Some sports bars can impress as soon as a new customer opens the door. David's 1st and 10, a new Hampden spot to watch a game, achieved this rather easily on a recent Saturday afternoon.
All it took was an array of flat screen TVs, which were mounted all over the surprisingly spacious building, including a behemoth in the corner closest to the kitchen that looked to be 80 inches from corner to corner.
But it was important not to give David's too much credit for its TVs, since any owner with enough money can transform a bar's walls into a high-definition display. Instead, a sports bar should be judged by its service and its overall vibe, with the former always affecting the latter. In other words, the bottom line asks, "Is this a place I'd watch a game at again?"
After a couple of separate visits during two Saturday Orioles games, the answer was probably not. The problem was service, which was too lackadaisical and unfocused to ignore. On both visits, the fastest a cocktail arrived was 10 minutes after the initial order. Sports bars thrive when bartenders deliver and flip drinks with a sense of urgency. That was never the case at David's, and the experiences suffered because of it.
There was reason to be optimistic at first.
"Did you see Chris Davis' homer?" our bartender (who on both visits was Angela Devoti, an occasional b contributor) asked as we entered on our first trip. We had missed the long-ball leader's 417-foot blast to center field on the drive over, but we were happy to learn the employee seemed to be a genuine fan.
But things got worse, for us and the Orioles (on our first visit, the team ultimately blew a three-run lead by game's end). With her slow, spacey voice, Devoti was pleasant and talkative our entire visit, but she seemed to forget her primary objective was to serve customers quickly.
A friend ordered a can of Resurrection ($6) that he was given to pour into a glass himself. That's not a deal-breaker for a laid-back sports bar, but it's a sign of poor service. David's offers eight cocktails, so he also ordered an Old Fashioned ($8) that used Bulleit Bourbon, a muddle of brandied cherries, an orange slice and raw sugar and angostura bitters.
Devoti mentioned she had envisioned a summertime drink earlier in the day that wasn't on the menu. I ordered it, as a chance to test her abilities. The straightforward cocktail ($5.50) consisted of Green Mountain organic lemon vodka, ginger liqueur, housemade organic honey syrup and soda water.
Our order wasn't as simple as handing us a few Bohs, but the level of difficulty for an experienced bartender was low. And yet I could have watched an entire episode of "Seinfeld" on DVD before my drink came. As my friend sipped his beer, I stared at ice melting in a water glass. The Old Fashioned took 15 minutes to arrive, which seemed like an eternity until it took another seven minutes for my cocktail to appear.
Refreshing cocktails could have slightly helped the bar's case, but the Old Fashioned lacked balance between the ample Bourbon and the muddled mixture. ("That made my whole body tingle," the friend said after a slightly pained sip of the strong concoction.) My cocktail was booze-heavy but ended up hitting the spot after the bartender splashed sour mix that softened the edges nicely.
On a second visit, Devoti's performance improved, but was still too slow. Despite serving one of the better Negronis ($7 for Beefeater gin, Punt Y Mes vermouth, Campari and orange twist) I've had in the city, it took 10 minutes to receive the drink. Throughout the second visit, the languid approach to serving persisted. Another customer at the bar waited far too long for a Miller Lite draft, and had to ask twice for a glass of water. This came after Devoti forgot that I had ordered food with the Negroni. It didn't help that a manager-type stood behind the bar but didn't ask customers if they needed anything. He could have picked up the slack for Devoti, but chose to look on instead.
We could come up with hundreds of excuses as to why a bartender would take 22 minutes to deliver a drink in a non-crowded bar, but none of them would be acceptable. Hampden has needed a fresh sports bar, and David's 1st and 10 could be the one to alter the stereotype of the "hipster" neighborhood.
While it has the look and feel of a comfortable sports bar (plenty of seating, including leather couches, and that massive TV), its service gave little reason to return. Management should remind its staff that maddeningly slow service can overshadow even the smoothest cocktails and finest amenities.
David's 1st and 10
Back story: Formerly known as the cafe David's, this new sports bar in Hampden reopened in May with a theme focused on football, baseball and local sports legends. The kitchen serves slightly elevated bar food that remains approachable. The bar is well-stocked overall, and has six taps with standard options.
Parking: Metered on the street
Signature drink: The Negroni ($7) was classic and well executed. A more economical option is to go during an Orioles game, when a shot of Rebel Yell bourbon and a can of Boh costs $5.
Where: 3626 Falls Road, Hampden
Open: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily