On The House

They don’t make sports bars like this anymore

By R.E. Graswich
October 2021

Every now and then someone who knows my history as a sportswriter asks if I can recommend a good sports bar. It’s a fair question. I love bars and am flattered when people remember amusing stories I wrote about the Kings when I covered the team 30 years ago.

But I’m not much help when it comes to modern sports bars. Public House Downtown at 16th and L streets is bright and friendly and has countless beer handles. Ink Eats and Drinks at 28th and N is excellent for lunch with a ballgame on TV because the bartenders know to keep the sound turned to zero. Nobody in a bar should be forced to hear sports announcers.

I’m not a big fan of sports bars. What I love are bars where sports people go. By sports people I mean men and women who actually played the games the rest of us watch.

Times change and Sacramento has lost those kinds of bars—dives where old athletes would drink and relax. There were places you could walk into and find Dusty Baker or Don Larsen. There was a time when you could go into Alhambra Bowl and find Ty Cobb.

Baker, who manages the Houston Astros, almost became an owner of the predecessor to Ink Eats. It was a political hangout called Capitol Bar and Grill. Baker liked the joint so much he nearly bought shares in the business. Cold feet kept his money safe. Today he invests in wine and Hawaiian real estate.

Larsen, who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series and died last year at age 90, liked to hang out in Old Ironsides at 10th and S. He was a friend of the owner, Sam Kanelos, a former minor-league ballplayer who had his first drink with Larsen in the 1960s.

One night I wandered into Old Ironsides and Kanelos said, “Ever hear of Don Larsen? Ever hear of the guy who pitched a perfect game in the World Series? He’s standing right outside the door, having a smoke.”

I waited for Larsen to finish his cigarette and watched him slowly move into the barroom and ease up to a highball. He was 68 and impressive at 6-foot-4. I introduced myself and asked what he was doing in town. He said he was gigging frogs.

“If you’ve never tried it, I can’t explain it,” he told me. “There’s nothing that tastes like a frog. People say they taste like chicken, but that’s not true. I used to eat the whole frog, but now I just eat the legs.”

I asked a couple of questions about baseball, but Larsen shook off the signals. He was focused on frogs, ready for an expedition into a cold, black, muddy rice field near Winters.

“I go into the water after them,” he said. “You can do it day or night, but night’s better. I never wear waders. I don’t want to get stuck and drown. Sure, it’s cold. You just have to accept that. Used to be I could get 100 on a single night. That’s when I was younger.”

That’s my kind of sports bar. The TV is quiet and the place nearly empty, just Don Larsen and Sam Kanelos and my friend Tom and me and a guy down the bar staring into his beer glass.

It must have been that way decades earlier when Ty Cobb, in transit between Lake Tahoe and Atherton, made routine stops at Alhambra and Folsom Boulevard, where the bowling alley and bar stood.

This was before my time, but sportswriter Bill Conlin was there, drinking with Cobb for professional reasons. “Cobb was a millionaire eight times over, but he never bought a drink,” Bill said. “He was psychotic.”

Please tell me if you know any sports bars like that.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at regraswich@icloud.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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