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FAN OF THE HOUSE

No NFL team in L.A.? No problem for folks at local bar

November 19, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

If you've ever driven in Boston, or ever listened to sports-talk radio there, you've gotten a glimpse into the kind of atomic temperament that led to the American Revolution, an inner turmoil of restlessness and homicidal verve, a quest for something better.

Well, we've found all that at Sonny McLean's, a sports bar/bouncy house at Wilshire and 26th. In fact, we happened to be there the night of Bill Belichick's crazy call. "The Caaaaaaaaaall," as it'll probably go down in Boston lore. Really, does anyone do heartbreak like the Irish?

This might be pro football's best local venue, at least till Roski gets his new palace. It's a true Irish bar -- customers the color of corned beef. What a psych ward, what a tea party. It seems held together with gum and multiple coats of varnish. It's like my own house, except the women here smile at me. Which is just crazy.

L.A. is a town without a team? Wrong. Actually, we are a town with 32 teams. All across L.A., bars like this cater to transplants who still cheer the teams they grew up with. In Burbank, Bears fans gather at the sensational Tin Horn Flats. Down by the pier, Giants fans cluster at the remarkable Big Dean's. A town can never have too many neighborhood taverns. A town can never have too many teams.

"There's a woman in the men's room," a guy announces at the men's room door.

"Oh?"

"She really had to . . . just helping her out," he explains.

Yeah, there's a "woman in the men's room," which might be the title of my next book. I like the ring of it, the sense of chivalry. Just try to find a "woman in the men's room" at the Polo Lounge.

Were I a civic planner, I would insist on a place like this every few blocks, a place that smells of fried mushrooms and stale beer. A place that twinkles at Christmas. A place to tie up your tired and sweaty horse.

I go sleepless worrying over a world filled with only franchises. Near as I can tell, no one ever fell in love at a Coffee Bean or during appetizers at Chili's. But a neighborhood tavern is full of smiling eyes and keen observation.

"Manning's footwork reminds me of Unitas," says my buddy Shaughnessy, an astute thought, at least for him.

"At this little church in Drogheda . . . " he says, starting in with another story about the motherland.

I've got a few other Boston buddies with me as well -- Brian from Sudbury, Steve from Bedford. I never spent much time in Boston myself, only passed through it on my honeymoon, my eyes mostly closed. But I've always liked the people of Massachusetts, their sense of theater, their stubborn good cheer. In fact, if we can get through the evening without Shaughnessy climbing atop a table and singing "Danny Boy," I'll consider it a night well spent.

"Here we go, Patriots, here we go!" the crowd chants.

These are great fans, if by great you mean slightly possessed and caring a little too much. Of late, their Red Sox have returned to form, flailing about as if gut-shot, and this has humbled them a bit, turned Boston fans back to the thoughtful good company they once were. What is it about winning that turns people into insufferable bores? Seriously, ever met a Yankees fan?

So Boston fans are Boston fans once again -- funny, philosophical . . . and again this night, a little cursed.

"You guys need anything?" our waitress says.

"How are the clams?"

"The best," she says. "They come with full bellies."

Yeah, so do we. By the way, can we talk about sports bar waitresses for a moment?

Nothing makes me prouder to be an American than to observe the hard work of a typical sports bar waitress.

A sports bar waitress slips between chairs and bar stools, with a tray full of beer pitchers and chicken wings. She always smiles, even when blindsided. She laughs at all of your jokes -- no small thing, that.

The sports bar waitress isn't a sex symbol as much as she is a Madonna figure in too-short shorts. If only the nation's youth had this much vigor and fortitude. If only USC's tailbacks (Me, I'm tired of watching them run out of bounds every carry).

In fact, sports bar waitresses ought to have their photos on the dollar bill. Move over George Washington, let's give Tiffany a turn.

This Sunday game turns out to be a shootout between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, two gunslingers with steely nerves. Honestly, if these two ever dueled with actual pistols, they would both lie dead under a lamp post.

On this night, Belichick makes that mind-blowing decision of not punting on fourth down -- the Caaaaaaaaaall -- which might have cost the Patriots the game.

"I hear an army charging upon the land," James Joyce once wrote, though he wasn't talking about on fourth and two.

On fourth and two, the army punts.

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chris.erskine@latimes.com

Erskine also writes "Man of the House" in Saturday's Home section.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Fan favorites

There are dozens of places around the Southland that cater to certain NFL teams. Here are some of the most prominent:

Bears

Tin Horn Flats, 2623 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, (818) 567-2470.

Bills

Busby's West, 3110 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 828-4567

Cowboys

Yankee Doodles, 1410 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, (310) 394-4632

Eagles

The Shack, 2518 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1171

49ers

San Francisco Saloon Co., 11501 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 478-0152

Giants

Big Dean's Oceanfront Cafe, 1615 Ocean Front, Santa Monica, (310) 393-2666

Packers

Pickwick's Pub, 21010 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 340-9673

Patriots

Sonny McLean's, 2615 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1811

Steelers

Gabe's Bar and Grill, 2965 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 473-1667

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