Although the proprietors will not admit it, 4Play Sports Bar may be the first casualty of the great NHL lockout of 2012-13.
The three-year-old sports-bar extravaganza is closing after New Year's Eve and will convert to a supper club for early spring re-opening.
Oreanna Cheater, who runs her family-owned establishment, refused to say the changes were being forced on them by the fact that half the season of busy game nights has been lost.
Last year 4Play, as well as every other restaurant/bar in the area, enjoyed very busy nights on every Winnipeg Jets game night.
"Of course it (the NHL lockout) affects all of the downtown, no question," Cheater said. "But that was not the basis for us to make the changes. If anything this is the best time do it because of the NHL lockout."
Cheater would not disclose the name of the new supper club, saying there's still planning and design work being done.
She said the family has hired a top Canadian chef from Montreal and while she said the new supper-club concept may not be five-star dining, "it will feel like fine dining but it will be something that everyone can afford."
When 4Play opened in the Dayton Building on the northeast corner of Hargrave Street and Portage Avenue in early 2010, it boasted the largest HD-television screen in town outside of the city's casinos, theatre-style seating and about three-dozen television sets all independently operated, with about eight kilometres of HD cables.
A regular attendee said on hockey game nights or for UFC fight events, the atmosphere at 4Play was like being at the live event.
"I was excited when they rolled out the concept," said Scott Jocelyn, the executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association. "I figured it was a home run."
Jocelyn said the return of the NHL was an unqualified boon to the restaurant and drinking establishments in downtown Winnipeg.
"There are 40 home games but everyone found out last year that they were not only busy on game nights but people were getting together at their favourite hangouts on all the road games as well," he said. "Do the math and it adds up to almost 90 nights -- three months of business. Guys budgeted to be that busy again this year and it's hard to cover off such huge numbers."
He said he was not familiar with 4Play's plans but said there is more competition in the area and "people are trying to be creative to speak to a particular niche in the market they can cater to."
Restaurants in the area are just as busy as the bars on game nights and Cheater, whose family has been in the restaurant business for many years, said the prospect of sinking another round of capital into the same property it spent money on only three years ago is not too concerning.
"We're very excited about prospects," she said. "I think Winnipeggers are going to be very happy with what we're doing."