Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sports bar, Vegas style

New facility to add to nightlife around MTS Centre

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Two local businessmen will be injecting some Las Vegas glam into the blossoming nightlife around the MTS Centre, with the opening next month of a new mega sports bar on Portage Avenue.

Jack Salvaggio and Bernie Cheater say their 4Play Sportsbar and Entertainment Zone will boast such Las Vegas-style features as a main-floor bar with a 24-foot projection screen and 100 theatre-style seats, and a second-floor games lounge with three giant golf/multi-sport simulators. They say the TV screen will be the biggest bar/lounge screen in Winnipeg and maybe even Western Canada.

The two bar-and-restaurant-industry veterans want to grab a bigger share of the area's nightlife, which has roared back to life since the MTS Centre opened five years ago. They're spending upwards of half a million dollars to convert their former Blush Ultraclub nightclub at Portage and Hargrave into a 19,000-square-foot, two-storey sports bar/restaurant/entertainment centre. Unlike Blush, which was only open on Friday and Saturday nights, 4Play will be open seven days a week from noon to 1 a.m.

"We're not trying to put anybody else out of business," Salvaggio said in an interview Wednesday, adding there's more than enough business to go around on the roughly 180 nights of the year when there's a hockey game, concert or entertainment event going on at the MTS Centre. Other downtown bar and restaurant operators agree.

"I think everybody downtown is busy before an (MTS) event," said Denis Paulhus, general manager of the Boston Pizza restaurant and sports bar at cityplace. "If you're not downtown before 5:30 (p.m.) and have a seat, you're not going to get one. At least not here."

It's a similar story at the Elephant & Castle pub and restaurant in the Delta Winnipeg Hotel.

"Any concert night, we're full," general manager Dana Dandeneau said of the 180-seat venue. "There was a bit of concern when Boston Pizza opened, because it was right across the street. But it hasn't hurt us at all."

Dandeneau said 4Play's opening shouldn't hurt them either. And that's Paulhus's attitude, as well.

"If it brings more sports fans downtown, great!" he said.

Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, said another restaurant/bar is exactly what the area needs. He said a survey four years ago showed more downtown restaurants topped the wish list for most MTS Centre patrons. Salvaggio, who has been in the bar and restaurant business for more than 30 years, and Cheater, a real estate agent who used to be a part-owner of the former Chi-Chi's restaurant next door to the old Winnipeg Arena, said they got some of their ideas for their new concept on a visit last year to Las Vegas.

"We looked at all the best sports bars and brought the best back here," Salvaggio said.

He said their full-service restaurant should appeal to both the lunch-hour and after-work crowds. And offering things like sporting events and interactive sports and video games -- 4Play will also have two 15-foot projection screens and 30 50-inch plasma TVs -- should appeal to both youth and adult customers.

Grande said that's the approach downtown bars and restaurants need to take because crowds in the area are still thin on non-event nights. "(They) can't rely just on MTS Centre events. You also have to have a concept that appeals to downtown office workers and downtown residents."

Twenty-eight-year-old real estate agent Steven Paulus is all of those things rolled up into one. Not only does he work downtown, he also lives there and attends lots of events at the MTS Centre. He said he's looking forward to 4Play's opening.

"It's always nice to have more options," he said, adding there's still plenty of room for more bars and restaurants within easy walking distance of the MTS Centre.

Grande said what's needed now is additional government incentives that will make it economically feasible for developers to redevelop some of the vacant buildings and surface parking lots near the arena.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 18, 2010 B5

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