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CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

A place where everybody knows your name, and all the Dodgers' names too

The Short Stop, a former cop bar near Chavez Ravine with character and atmosphere to spare, is a favorite pregame watering hole for Dodgers fans. The way the team is playing, it's also handy for drowning sorrows.

May 01, 2010|Chris Erskine

The ups and downs of this Dodgers season have already driven me to drink.

So I find myself in a little joint called the Short Stop bar. It is perched on the lip of Chavez Ravine like one of Philip Marlowe's cigarettes. The popular Echo Park watering hole is so noir-ish, you can barely see your .44 Magnum resting on the bar. It's dark in here — Satan's wishing well. In fact, there's a bullet hole in the front door that allows in the bar's only natural light.

Somehow, this notorious former cop bar has become the hottest Dodgers fan hangout in town, and perhaps the unsportiest sports bar in the entire nation (yes, those are candles on the tables; yes, that's Bobbie Gentry on the juke).

Only in L.A., huh?

Let's cut to the highlights: Parking? Free. Beer? Two bucks. Martini? $6. No cover, no attitude.

This is the kind of place naughty debutantes end up at 2 a.m. Did I mention the bullet hole? That's a souvenir from the days when cops from nearby precincts used the Short Stop as after-work therapy.

Not everybody always knew this. In 1983, a poor sap by the name of Carl Blackwell wandered through the door of the Short Stop, pretended his pocket comb was a gun, and robbed the bartender while a bunch of cops looked on. When Blackwell fled, one of them fired four rounds, dropping the robber on the sidewalk for good — or bad, I'll let you decide. A sign in the bar still reads: Use a Comb, Go to Heaven.

The Short Stop did well as a cop hangout until 2000, when the Rampart investigation cast a cloud over the place, and it was sold about 10 years ago to former rock singer Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), Oliver Wilson and a couple other cronies, who have maintained the LAPD memorabilia while attracting the hipster crowd with music on weekends.

But during Dodgers season, it's all about the baseball.

On Friday night, bartenders Joe Skyward, Chloe Taylor and Zimran Canas stock the place with Pabst in anticipation of the late-afternoon opening.

At 5, the doors swing open and allow in a rare ray of sunshine, as well as about 30 fans prepping for the night's game against the Pirates. Before the night is over, hundreds will use it as a pre- and postgame oasis.

The appeal is obvious: Instead of paying $15 to park at the stadium, fans can park down here and have a few brews before the game. Instead of contributing to the Dodgers, they invest the money in the neighborhood. They also avoid the long wait to get out of the Dodger Stadium lot.

The Short Stop, at 1455 Sunset Blvd., is not quite a dive, but neither is it at all clubby. L.A. has more bad bars than good, and not nearly enough joints like this, reminiscent of the taverns you find more commonly back East.

Now, admittedly, I can be a tad lowbrow. I've always found Shakespeare to be a little chatty, and most motion pictures move far too fast.

I also find that a good Pabst, properly chilled, is the Dom Perignon of beers, a nuanced witch's brew that enchants the tongue and girds the loins.

Trust me, you don't get that from those ridiculous, overpriced craft brews. Beer is the last thing that should be overthunk. Here's my brew master's philosophy: Put some swill in a can, chill it, pour it, ahhhh. . . .

So this place plays to all that. The Short Stop is also benefiting from the surrounding neighborhood, which is "gentrifying," a term for when white folks move in and destroy any natural character. Some 'hoods need a little of this. In big quantities, it can turn a colorful inner-city neighborhood into a devastatingly awful version of Encino.

Being a white folk myself, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

But for a long time, Dodgers fans have needed a festive pregame watering hole. There's a reason "Cheers" was the greatest show of all time. It wasn't about a bar scene, it was about a family. One way or another, all TV shows are about family.

But I digress, for that is what I am paid (minimally) to do. The important thing is that the Short Stop has the feel of an L.A. institution in the making. I wasn't at Philippe's for that first French dip. I missed the first marvelous pastrami (the sinfully succulent, stacked-like-a-starlet No. 19) when it rolled off the assembly line at Langer's Deli.

Yet here I am, in that rarest of L.A. finds, a bar with charm and friendly chatter, a bar on its way to becoming a sports landmark.

The Short Stop is the kind of place you'd like to take your son for his very first beer. Or at least what he tells you is his very first beer.

Bottoms up, kid.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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