M-F (3PM-12AM), Sa-Su (12PM-12AM)
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Championship Sports Bar & Grill has an identity problem–or at least a name problem. Though it is a bar, they have neither sports nor a grill. But in our opinion they are the apotheosis of a dive bar, with cheep beer, art and music all the time, video games and pool, and a friendly relaxed vibe. They are one of only two great bars in Trenton, and are absolutely worth a visit (the other, of course, is the up-market Trenton Social).
Though once it was a popular bar (with a working kitchen!), two years ago “Champs” was a joint you probably didn’t want to go into. Mostly empty with bartenders who liked to pick a fight with the patrons, this wasn’t a pretty place to be. The walls were unadorned, and could only be described as “decommissioned battleship gray.” But they changed management, and the culture of the place changed dramatically. Now, it’s a thriving scene, full of art and inhabited by Trenton’s street artists and punk rock communities. But everyone is welcome, and you’ll be sure to feel right at home when you sidle up to the bar.
The building (which also houses a liquor store) has a bar section and a music venue where bands frequently appear, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays. There aren’t a lot of tables–but usually you can find a seat at the bar. The walls are lined with art and artifacts, from paintings to the many “tall bikes” that you can find throughout the building (welded double-height bicycles that seem to proliferate in Trenton’s artsy areas). There are scattered TVs, but most of them are hooked up to old-school video game systems (Nintendo, Sega, Nintendo 64) and only a handful are actually playing live television. Even so, you’re more likely to see The Daily Show than a sports game–and whatever you’re watching will likely be on mute (with captions) because the music they play is pretty great. On Tuesdays, Champs shows movies at 10PM (and everyone gets plastered and plays trivia as they watch the film). A pool game is $1, and there is also a ping-pong table and a small table with board games that you can bring over to the bar. On Mondays, they have an Art Chill Night where you can grab art supplies and work on an art project as you drink. It’s way more fun than it sounds.
Champs serves a diverse clientele, which is great to see in a city as diverse as Trenton. Even so, we haven’t yet seen many people there over 40. The per capita piercing/tattoo ratio is pretty high, which gives you a sense of their current clientele. They’re welcoming to everyone, though, and even have a few LGBT pride flags hung on the walls. After about 10PM, a security guard is present at the bar, though we haven’t seen any need for him. It’s a chummy and convivial joint, and if you show up more than once you’ll be greeted by name and made to feel like a regular.
Everything here is dirt cheap, but go for the beer. Wine is $4.50, and is served out of mason jars because the bar only has one wine glass (if they can find it). It’s vaguely drinkable, but you’re better off with one of their dozen or so draughts (some of which are quite interesting). They always have something cheap on draught at $2/drink, and they often have ciders. Champs makes sure to feature a range of local beers at all times. They don’t have a grill anymore, so if you want something to eat you can bring it in from a local restaurant (or have it delivered). In other words, it’s BYOF (bring-your-own-food). One of our favorite Jamaican restaurants is right next door. But this is the kind of place where the bartender might just order an extra large pizza and offer everyone at the bar a slice (this has happened to us).
If you want a wine list, a fancy mixed drink, or an elegant imported beer, go to Trenton Social–Trenton’s great upscale bar and restaurant. But if you want some great music, super-relaxed atmosphere, and an oddly neighborly (though grungy) vibe, you’ll feel right at home at Champs.