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West Port showdown: Albert scores, Ozzie sues

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 5, 2009 - When does a restaurant named after a baseball superstar, a place that invites you to watch the big game on its many television screens, become a sports bar?

That's the issue in a lawsuit filed in St. Louis County that pits two players against each other who usually are considered part of the same team: Ozzie Smith and Albert Pujols.

At issue is whether the opening of Pujols5 Westport Grill at West Port Plaza in 2006 violated terms of the agreement under which the lease was extended by Ozzie's Restaurant & Sports Bar. The owners of Ozzie's have cried foul and are seeking damages because of decreased revenue they say resulted from the competition by the Pujols restaurant.

Though the lawsuit doesn't mention Pujols by name, you don't need a lineup card to keep track of the players.

According to the suit filed last month in St. Louis County Circuit Court -- reported first by the Daily Record -- the owners of Ozzie's, G&H Management, began discussions on renewing the restaurant's lease in May 2006. Ozzie's has been open in West Port since 1988.

As part of the negotiations, the suit says, the owner of the complex, Golub & Co. of Chicago, said it planned to lease space in the plaza to another restaurant whose concept would be "a high-end, baseball personality themed restaurant similar in menu, interior design, atmosphere, style and clientele" to J. Buck's and Dierdorf and Hart's in St. Louis or Harry Caray's in Chicago.

The owner of G&H, Ramon Gallardo, said he would not object to the competition so long as it was a high-end restaurant "but would not extend the term of the lease if the concept of the proposed restaurant...was that of a sports bar," the lawsuit said.

Assured that the new eatery would not be a sports bar, the suit added, Ozzie's extended its lease to Dec. 31, 2015, and borrowed $150,000 to make improvements to the restaurant, which is in one of the plaza's office buildings.

Shortly, Pujols5 opened in the plaza area of West Port, in a space formerly occupied by Patrick's restaurant -- close to Dierdorf and Hart's, which has open there since 1983. The Hanon family, which had operated Patrick's, also has a stake in Pujols5.

The lawsuit says that the Pujols restaurant had "virtually the same menu, interior design, atmosphere, style and clientele as Ozzie's."

As a result, it said, Ozzie's lost $20,000 in revenue in the fall of 2006, and its revenue dropped $230,000 in 2007 and $220,000 in 2008.

The lawsuit alleges that the owner of West Port misrepresented the concept of the Pujols restaurant and its action was "intentional, willful, and outrageous." Because of its "evil motive and reckless indifference to the rights of others," Ozzie's is entitled to punitive damages, the suit said.

Beyond the allegations in the filing, no one is talking about the lawsuit. Spokesmen for Gallardo and Hanon said the restaurateurs -- almost as well-known in their field at West Port as Smith and Pujols are at Busch Stadium -- would have no comment, as did a spokesman for Golub, the owner of West Port. Smith and Pujols could not be reached.

So what makes an establishment a sports bar? In this case, the judge will be the umpire. But you can make the call as well. Here are the two lineups.

The website for Ozzie's boasts of this atmosphere: "An array of memorabilia, five gargantuan-screen TVs, and 50 regular TVs, this comprehensive bar/restaurant accommodates the full range of any sports fan's needs."

Not to be outdone, the Pujols5 website features an audio message from the first baseman himself, talking about the restaurant's 45 high-definition televisions and adding: "Watch it live at Pujols5." Patrons who call and are put on hold are told they are contacting one of the "newest and hottest of America's sports restaurants."

It's those televisions that make the difference to George Mahe, the dining editor at St. Louis Magazine.

"My read on a sports bar is pretty broad," he said. "In my head, I guess the main quantifier is a more than average amount of TVs. A bar or restaurant has a TV here or a TV there, but if it's an abnormal amount, it's obviously geared toward people who really want to see what's going on.

"Certainly, with all its high-powered, hi-def screens, Pujols would qualify. They've got TVs coming out the wazoo. I'm not the judge, but that's a sports bar to me."

He also said that sports memorabilia or specials that are geared to games can be another tipoff that you're in sports bar country.

On another count, the food, Mahe said Ozzie's fits the sports bar mode more than Pujols. "I think they set themselves a little higher on the bar on that," he said.

Then again, looking at the comparison in the lease, he said that J. Buck's qualifies as a sports bar in his mind. "I still think people look at that as a place to watch the game," he said. "They've got TVs all over."

The clincher, he said, may have come a few years ago during a chili cook-off at West Port, when he wanted to watch the end of an exciting Cardinals playoff game, only to find that the satellite feed at Pujols was out, and there were only a few people in the place.

"We ended up going next door to the Trainwreck," Mahe recalled, "which was a fricking mad house."

At the website sportstavern.com ,  where both Ozzie and Albert can find their spots listed, Joe Pavelka said in an e-mail message that a sports bar doesn't necessarily have to have an exclusive sports theme, but it does need "access to televised sports with some other appropriate indoor activities (billiards, darts, foosball, bowling, etc.) and/or outdoor events (e.g. volleyball, or sponsorship of softball teams and a like)."

Other criteria? Pavelka has a whole list:

"To give a bar a 'sports bar feel,' it is important for there to be sports-related ornamentation: pictures, posters, sports memorabilia, including items from local professional teams. Other factors for being a genuine sports bar would be the inclusion of options for participatory games like billiards, darts, fooseball and so on. A good sports bar should also have food available, especially burgers, chicken wings, and pizza.

"A good sound system that is adaptable for both TV and a jukebox is also important. Once the big game is finished, bar goers often like to celebrate and relax with the sound of a jukebox. Sports bars with regular patrons will often organize bus trips to various sporting events."

And one more thing. "Of course, for a sports bar to be a 'bar' there needs to be alcoholic beverages available, especially cold beer," Pavelka said.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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