Sports Radio Boston – Champions Sports Bar at the Marriott Copley Place

BARCODE  – Champions Marriott Copley Place

The big game? customers

Kerry Fitzgerald and Tim Albrecht in front of the wraparound display of television monitors at Champions.
Kerry Fitzgerald and Tim Albrecht in front of the wraparound display of television monitors at Champions.
(Maisie Crow for The Boston Globe)
By Luke O’Neil Globe Correspondent / July 31, 2009

Anyone used to wandering into the old Champions sports bar in the Boston Marriott Copley Place may have been surprised to stumble upon the redesigned Champions this month. In fact, with the new bar and restaurant’s focus on clean, almost antiseptic design, they might feel as if they’ve wandered onto the deck of the Starship Enterprise.

With 40-plus flat screen televisions – including an impressive wraparound display behind the bar mounted on a wall of changing LED lights, and a towering 12-by-24-foot projection screen – there’s certainly a lot to absorb visually. That’s great news for people looking to take in a game or two, or 10.

It’s all part of the ever-increasing stakes in the sports bar arms race. But it’s not just the size of your arsenal, says Jack Rutigliano, director of food and beverage at the hotel. It’s how you employ it. “The layout plays a big part in what you’re gonna see and where you’re going to be seated,’’ he says. “Provided you can get enough viewing in each area of your restaurant or bar you can be successful. We have 40 screens here. CBS Scene has 145, which sounds impressive. But you’re only going to be able to see a few at a time anyway.’’

Apparently he’s never hung out with us during March Madness or on an NFL Sunday. Speaking of which, the private dining rooms here, with their numerous customizable screens, might make for a good afternoon for a group of sports-crazed friends. Bachelor party, anyone?

But back to that big screen. It’s really quite, uh, big.

“I think for us, the big screen . . . kind of lures people in,’’ Rutigliano says. “It invites them into our new environment. But once you’re inside you’re really watching something else anyway in most cases.’’ It is pretty hard to avoid. We saw a group of tourists gawking as we came in.

The difference between the new Champions and the old one is, in short, like making the jump from standard TV to HD digital. “Certainly it’s got a more contemporary feel to it,’’ says Rutigliano. “It’s not memorabilia-based anymore. Champions in its original day had baseball cards and such on the bar top. The new one is really more about technology and food and service.’’

The food, no surprise, takes the sports angle and runs with it. “The menu is approachable, people can relate to it,’’ says chef Michael Panasuk. We had no trouble approaching homespun dishes like his mother’s meatball recipe or the at-the-park options like giant soft pretzels served with a Sam Adams sharp cheddar cheese fondue and a foot long, half-pound Fenway Dog.

Then there’s beer, the staple of any sports bar. “We’ve got 36 beers on tap, so we want to satisfy all the palates out there,’’ says manager Wayne Murphy. A lot of them are New England-based like Buzzards Bay Pilsner, Mayflower Pale Ale, Sebago Boathouse Brown Ale, and Wachusett Green Monsta Ale (all $5.75).

“As people learn about it, I think it’s gonna be the place to be seen,’’ says Rutigliano, of Champions’ people-watching potential. In the meantime, there’s plenty of sports-watching to be done.

Champions at the Boston Marriott Copley Place, 110 Huntington Ave., Boston. 617-236-5800.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.