Have you ever wondered when the sports bar business began? The roots in Augusta can be traced to downtown Augusta, where the first ever sports bar in Augusta is still in operation today at 531 Broad Street.
What qualifies an establishment to be a “sports” bar?
Filling a place with large TVs and serving alcohol is not enough to win the title.
Such establishments need to feel almost like a shrine to sports, or even just to a specific type of sport.
In that sense of the word, according to themadrex.com, a real American sports bar needs to have: A lot of sports memorabilia; Many large-screened TVs that show sports games live; A nice selection of bar games; Comfy seats and a great choice of drinks.
Surely, you’ve walked into a sports bar in Augusta: perhaps a Wild Wing Cafe or Carolina Ale House. Most are equipt with rows of TV’s displaying games of all kinds, a menu well stocked with chicken wings and hamburgers, memorbilia lining the walls (and in Wild Wing’s case a lifesized Muhammad Ali, standing triumphantly over Sonny Liston).
They check all the boxes.
The Riverfront Pub and Sports has been checking those boxes for well over sixty years.
The Riverfront Pub and Sports opened in the late 1950’s as the Shamrock Pool Room. The pub was built in what used to be a Chevrolet dealership, so the solid concrete building has a ramp in back that allows you to drive up on the roof where there are still automotive lifts and garages.
In the 60’s and early 70’s, there was a bus stop where the Augusta Museum now stands called the Gordon Bus Stop. It was privately owned and featured a pawn shop and games.
Soldiers from Fort Gordon would use the buses to get back and forth to the base, spending their weekends carousing the city and staying in one of the many motels that were available.
Just a few doors down from the pub was a Kung Fu movie theater that showed Kung Fu movies everyday. Exclusively, Kung Fu movies. Word is they packed them in.
Pool legends Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats put on shows in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Johnnie Marcus ran the business until he was in his late 80’s, then in 1984 sold the pool hall to Whitey Lester, who changed the name to Riverfront Pub and Sports.
Two years after purchasing the pool hall, they extended the bar a few feet. Other than that, it is pretty much the same as it was in the 60’s.
Bleachers would be brought in for the big pool tournaments the pool hall hosted for years.
There are two pool tables from the 1890’s and the rest are from the 1940’s. They’ve been refelted and the rails replaced many times over the decades. The only way to tell the difference between the tables is the ones from 1890 feature wood as opposed to formica, which was first used in the forties.
Before ESPN and Sports Center, there was a ticker tape streaming across the enormous TV sets suspended from the ceilings. Pay per view boxing matches and the WWF shows were shown in a room in the back, always packing in throngs of fans.
A September Yelp review summed it up, “Great food and fresh cut fries. TVs everywhere with beverages served by friendly staff. Great place to hangout and watch the games.”
Tables in the back are $9 an hour, and tables in the front are $10 an hour. There are also five smaller quarter tables.
The Pub is open 7 days a week and the kitchen is always open, serving everything from breakfast sandwiches to chicken wings, fresh hamburgers and hand-cut french fries. The kitchen stays open until the front door is locked at closing.
Late night the bar fills up with an eclectic crowd from all walks of life. Stop by after a night on the town and experience a little history.
Hours are Monday thru Saturday 10a -2a and Sundays noon-1a.
531 Broad Street
PHOTOS: JOE WHITE