Santa Barbara’s die-hard soccer fans feared they would lose their favorite gathering place when a development proposal targeted the Press Room at 15 East Ortega Street for demolition. As word of the bar’s impending doom spread almost two years ago, a “Save the Press Room” movement generated a petition with more than 13,000 signatures.
James “Raf” Rafferty, the proprietor of the beloved English-style pub for the past 27 years, is happy to announce that the Press Room has been saved.
“We signed a 10-year lease,” he said recently. “The landlord [SIMA Management] pulled its application for the development.”
It means that the Press Room will remain the go-to destination for those who want to share the excitement of watching the next three World Cups – not to mention numerous year-round domestic league matches, the European Champions League, international friendlies, and the women’s World Cups – with like-minded enthusiasts.
“I just wanted to watch football,” said Rafferty, explaining why the one-time elevator engineer decided to open a pub after moving from England to raise his family in Santa Barbara. He rented a brick building that previously housed a vintage clothing business and opened the Press Room on April 14, 1995.
With its three TV screens linked to soccer telecasts, expatriate British soccer fans, many of them sharing Rafferty’s affection for Manchester United, found a home in the bar’s intimate confines. They were joined by many others as the popularity of the world’s game grew in the community.
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“People from all walks of life have come here,” Rafferty said. “They look out for each other. If somebody doesn’t show, they get a call. ‘Are you OK?’”
The bar boasts a catch phrase, “The Best Place to Get Shagged,” and Rafferty said, “I can’t count the number of people who met here and got married.”
“Raf” and his wife Carol raised three children who have pitched in as adults to make the Press Room a family affair.
It was the only public venue on the West Coast where every game of the 2002 World Cup – with starting times in the middle of the night – could be viewed live. The earliest games of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, beginning November 21, will kick off at 2 a.m., and Rafferty said the Press Room will be ready.
Meanwhile, the Super Bowl of European club soccer is coming up Saturday, May 28, when Liverpool takes on Real Madrid for the Champions League title. Although the Press Room will be packed with Liverpool supporters, Rafferty is not sure the English team will prevail.
“Liverpool will be tired,” he said, citing the club’s season-long battle with Manchester City for Premier League supremacy.
Rafferty’s opinion carries a bit of weight because, as he points out, “Nobody has watched more soccer games than me in the last 27 years.”