Across from the Augusta Museum on Broad Street are three pieces of living history. Vegas Show Girls, Sports Center and Luigi’s.
Join us as we begin our exploration of the 500 block of Broad Street with a Saturday afternoon visit to what many would argue is the best place for a hamburger in town, the Sports Center.
“They left. In your car. With your phone.”
Owner Sandi Watkins has just come out of the bathroom when she gets the news. Her son and grandson have given up on her ever leaving and are circling the block in her Mercedes SUV, impatiently ready to go home. Leslie Ansley is tending to the bar, laughing uproariously as the grandson smiles and waves with each pass around the block.
Just another day at the Sports Center this past Saturday afternoon. Watkins went back to chatting with Quint at the bar about a friend’s recent health issues.
The tiny grill against the window. The two basket fryer. Chairs so old, the number of lies they’ve been exposed to, it’s hard to imagine.
Lest you think this place is truly frozen in time, there is a new 2019 NASCAR schedule taped to the back of the restroom door, and a new spiral notebook on the bar to keep up with the NASCAR pool.
And for the first time in decades and decades, there is no smoking in the Sports Center, along with everywhere else downtown.
The city ban on smoking went into effect on January 1st.
“Has that been different for y’all?” we asked.
“Not really”, answered Kimmy Bailie, pulling a draft beer.
“What about all your customers that used to smoke inside. Does it bother them?” we wondered.
“They go outside.”
Everyone, apparently, enjoys clean air.
“It didn’t hurt us at all. It didn’t make us any busier, any less busy. Didn’t change a thing.”
“And we got the hood vent. So you don’t even smell the fryer like you did before either.”
Not changing a thing seems to be working out just fine for the Sports Center. Except for that quarter.
If you’ve never been, or haven’t in a while, it may be time to hit up the Sports Center now before another price increase. (We kid. You probably have about ten years.)
“How much are your, uh..”
“Fishbowls? $2.75. We just went up a whole 25 cents. It was $2.50 for the longest time.”
Yep. Looks like the Master’s price increase is staying for good. Driving the cost of an 18 ounce draft beer-your choice of Miller Lite, Killians, Blue Moon or Pabst, to a whopping $2.75.
These are Augusta National prices, except here the rich history and aura of the place mixes with the intoxicating smell of hamburgers and onion rings, punctuated by the crack of pool balls, not golf balls.
“That was our Masters price increase, and we kept it.” Leslie laughed.
“She ( Sandi) was going up anyway.”
We wondered if there was a fishbowl beer mug we could photograph.
“You want one with beer in it?” asked Leslie.
“Well sure, I guess.”
“It just looks prettier with beer in it.” Marketing 101.
“Oh is that for him shooting a picture?” Kimmy asks, walking up about to pour a beer.
“Yeah, yeah.” we answer.
“You can have it when he’s done shooting it.” Leslie says helpfully. “I knew it wouldn’t go to waste.”
“I stuck my finger in it.”
This is Sandi’s husband Bill’s second time owning the Sports Center we learned from Leslie. “Sandi will have to tell you the truth, cause I don’t know the truth. Bill told me he lost it the first time in a bet. It would not surprise me.”
“Cause all that back there used to be the gambling room. But I also know Bill is full of shit, so..” (One thing is for sure. These two women have great laughs!)
“He probably just sold it and opened Riverside. You remember Riverside? That was Bill’s. Going across the 5th Street Bridge, down there in the middle, where the restaurant was that burned down? Probably about 1980.”
“Cause when that burned down Bill came back here. I don’t know why that happened then. Don’t know what made it burn down.”
Fire? Hot stuff?
Down at the end of the bar a customer approaches Kimmy.
“You got a quarter machine?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
How many times a day must that poor woman hear that question.
“How many do you need?”
This sounds like a thing going down.
“You want like a $10 roll?”
“Yeah. That’ll work.”
Quint at the bar chimes in, “That’s what it’s all about. Making it easier.”
Leslie finishes her story. “Bill and Sandy have had it since 1980. And it had been here a while when they got it.”
As we wrap up our visit, we ask how Master’s week was for them.
“We did great!” Kimmy says.
Leslie calls out from the other end of the bar, “She (Sandi) usually does sixty to eighty everyday. For Masters week we did about 120.”
Kimmy nods in agreement. “There you go. So that’s 120 burgers at a half a pound apiece. It’s a good amount. I know there was giant bags. I didn’t think I was ever gonna be done squishin’ them. The hamburger meat comes in giant bags from Lanier’s.
Someone asks, “How do you know if you have the right amount of meat? Do you measure it?”
“No, she does. Sandi does.” Kimmy says, as sure as the rising sun. “She’s been doin’ it for 40 years. She just knows. Like, her and Mr. Bill ball it up for us. And then we have to, we squish it. If Bills here he’ll sit here and squish ‘em out too. He sits up here and watches Westerns and squishes out his burgers. Been doing the same thing for like 40 years.”
“So you say you ‘squish’ them out?”
“Well, she balls them and we have a little handle thing…” (more laughs).
MS: Is that a technical term?
“Well yeah, I guess, or pattying it I think?”
“Yeah. Don’t listen to me for technical terms.”
The Sports Center
594 Broad St, Augusta
What are your hours again?
We open at 11. We do NOT have a closing time.
We do NOT have a closing time.