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A Place to Hold Court

Where to watch the Lakers' title run? It's a slam-dunk--try a sports bar.

June 06, 2002|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Yes, yes, the Lakers are in the NBA Finals again, which means there is only a short time left this summer in which you have the excuse to hang out in bars and act like a lunatic for the express purpose of watching television.

Why in a bar? Well, for one thing, finding friends willing to let six people invade their house to drink beer and scream at the top of their lungs can be a bit of a pain, unless said host has a fondness for scrubbing salsa out of the carpet or unplugging toilets. Besides, watching the game in public when the final outcome of the series is pretty much a foregone conclusion (the Lakers will win in five games, or at worst six) allows you to take in other sights while drowning out the banter of commentators Bill Walton and Steve "Snapper" Jones, which as any avid basketball fan will tell you, is a major bonus.

As for the window closing on this behavior, if you think about it, there really isn't another bar-worthy sporting event until the college football season kicks off around Labor Day, unless you can get truly motivated regarding the Dodgers or Angels in June and July. Now, no offense, but with a 162-game season, if you feel compelled to watch baseball outside the house before October you either have a drinking problem or a strong desire to avoid going home.

So back to the NBA Finals, and more to the point, where to watch them. Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley and moved back there a couple of years ago, I can tell you that if the valley does secede, those remaining in Los Angeles won't be losing any great sports bars in the process. Thus far, in fact, I have failed to find any really worthwhile location north of Mulholland to watch a game, unless you count Stanley's on Ventura Boulevard, where there are a couple of small TVs and the focus is on scoring of a different variety.

Chalk it up as a personal bias, too, that I find it depressing to drink near airports, which vetoes Champions, an otherwise perfectly respectable, by-the-numbers sports bar not far from LAX. Or maybe it's just that I have a hard time taking any establishment where the wait staff wears referees' jerseys seriously.

By force of habit, then, I find myself drawn back to the Westside for such events, or on rarer occasions to Pasadena, where there are several beer-worthy locales, including Gordon Biersch and Crown City Brewery.

The first rule for any sports bar, of course, is that you ought to be able to see a TV screen virtually anywhere you look, without having to crane your neck excessively to see around the oblate guy who hasn't moved from his corner seat since 1967. After all, if I wanted to exercise, I'd be out playing the game, not planted in a chair watching it.

Rule No. 2 generally involves offering a wide assortment of beers (sure, you can drink a purple martini to cheer on the Lakers if you want, but come on) and food that it is greasy enough to soak up said beer without providing you cause for regret partway through the third quarter.

Another key factor, for some, would involve the age of the patrons (younger is generally deemed an advantage) and the ratio of men to women. Fortunately, we're talking about Los Angeles, so even people who really are committed to watch the game can't stop themselves from preening and posing to catch the eye of those scouting for talent. In short, any bar worth the salt on its margarita, with the Lakers playing in the NBA Finals, ought to have more than its share of beautiful people to ogle, whether that's your game or just a spectator sport.

A final personal rule would be to try avoiding any venue where TV station crews are likely to congregate, which invites all kinds of posturing and shouting and idiotic behavior--and that's just by the TV reporters. Much as I love Hooters, for example, for its hard-working and intelligent staff, I can do without the shots of the local TV bunny surrounded by people screaming "Laaa-kerssssss! Wooooo!" behind her before she throws it back to the studio.

By process of elimination, then (and in at least one instance, court order), I find myself drawn back repeatedly to two venues: Maloney's on Campus in Westwood, a good old-fashioned college bar with plenty of TVs, large beers and perfectly fine greasy cuisine; and the San Francisco Saloon in West Los Angeles, a neighborhood bar that has undergone more than its share of personality changes over the years but which offers a warm, inviting atmosphere to catch the game. In fact, I once watched a football game at the Saloon dressed in a tuxedo, with a soon-to-be-married friend and several of his groomsmen. For the record, the three shots and beer chaser made the wedding itself much more enjoyable.

Look at it this way: Watching the game in a bar provides you some of the excitement of being there (for what it's worth, those rich folks in the luxury boxes wind up watching most of the action on TV too), without having to hassle parking, paying $8 for a puny beer or worry about your date running off with Jack Nicholson.

Or you can watch the game at home. If you invite friends over, though, be advised to have the carpet cleaner and plunger handy.

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