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Going Out

The brew and a view

Come game day, any game day, fans pack the hottest sports bars. Three cheers for camaraderie!

January 02, 2003|Steve Baltin | Special to The Times

Though it's not quite 10 a.m. on Sunday, at Legends in Long Beach the restaurant-bar is already bustling. By 10:30, nearly every seat is filled, and, with the loud cheers coming from various corners, it feels more like 10:30 on a Saturday night.

The patrons -- men and women on their own, couples, families -- aren't here for the huevos rancheros but for the 30 TV screens showing NFL games from around the country.

In fact, the most important decision at Legends on the weekend is not what to eat but which game you want to sit closest to.

Legends is but one of the hundreds of sports bars in Southern California. From Hollywood Billiards to Huntington Beach Brewing Company, the same scene plays out as die-hard sports fans settle in to watch games, "Cheers"-like, in the comfort of a place "where everybody knows your name."

Sports bars come in a dizzying variety of shapes and sizes, from ESPN Zone in Anaheim, with 165 (!) TVs including monitors in the bathrooms, to more intimate neighborhood haunts such as West Hollywood's the Belmont and Santa Monica's the Shack.

Amenities also vary wildly. Legends and Tony P's in the Marina pride themselves on their food, while others, such as Hollywood Billiards, offer pool and darts.

ESPN Zone features a full arcade as well as such adult diversions as a rock-climbing wall.

Like snowflakes and moviegoers' reaction to "Solaris," no two sports bars are alike. Yet the recipe for success seems pretty easy.

Gene Rotundo, owner of Legends, and Lisa Houston, district manager for Barney's Beanery and three Q's Billiards locations, agree on what it takes to create a winning sports bar: good food, good viewing and an attractive staff.

Sports bars are of course a male fantasy playground, a merger of Sports Illustrated and Maxim magazine come to life.

On a recent Saturday at Q's Billiards in Santa Monica, while college football surrounded the bar, two regulars revealed what brings them to Q's every week: "They have pool, they have alcohol, pretty girls and a lot of TVs."

Put away the stereotypes, though, as sports bars are definitely not the exclusive stamping ground of boys anymore.

For women, going to a sports bar can provide an opportunity to feel like one of the guys, says Claire Brooks, executive director of L Style Reports, which monitors trends among the 21-to-35-year-olds.

Sharon Oster is a UCLA grad student in comparative literature who got indoctrinated into the world of sports bars during the last NBA playoffs.

"During the games there is no gender, it's just one crowd with a common interest," says Oster, whose bar of choice is Hollywood Billiards. "Everybody is focused on the game. I found myself high-fiving people when the Lakers would make a basket."

Hometown pride is one integral part of the sports-bar world.

With both the Lakers and Anaheim Angels winning their respective championships this year, to say nothing of the L.A. Sparks of the WNBA and the Galaxy of major league soccer, Southern California has been the sports capital of the country in 2002, and sports bars owners love it.

ESPN Zone was a hot spot for TV broadcasts during the World Series.

Jennifer Guran, marketing manager for the Zone, says, "We're packed all the time when the Lakers or Angels play," while Legends' Rotundo says the Lakers' participation in the playoffs meant an extra $1,000 to $2,000 a night in the till at the bar he's owned for 14 years.

Sports bars have survived during the local teams' lean times, which owners attribute to L.A.'s abundance of transplants.

"You've got guys from Dallas and Seattle," Rotundo says, "who want to watch the game with fellow fans. They're going to come to a sports bar."

Adds Belmont owner Greg Morris: "We get a large contingent from Pittsburgh and Chicago. People become even more loyal fans when they move away. It's a way to stay closer to their roots."

When Pasadena's Crown City Brewery recently was named best sports bar in a user poll conducted by the Citysearch Web site, one voter's comments named qualities that could apply to any truly good sports bar: "After two visits they know your first name and they try to accommodate everyone's interests."

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Sports nuts and other snacks

Andy Murray (L.A. Kings Coach): Stick 'N Stein, El Segundo. "They have a great sports atmosphere, great food, and the service is great. I love the chicken quesadillas."

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Adam Kennedy (Angels second baseman): Baja Sharkeez, Newport Beach: "They have an incredible atmosphere."

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Jack Haley (Fox Sports Net): Blondie's, Orange. "There's no better place to watch a game. It's always full of energy and people who like to have fun. They have a passion for sports and the food is terrific."

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Eric Koston (champion skateboarder): Hollywood Billiards, Hollywood. "During the playoffs I round up a bunch of friends and go to Hollywood Billiards because I don't want to make a mess in my house and they have great nachos."

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