Thursday, 7 July 2011

Directions In 1967

I've always found old articles on hockey to be intriguing, and the Sports Illustrated Vault is one of the best sites to find old hockey artifacts. While there are a ton of articles about hockey in the Vault, there really aren't very many articles about hockey fans. In terms of comparison, there are a lot more fans than there are NHL teams and players, and the fans are really the driving force behind the NHL. When the NHL decided to expand in 1967 from six teams to twelve teams, there was a large number of fans in the United States that the league could develop as passionate NHL fans. For those fans in expansion cities who didn't have a local hangout to have a few brews at while watching the game, Sports Illustrated's Garry Valk went above and beyond the call of duty in his examination of finding the best hockey hangouts for the newest NHL fans.

My interest in this aspect was to see whether or not some of these establishments identified by Mr. Valk still stand today. If they do, are they still known as a good place to catch a game on TV? If they don't, what happened to them and what replaced them? If any of you have been to these establishments that still exist, I'd really like to hear your thoughts on the place, it's atmosphere, and it's hockey passion. While I don't doubt that a lot of things have changed significantly over the last 40 years, it would be cool to get an update on these former hockey homes.

We'll start in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as we work through the same places that Mr. Valk identifies in his article.

If you are a Pittsburgh fan and have decided, say, that Andy Bathgate's old bones can/cannot last the season, sound off at the Pleasure (4729 Liberty Avenue, 10 minutes from Civic Arena). This is the hockeyest of all the hockey hangouts, run by a lifelong buff named Johnny Collinger who ministered to the old Hornets and now counsels the Penguins on matters of the heart, housing and victuals. The motherly gray-haired waitress is Agnes, and the bartender is Chas. "This," says Chas., "is the boys' home away from home." Bar Manager Spotty LeDonne is admired locally for having dispelled the evil eye that had put a onetime Hornet player, Bob Dillabough, into a scoring slump. Employing an old Italian cure at LeDonne's behest, Hornet fan Adolph Donadeo lit a candle before Dillabough in a dark room, then put seven drops of oil into a saucer of water. "If the oil breaks," says LeDonne, "the spell is broken. It broke, and the next game Dillabough got a goal—after he had missed 15 open nets, mind you." Vealparmigiana ($3.25 with the trimmings) is a popular dish at the Pleasure, and a Martini is 75¢.
From as far as I can tell, the Pleasure still stands where it did back in 1967 at the corner of Liberty Avenue and Cedarville Street. From as far as I can tell from, Pleasure Bar Restaurant still has a lounge, but has remodeled their interior to remain current. Reviews state that the restaurant serves large portions of fresh Italian food, and the prices are pretty reasonable considering the vast amount of food you receive. While there is no hockey chatter anywhere on the restaurant reviews, I'll assume that the renovations may have changed the atmosphere. Any local Pittsburgh citizens willing to chime in on this restaurant?

We move onto St. Louis, Missouri where Mr. Valk found another great place to dine and catch some hockey action.
Followers of the St. Louis Blues who have not paid $100 to join the Arena Club (whiskey $1.50, beer 75¢) can find soulmates at several restaurants within slap-shot distance of the Memorial Arena, among them Stan Musial & Biggie's, Mr. D's and Le Masque. Ruggeri's, up on The Hill, is an established sports spot. The In place, though, is the Arena Bowl just next door to the rink, where visiting players often lift a quick stein before leaving town.
The Arena Bowl, unfortunately, no longer exists, so the players would have to go elsewhere for the stein today. Stan Musial and Biggie's, Mr. D's, and Le Masque restaurants have, from as far as I can tell, also suffered the same fate as the Arena Bowl. Ruggeri's is now located in Wentzville, a smaller suburb of St. Louis and nowhere near the Scottrade Center. Unfortunately, none of these historic restaurants serve the patrons of the St. Louis Blues any longer as they wander outside of the arena.

We head to back to Pennsylvania as Mr. Valk looks at the options for Philadelphia Flyers fans.
Irish is the house language at The Brown Jug in Philadelphia (46th and Market) where Miss Catharine Hastings dispenses steaks and chops at dinner, thick club sandwiches after the game and hockey expertise at all times. A 12-ounce sirloin steak will set you back $4.50, Scotch or bourbon 75¢.
The Brown Jug sounded like a great place to dine and catch a Flyers game on TV, but the area around 46th and Market has been completely redeveloped with a Metro station occupying one corner next to the residential housing. The Brown Jug appears to have faded into Philadelphia's history as the city moved forward in time. Miss Hastings sounds like she's a true hockey fan, and I would have loved to have had the chance to chat hockey with her.

We head to the midwest as Mr. Valk looks at Minneapolis hotspots around the old Metropolitan Sports Center. The Met is long gone, but we'll take a look to see if any of his recommended restaurants still exist.
A quarter of a mile from Minnesota's new Metropolitan Sports Center, home of the North Stars and the basketball Muskies, is Eddie Webster's steak house. Eddie opened in 1965, just in time to console Minne's World Series losers. His fanciest steak costs $6.75, bourbon is 60¢, Scotch 75¢, and the talk in the Peanut Pub — one of the three bars on the premises — is mostly muscle.
Much like the Met, Eddie Webster's steak house no longer exists in Minneapolis. Eddie Webster's sounded like a happening place with three bars on the premises, but with the Met being demolished in favour of some mall, the surrounding businesses appeared to go with it.

To the left coast we go as Mr. Valk makes Oakland our first stop. The expansion Oakland Seals didn't last very long in Oakland, but we'll see if the restaurants did.
In Oakland the most popular rendezvous for California Seal fans is the Edgewater Inn, directly across Nimitz Freeway from the Coliseum Arena. There is a convenient footwalk over the freeway and, for choosier fans, a bus to the games. In the Sabre Room, a lounge favored by sports people, drinks are six bits by day, 90¢ at night.
The Edgewater Inn, like the Seals, are no more. There are other "Edgewater" facilities, but none are the original Edgewater Inn to which Mr. Valk directs us. The Sabre Room also is gone which is a reflection on how quickly the land changes once a major sports franchise leaves the area.

From Oakland, we head south down the coast to Los Angeles where the expansion Kings took up residence under the watchful eye of Jack Kent Cooke.
If you have been charmed or outraged by Jack Kent Cooke, one of the nicest places to spout in Los Angeles is Julie's (3730 South Flower, near the USC campus). The specialty is Julie's sandwich — prime beef and American cheese grilled on sourdough bread, served with tossed salad or baked beans for $1.75. Do not show up on game night without a reservation or with an opinion on the Kings that you are not prepared to defend.
Julie's appears to be long gone, replaced by a USC Credit Union building , a parkade, and what appears to be upscale housing. Redevelopment seems to be the name of the game over the last 40 years, so it's not surprising to see Julie's gone much in the same way that the previous four cities saw redevelopment remove the places that Mr. Valk highlighted.

So it seems that only the Pleasure Bar Restaurant has stood the test of time in terms of the places that Mr. Valk recommended in 1967 to emerging hockey fans. I'm more than axious to hear the reviews of the Pleasure Bar Restuarant, so if you're in the Pittsburgh area, hit me up with a review. I'll even feature it as a follow-up to this story!

Better yet, let me know where you do your best hockey chatter in your city, and I'll use those stories as a follow-up as well! I want to know everything: why it's good, drink prices, how many TVs carry hockey when your local team is playing, how many fans are in there wearing team-related clothing. Basically, I want to know if your hangout is THE place to be! Throw the names of your hangouts in the comments, and contact me with your best stories!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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