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September 23, 1997|MIKE PENNER

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: "Guide to America's Best Sports Bars."

Price: $16.95 (Masters Press)

Guide-editor-Green Bay Packer obsessive Mike Lessiter hatched the idea for this book while on a weekend business trip, desperate to find a sports bar with a satellite feed of that Sunday's Packer-Bear game and disappointed to find that the hotel concierge was "more prepared for [questions] about the nearby antique village, botanical gardens or symphony."

Who needs high culture when three hours of Erik Kramer incompletions and nacho chips bobbing in petroleum-based cheez glop keep calling out your name?

Never again, Lessiter swore after that horrific episode as he enlisted sportswriters (naturally) from 48 cities to seek out and find the best sports bars in the area.

Best sports bar in Los Angeles?

Actually, it's in Pasadena--Big D's Sports Bar/Billy's Dugout, featuring three satellite dishes, 13 TVs, 17 brands of beer and framed, autographed photos of Wayne Gretzky, Marcus Allen and Tom Lasorda.

Best sports bar in Anaheim?

(You mean to say Anaheim actually has a sports bar?)

Typical of Anaheim, the choice is one of a chain--the National Sports Bar & Grill, this one located on the corner of Orangewood and State College, across the street from Anaheim Stadium. To produce a list of "honorable mentions," the guide has to fan out to Costa Mesa (Legends, another chain), Laguna Hills (Players Sports Grill) and Laguna Niguel (The Draft Choice).

Gearing itself specifically to the traveling fan is both the book's strength and shortcoming. If you're in Indianapolis, say, and you have a dire need to catch the latest Dodger defeat on the tube, this guide has the place--Bench Warmers, at three locations within the city.

What's lacking is any sort of national comparative scale. What's the best sport bar in the country? Or the top 10? Or 25? The best sports bar in Hartford, Conn., or Sacramento could very well get chewed up like a fried mozzarella stick by any honorable mention pub in Philadelphia, Chicago or Boston.

True sports-bar connoisseurs will want to visit the meccas of the genre, not any downtown hotel lounge with three TVs over the bar. But for the overnight visitor craving potato skins and a home-team result, this guide to "the poor man's luxury box" is worth its place in the suitcase.

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