Name of Bar: The Sportsman
Address: 20 West Figueroa
Location: just west of the corner of Figueroa and State, in the center of Downtown
Days/Hours: 8 AM to 2 AM every day; patrons line the streets before the doors open
Open Since: 1934 – the oldest bar in town
Deals: Check the specials board!
Known For: deliciously seedy folks, long hours, and heavy pours
Notable Decor: the taxidermed hind quarters of a squirrel
Music: a jukebox, playing mostly fun ‘90s music tonight – stupid songs with silly lyrics that everyone loves
Patrons: a motley crew of outcasts with a competitive edge; a regular community livened up with enough new faces to keep things interesting
Special Draw: the gutsiest pool table around
Dubious Quote: “They recently remodeled.”
Dodged Bullet of the Night: a hefty fee for getting sick on the premises
Before you leave, you should…: lose handily at something fun
My experience: “That’s Marcus.” My companion gestured to a large man, somewhere between stout and portly, with a thick black goatee, “It all starts with him.” Kevin was pegging characters at the bar like co-stars in a Guy Ritchie film. His hands too busy with a drink, Kevin wagged his head towards the pool table, his neatly dreaded tendrils shaking like a physics experiment. He was the sort of man who would wear a suit jacket until his shoes were worn out on post-apocalyptic jetsam with equal parts class and irony. “And that’s Dino.” Dino stood on our side of the bar, but the way he carried himself, you knew he was more than just a regular, or just a barman. It’s always a good sign when people are willing to work where they play, and vice versa.
I sipped at my neat well whiskey, and Kevin sipped at his second. (Want does astonishing things to one’s scruples.) From the door stumbled the sounds of slurred stories, promises made – forgotten – then made again. Kevin turned and saw friend who looked very much like a Buck Hunter champion from some Arcade Olympics. Hah, something poetic in that mismatched embrace. Like any good dive bar, the Sportsman has no scene. You get the sense that everyone here is from a different planet, but under this low popcorn ceiling a loose confederacy manifests. The Sportsman is that place to have a stiff drink, check out the scores, and wreck a friend on the pool table, no matter who you are. A young trio whose adoration of Fox Racing is emblazoned on every accessory play grab-ass by the pool table and are joined by a woman in a pantsuit.
“Integrity…consistent with the lineage.” Kevin finished his drink and accentuated his emphatic pronouncement with a flick of his scarf. His eyes glazed over. It was time for him to leave.
Left to my own devices, I sank into the scenery and played the wallflower. Another pour – a long one for the price. I leaned into the padded bar, dry and cracked like an old school wrestling mat, tried by the strokes and blows of ardent fans. Artlessly mounted game decorated the walls. A boar wearing a sombrero, the rear end of a squirrel. A hunting game illuminates a lonely corner. Girls with country looks shot vamp glances across the pool table. Faces gaunt with too much whiskey, or else fleshy and made pearly with too much makeup…how they kept their muted mates heeled.
I wondered what to call this place, where to place it in this taxonomical web I’ve been constructing in these columns. It was a dive, an historic dive at that. But it didn’t show its age, and it had more verve than your average hole in the wall. I wanted to call it a sports bar, but as I put pen to paper something stayed my hand. The Sportsman is not a sports bar. “Sports bar” conjures up images of spectators glued to massive high def TVs, yuppies in ties drinking Michelob Ultra. You won’t find that here. The Sportsman is a game room, offering play on a variety of fields. You can play at pool or Buck Hunter, you can measure your tales against another’s. You can play the mating game. You can erase the daily specials and play with poetry on the white board, or you can play spectator and exercise your fists against the bar. The Sportsman isn’t for the passive onlooker – it’s for the participant. Here, you’re urged to get into it, to participate. A Gatorade cooler dispenses water in the corner, and it wants to be used.