The new Bobby V’s Restaurant & Sports Bar opened July 12 at 268 Atlantic St. in Stamford, not far from the site at 225 Main St. that it called home for 37 years.
And the world did not end.
Pardon the hyperbole, but as the new Bobby V’s features an off-track betting facility, emotions can run high.
Concerns about gambling and preconceptions about the stereotypically disreputable people who patronize OTB parlors, in addition to unforeseen construction-related matters, contributed to delays in the opening.
“I totally get it,” said Ted Taylor, president of Sportech Venues, which has exclusive licensing rights to OTB in Connecticut. “People hear ‘OTB’ and they think of the old, dirty, run-down places in New York that you wouldn’t want yourself or your family exposed to.
“But this is different,” said Taylor, who is trying to establish an OTB parlor at Two Steps Downtown Grille in Danbury. “What we’re doing is a mix of an all-ages sports bar that may not have a strict dress code but does have a conduct code. The design has a lot of dark wood, which emphasizes that this is both family-friendly and a cut above your typical sports bar.”
The approximately 30,000-square-foot building is the second project between Sportech and Stamford-born Bobby Valentine, the former Major League Baseball player and manager who’s also executive director of athletics at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. The pair also operates a Bobby V’s in Windsor Locks, near Bradley International Airport.
“I ask people to visit us in Windsor Locks to see what it’s like,” Taylor said. “I can talk and talk, but actually seeing it has helped a lot of people understand what we’re doing.”
One such person was Sandy Goldstein, president of Stamford’s Downtown Special Services District.
“A lot of people here had concerns about whether the new Bobby V’s would be a secure, quality type of environment — or something else,” Goldstein said. “After we went to Windsor Locks, we were able to tell our board of representatives that what Sportech and Bobby V’s were promising looked to be true.”
“They’ve invested millions of dollars on a quality, high-end establishment that’s in good taste,” she said. “We needed something that could be a strong base on the southern end of Atlantic Street and now we have it.”
Another concerned party was Monsignor Stephen DiGiovanni of The Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, located across the street from the new sports bar.
“In my 19 years here, we had two bars across the street and all kinds of issues,” DiGiovanni said. “The police were called several times. There were brawls and empty bottles on the street and on my property.”
This time, he said, “Whether it was Bobby or anybody else, I wanted to make sure that wasn’t repeated.”
The monsignor and Taylor said they had signed a legal document whereby Bobby V’s will maintain a mutually acceptable level of security and responsibility.
“I’m taking them at their word and I believe them,” DiGiovanni said. “Bobby’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t want to mess around and screw up downtown Stamford.”
Taylor said that Bobby V’s can accommodate 360 people on its ground floor, which is dominated by a wall of TV screens behind its spacious bar. In all, the establishment has about 205 TVs, Taylor said. Tables are made of dark wood, including two-seaters hewed from large tree trunks. A separate conference/party room can comfortably hold up to 22, he said. A takeout window will soon also be available.
The OTB operation upstairs has a capacity of 270, with a dedicated section of individual carrels with small TV screens and a device into which a patron enters a PIN to make wagers. Similar mobile devices are also available for tables; food is transferred to waitstaff from the downstairs kitchen via dumbwaiters. Only the customers themselves can place bets, Taylor said.
The setup will be essentially copied at Two Steps Downtown Grille, a longtime fixture at 5 Ives St. in Danbury, should that venture between Sportech and Two Steps owner Tom Devine be approved.
Danbury has proven harder to secure than Stamford, due largely to the efforts of Andrea Gartner. Formerly the executive director of CityCenter Danbury, the special taxing district formed by merchants in the late 1980s to attract more people and business to the area, Gartner opened Pour Me Coffee & Wine Café at nearby 247 Main St., and has maintained that OTB is something the city does not need.
“These are the same misconceptions about people who gamble that we’ve seen before,” the British-born Taylor, who now resides in Milford, said at Bobby V’s. “We maintain that it will be a net positive for downtown Danbury.”
Sportech is spending $750,000 to renovate the eatery and has said that it will provide 1.6 percent of its gross revenue to Danbury’s general fund. City officials have estimated that sum could be as much as $100,000 per year.
Following Danbury’s Zoning Commission May 9 vote in favor of allowing OTB in the city, Gartner filed an appeal in Danbury Superior Court. As a result, Sportech has moved through the “re-do” process, with a Zoning Commission public hearing scheduled for July 27.
“I have some ideas that I am formulating as a middle-ground approach, but am not quite at the point of sharing,” Gartner told the Business Journal.
Those in Stamford say their similar concerns have been satisfied.
“People hear ‘OTB’ and think there will be problems,” Goldstein said. “This proves that it doesn’t have to be that way.”