Sports screens, 24-hour drinking and push-button beer ordering is the kind of sentence that would leave most men drooling, and Leicester Square’s Casino at The Empire knows this all too well. Wander into its in-house Carlsberg Sports Bar and you’ll find a screen-heavy, Danish-beer-swilling ‘haven’ that puts a myriad of sporting events centre stage.
While I do worry they have chosen a name too devilishly cryptic (perhaps ‘SPORTS BEER MAN PLACE’ would have been easier to grasp), after walking through the rather unappealing Casino at The Empire frontage, reaching the bar is actually a pleasant surprise. Screens of various sizes adorn the walls, with one large projection screen in the middle of the space. The open-plan nature lets you take a seat across from your favourite sport du jour, and those not interested can even gaze beyond the bar’s boundaries: an area populated by intrepid tourists flinging coin after coin into the definitely-doesn’t-look-like-Vegas gambletrons that festoon the casino floor.
Unfortunately, my first main gripe upon sitting down with my guest was that tables are not arranged effectively to watch the screens if you are in larger groups. Many are normal opposite-facing setups, which means there is no chance to watch the same game. While there are a few longer pew sections, some don’t have a TV opposite, and others would be quite antisocial in large groups, so are better suited to a couple of people max. Better would have been some semi-circular tables where people could easily adjust their view to a number of screens, while still enjoying the company of their friends.
Moving on to the food and drink, things were hit and miss. First a good point: while Carlsberg has a rather dominant presence, there are plenty of other options, and you can just ignore it entirely if you want. As for the food, the main contenders are burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches, with a spattering of steaks, grills, fish and sharing platters as well.
Taking to the electronic tables to begin our eagerly-anticipated push-button ordering, we were disappointed to find out none of them were working. Perhaps a one-off, perhaps not – who knows. After waiting for the very busy waitress to get around to us, we opted for a couple of deli sandwiches (£9 thereabouts). My companion’s Reuben (pastrami, sauerkraut, gherkins, cheese and Russian dressing) was very tasty, albeit a little meagre in its pastrami. His fries were also good quality, and no complaints there. The onion rings, however, were a revelation, and some of the best I’ve ever had.
My Monte Cristo sandwich (turkey, ham, cheese, dipped in batter) was a different story though. I expected some grease, but it seemed like it had been used to clean the deep fat fryer. Ironically, this disparity in sandwiches meant we were undertaking some sort of a culinary penalty shoot-out. The Reuben took a neat, powerful shot with every bite, while my Monte Cristo team just fell flat on their fat arses.
All things considered, I wouldn’t generally say the Carlsberg Sports Bar is worth your hard-earned cash. A lot of ideas just don’t work, and its outer shell (Casino at The Empire) is not a pleasant thoroughfare. How it can expect to distract too many people from the existing TV screens in their favourite boozer I don’t know, but I suppose the 24-hour notion might be key. Specifically, I think this place will come alive at 3am, with a standing crowd getting into a late-night game beamed on the big screen from further out west, tucking into pitchers and ignoring the seating/ordering/screen-viewing problems that plague its otherwise sterling potential.
Carlsberg Sports Bar at The Casino at The Empire
5-6 Leicester Square
Tel: 0203 627 1271