Big Ten tournament a win for DC eateries

Jake Brodsky, Correspondent

WASHINGTON – With rockets on the walls, drinks whizzing around and the room covered in red-and-white decor, it seemed like the back room of Rocket Bar was in Bloomington, Indiana.

Indiana University Hoosiers fans populated the bar, and the cheer team was in attendance to pump up the crowd before the men’s basketball team took on the University of Iowa Hawkeyes on Thursday. Indiana prevailed, 95-73.

“It’s really exciting to see everyone who travels to support us,” Indiana cheerleader Molly Levine told Capital News Service. “[Pumping up fans is] like a job for us, and we love to do it.”

It was almost like the game was being played in Bloomington, which is why those in attendance loved it.

Richard Reese, a 2015 Indiana graduate and Bowie, Maryland, resident, called the event “incredible,” noting the “sea of red” he saw.

Reese said he loved the bar, but that “may change” if he went back in three days “because alums aren’t around.”

Rocket Bar, located 10 hours from Assembly Hall, is just one of a host of downtown restaurants that are being taken over for watch parties as the Big Ten’s traditionally Midwestern fans flood the nation’s capital.

The tournament is expected to generate $33.3 million in direct spending and $5.8 million in tax revenue for the district, said Danielle Davis, director of communications for Destination DC.

The D.C. chapter of the Indiana University Alumni Association and other alumni groups are a key factor in the business boom for bars downtown.

Jim Trilling, the president of the IU Alumni D.C. Chapter, said he began looking for bars in the fall of 2016 and choose Rocket Bar because of its proximity to the Verizon Center.

The bar also offered private spaces, where the group could bring in cheerleaders “to pump up” their team’s fans, Trilling said.

An event like Thursday’s alumni pregame generated between $800 and $1,000 for the Rocket Bar in just a few hours, which assistant manager Matthew Tulaphorn said was good for a weekday afternoon.

Additionally, events like the pregame draw foot traffic to the bar, he said.

“When people see people walking in, they just stroll down,” Tulaphorn said.

The revenue that alumni events can bring in has led to some bars contacting alumni associations and offering specials to lure the lucrative groups.

Gita Budd, Northwestern University Club D.C. president,  said numerous bars approached her group, but they opted to go with Blackfinn Ameripub D.C., located on I Street in Northwest Washington, its usual game-watching headquarters.

Northwestern’s local alumni group will be holding other events all over the nation’s capital throughout the weekend as the group celebrates the best season in school history.

But bars hosting alumni groups aren’t the only ones benefiting from the games being played in Chinatown.

Clyde’s, a restaurant and bar located next to the Verizon Center, has seen an influx of fans since the tournament started, manager Emmanuel Winston said.

“It’s given us a boost,” he said. “[The tournament] brings a lot of crowds and tourists.”

Clyde’s even changed the name of its fish taco to the Big Ten Fish Taco, which “a lot of people really like,” Winston said.

Even when restaurants are not changing their usual business plans, they are seeing more traffic.

Yo Horcharoen, the manager at Absolute Thai, located across from the Verizon Center, said his restaurant has seen a “small bump,” and they are “expecting a bigger one” despite not changing their offerings at all.

This year’s Big Ten Tournament is expected to bring in more than $9 million more in revenue for Washington-area businesses than last year’s ACC tournament, in part because this year’s tournament attracted more out-of-town fans, Davis said.

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