Here at Time Out, we’ve learned to be suspicious of venues that change their names. It’s often little more than a cynical ploy to attract fresh publicity and hype after no more than a lick of paint, or a newly laminated menu. We certainly had such fears about Champs, which seemed at first to be simply an enforced name-change for Aussie Legends, following a management restructure at the Satwa hotel it calls home. It was all very sudden: one day the hotel was the Rydges Plaza, the next the reception staff told us the new name was Eden Hotel, later going with Chelsea Plaza.
Amid all this change, Aussie Legends – a brand name owned by the old managers – was quickly dubbed Champs, but there wasn’t time to change much else. Yet that was back in May, and when we got wind of a launch party last month (touted ex-footballer Trevor Sinclair sadly cancelled), it was clearly time to give Champs another try.
The first thing we noticed is that any trace of Oz has evaporated like the whizz of the Tasmanian Devil’s tailspin. Symbolically, the big kangaroo behind the bar has been ripped down, as have any other tacky knick-knacks from Down Under, leaving Bidi Bondi and Nezesaussi to fly the flag for Oz.
In its place, they’ve gone sports crazy, boasting stacks more screens on which to catch the games. Once known as the home of monthly raucous rawk from Metal Asylum (which appears to have moved to the Greenbelt Lounge), the newer venue has also branched out to host more regular live music, with a house band playing Monday to Friday – Saturdays and Sundays are reserved for sports.
When we visited it was pretty packed, but interestingly it was cricket not football that drew the punters to the projector (although the manager was happy to sort us out some English Premier League on a smaller screen). With waitresses dressed in an odd cheerleader-esque uniform, complete with house three-stripe trainers, the bar seems to attract an unsurprisingly all-male crowd, but there was a relaxed and convivial atmosphere in the air. Meanwhile, the bar food is above average, thanks in part to sharing a kitchen with a neighbouring Italian restaurant.
With so many sports bars in Dubai, there’s no way Champs is going to drastically disrupt the balance, but this is a welcome refocusing of a tacky and dated venue to something more clean and functional. We’re just glad they got rid of that silly kangaroo.