proclaimed to be Baltimore's best, according to the menu. Who are we to argue with No. 5?

FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE MORE REALLY IS MORE
Jillian's
7000 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover, 443-755-0113.

If you thought ESPN Zone was huge, wait until you get a load of this place. Jillian's, an entertainment and dining megaplex in the Arundel Mills mall, covers 65,000 square feet. But unlike ESPN Zone's all-sports theme, sports are only part of the equation here.

That's not to say that Jillian's isn't a fine place to watch the games. Jillian's Video Cafe has 10 60-inch televisions, as well as a giant video wall (four 16-foot screens) that's set behind a huge bar.

The food in the Video Cafe is average, so if you want a good meal and a fun dining experience, hit Jillian's Hibachi Grill before the games (there are no televisions there).

Feel like bowling or shooting pool? Jillian's has 14 bowling lanes in a nightclub-like atmosphere, as well as a billiards room with 10 tournament-quality pool tables. And you won't miss any of the basketball action, as both the bowling and billiards area are equipped with video monitors.

There's also a gigantic arcade, featuring the latest electronic simulation games, as well as classic favorites.

Other areas in Jillian's include the Power Bar, a 40-foot bar and cocktail area with multiple video screens, and the Groove Shack, a dance club that is open Thursday-Saturday nights.

THE NEXT BEST THING TO BEING THERE
Padonia Station
61 E. Padonia Road, Cockeysville, 410-252-8181.

The Maryland Terrapins have played their last game at Cole Field House, but the electric atmosphere of Padonia Station during televised Maryland games makes you feel as if you're sitting courtside at a Terps home game.

So if you're a fan of Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and company, this is a great place to cheer them on loudly and enthusiastically. The clapping and the rhythmic chanting of "Let's go, Maryland" will likely be ringing in your ears long after you leave.

Padonia Station -- which has 35 television monitors, including five big screens -- is more than just a place to be a spectator. There are a number of arcade games, including a basketball game -- just the thing if the action on television inspires you to shoot some hoops yourself.

There's plenty to choose from on the menu, including an assortment of tasty wings. The nachos grande also comes recommended, as does Padonia Station's new Chesapeake wrap, which contains grilled chicken and crab meat.

YO, ADRIAN, GO, TERPS!
Della Rose's Avenue Tavern
8153 Honeygo Blvd., White Marsh, 410-933-8861.

Another gathering place for vocal Terps fans is Della Rose's. The entertaining pre-game ritual alone makes this Baltimore County establishment worth a visit.

Minutes before big Maryland games, Tony Della Rose, one of the proprietors, stands up on the bar to warm up the crowd. As the "Rocky" theme plays in the background, he whips the patrons into a frenzy with a trash-talking motivational speech.

Della Rose's usually is divided into a bar section and a dining area, but for Maryland's NCAA tournament games, it will be transformed into one big bar (although food is still served). In addition to the nine television monitors and a 55-inch big screen on the bar side, two 30-inch televisions will be added to the restaurant side.

It gets pretty loud and festive during the games, so those looking for a quiet dining experience should come back on a night when the Terps aren't playing.

Della Rose's menu includes seafood specialties and entrees such as sour beef and dumplings.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Looney's Pub
2900 O'Donnell St., 410-675-9235.

If you're opposed to rubbing elbows -- literally -- with strangers, you probably don't want to be at Looney's Pub in Canton on a busy night, especially in the upstairs bar. However, the tight quarters don't seem to bother the college crowd that makes up a large portion of Looney's customers.

For some people, in fact, the bustle adds to the aura of fun and excitement that comes with watching a major sporting event, socializing and having a few -- or more -- beers.

Speaking of beer, Looney's has a diverse selection to choose from, and always has at least 25 on tap.

There are 31 televisions and two big screens at Looney's, but if a couple of the games on the tube don't hold your attention, there are two pool tables as well as foosball, video games and dartboards.

A few items stand out on the menu, especially the cheese-steak sub, crab club and crab dip.

IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK
Michael's Cafe
2119 York Road, Timonium, 410-252-2022.

The sports memorabilia on the walls is by no means the only reason to patronize Michael's in Timonium, but it's a good one.

Beyond the typical Orioles, Ravens and Colts stuff, Michael's has an impressive collection of autographed photos and mementos from a wide variety of sports figures. Some of the best memorabilia is related to boxing, including a pair of trunks signed by Floyd Patterson, an autographed photo of Jake "the Raging Bull" LaMotta and the program from the legendary 1974 heavyweight title bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

The memorabilia harks back to days of yesteryear, but Michael's isn't in the dark ages when it comes to sports viewing. There are flat video screens mounted over select booths, as well as several televisions around the bar.

The clientele at Michael's skews to an older, white-collar crowd, and the food, accordingly, is anything but the greasy kids' stuff that is typical of many bars. Known for its crab cakes and raw-bar selections, Michael's serves fine restaurant-quality food in a bar setting.

FAMILY FARE
Yogi's All-American
793 W. Bel Air Ave., Aberdeen, 410-273-1800.

If you're looking for a place where you can bring your kids, watch the games and have a decent meal in a friendly environment, Yogi's fits the bill. More of a restaurant than a watering hole, Yogi's is composed mostly of booths and tables, with a rather modest-sized bar.

The atmosphere at Yogi's is fun, but it's a bit more laid-back than most of the establishments on this list. The noise won't be such that you can't carry on a conversation without raising your voice.

The walls are adorned with a number of autographed photos of sports figures posing with owner Yogendar "Yogi" Kumar, including Ravens owner Art Modell and former Orioles star Cal Ripken (the restaurant is located in Aberdeen, after all). And there are two 10-foot video screens, five 8-foot video screens, 17 25-inch monitors, and individual volume controls at each table.

The service at Yogi's is especially good. The waitresses are personable, and Yogi himself is likely to stop by your table a few times to check on you.

RAISING THE BAR
Champps Americana
10300 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 3040, Columbia, 443-367-0333.

The people who operate Champps prefer it to be known as a restaurant that features sports rather than a sports bar, but it is definitely equipped to satisfy your sports-viewing needs.

There are a number of televisions around the dining area, as well as two high-definition flat screens and two video walls that can be split into nine or 12 screens.

Champps, one of several new establishments on the grounds of The Mall in Columbia, has quality food, too. Its upscale-casual dining menu features 101 items -- of which all but six are made from scratch by the chefs.

Whether you prefer steak, seafood or pasta, it's hard to go wrong with any of the entrees. We also recommend the crab bread for an appetizer.

Champps attracts a diverse clientele, including singles in their 20s, over-30 couples and families with young children.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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