Thursday, May 30, 2024

Over four decades in, Legends Long Beach is the legend that brought the sports bar to America


The legend of Legends Long Beach, one of city’s most respected and certainly its longest operating sports bars, goes a bit like this: Then-owners John Morris and Rams football player Dennis Harrah were in a bar in Long Beach when the big football game of the evening came on. 

Unlike the convenience of cable of at its beginnings and unlike the seamlessness of streaming nowadays, the bartender had to go grab the rabbit ears—an awkwardly wirey contraption catching the signals of television waves—and attach it to the bulky TV set.

“It’s actually quite wild to think about: Before there was even cable, Legends was using satellites to get direct feeds from the networks for games—so when it went to commercial for everyone else, folks at Legends would get the unedited feed of athletes and coaches.”

Watching the bartender, the pair of business had a particularly radical idea: Screen sports outside of not just the homes of people and handful of bars, but removed entirely from the unsteady reality of home antennas.

Determined to assure their patrons that they wouldn’t have to depend on a faulty antenna, they invested in massive satellites that were then installed on the rooftop of 5236 E. 2nd Street in the Shore for the opening of Legends in the spring of 1979.

The result? Long Beach’s first formal sports bar.

The legend of Legends Long Beach lives on

“It’s actually quite wild to think about because this was long before cable,” said current co-owner David Copley, who also owns The Auld Dubliner in DTLB. “They had these massive, 12-foot-diameter dishes on the roof and initially they were getting direct feeds off the station. No commercials or anything— so when it went to break for everyone else at home, folks at Legends were quite literally getting the unedited feed of athletes and coaches—so they were cursin’ and what not for the crowd here,” said current David Copley. “Again: it was pretty wild.”

Wild is an understatement: Given Harrah’s involvement with the birth of Legends, he brought the entirety of Rams players into Legends for its first Super Bowl in 1980 when none other than the Rams played (and lost to) the Steelers.

While that wildness has perhaps morphed and evolved—there certainly aren’t a gaggle of former professional football players yelling at bulky television sets but there are plenty of passionate sports-goers throwing insults at flatscreens—that wildness has not necessarily been hindered. 

Surely, patrons aren’t receiving unfiltered feeds of sports teams during the heat of games but Legends has proved to be a space where the most dedicated of sports fans can congregate—and therefore dominate a space in the most tribal-but-socially-acceptable way possible.

“You know, of course, there are games where we know the crowd will be big but in all honesty, there’s still a surprise to it all,” Copley said. “We’ll suddenly find ourselves slammed at 10AM and, well, that’s just the territory of Legends.”

Shitty bar food be damned: Legends Long Beach keeps up with the culinary times

Even the food has partially evolved to vibe with the sports crowd and its inherent connection to betting: Taco Roulette has become the spaces (in)famous gamble where twelve tacos on a tray are given to a table, with one of them being, in the words of Copley, “insanely hot.”

“Get through the roulette and you can get yourself a t-shirt in commemoration of your bravery,” Copley said, laughing.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Copley—a veteran within the restaurant business—has seen both the space and menu itself evolve inside a restaurant whose loyal patrons can harness a self-induced allergy to change.

“We have definitely taken the time to elevate the menu a bit,” Copley said. “It’s still one-hundred-percent bar food but it’s just a bit better quality—and in all honesty, the patrons deserve that.”

Copley’s last note refers to the devastating fire in 2005 that took Legends out of existence for nearly two years, creating the (much more massive) space that currently exists. 

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“People were truly devastated,” Copley reflected. “It was more than just the loss of a bar; it felt like a loss of the local culture.”

And with that loss has come an updated menu—stellar wings with in-house not-spicy-but-tasty buffalo sauce, ahi salads, decadent burgers topped with mac, carne asada nachos…—and an updated sense of moving forward.

Looking around the seemingly endless barrage of sports memorabilia and nearly 40 flat screens, by this point, it seems downright odd to think of Legends as any other space—but then again, no building can contain what is indeed “local culture.”

“Legends will be here long after I’m gone,” Copley said, “and I have no worry that the people will take care of it.”

Legends is located at 5236 E. 2nd St.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.


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