Unassuming St-Laurent Boulevard sports bar Champs reopened yesterday after a years-long hiatus. New owners are now at the helm — and they say they’re eager to do away with the “usual bravado” that many deem inextricable from the sports bar atmosphere.
“I think there’s an outdated stigma attached to sports bars in general, that they’re these bastions of violent, beer can-crushing sports dudes,” Sarah Fobes, a filmmaker, sports writer, and one of the bar’s new owners, tells Eater.
For the project, she’s joined by Raphael Kerwin, owner of the Blue Dog Motel bar (on the ground floor of the same building), and five other unnamed partners from Montreal’s music and nightlife scene.
Champs will maintain that low-key, frill-free, dive bar energy that made it a staple on the Main for decades, but in its latest incarnation, owners say they want to ensure “everyone feels welcome.” Fobes says that the bar’s inclusive hiring practices and zero-tolerance customer service policies will reflect that.
A queer woman who’s been covering sports for 15 years, Fobes says she’s always been a fan of watching games in a crowded bar — “everyone going wild and high-fiving when a goal or touchdown is scored.” She’s originally from Yellowknife, but spent a chunk of her twenties on the West Coast watching sports “at ‘straight’ sports bars with an army of beer can-crushing lesbians,” she says. “It was so much fun, and I always felt safe.”
That’s the environment she and her partners hope to foster with the reboot of Champs, originally opened in the 1980s, in a building constructed just over 40 years prior. Over the years, the four-floor structure has housed a number of restaurants and bars, including cocktail lounge and steakhouse Bucharest and a Portuguese restaurant and banquet hall called Algarve Sol. Today, it’s home to performance venue The Diving Bell Social Club up top and Barbossa and Blue Dog bars on the ground level. Fobes says the team is glad to bring one more hospitality business back into the fold; Champs is on the second floor.
The space has received a bit of a facelift, including replacing electronic gambling machines (VLTs) with arcade games and creating a 25-person wine bar where Champs’ kitchen used to be. Fobes says the added wine nook will also screen sports games, but can be reserved for private events, with the wine offering put together by Mano Cornuto sommelier Rob Clarke. With food no longer being prepped on-site, Champs has tapped nearby restaurant La Main Folle to deliver pizza directly to its tables.
For all that’s changed at the Plateau mainstay, Fobes says patrons can still count on the basics: sports on screens and cheap beer aplenty.
Champs is now open at 3956 St-Laurent Boulevard. Check its Instagram account for updates on business hours.