LOS ANGELES – Right now, bars are arguably the best venues to watch soccer games in Los Angeles.
The intensity supporter groups muster for kickoffs as early as 4:30 am is astonishing. Fervent club supporters sing, creating a terrace-like atmosphere, for the full 90 minutes. Lines are now so common that these bars have begun to sell tickets to watch marquee matches.
The fact that the matches are on television, rather than taking place live, seems an afterthought — people are in it for the experience.
For three years, Los Angeles Football Club have strategized about how to tap into the city’s built-in pub-fanatic base. Now, the club and their supporters’ believe they have an answer: a bar of their own.
“Straight up, we’re targeting the European supporter,” says Sal Reyes of Lucky Boys, one of the supporters groups invited to take part in designing the bar, which is currently under construction at LAFC’s new stadium in Los Angeles. “For the visitors who come to see the other sights, like the museums, the stadium and bar will become a tourist attraction.”
“It’s going to feel like you’re in the middle of the action,” says principal architect Jonathan Emmett of design firm Gensler. “Not only does [the supporter bar] have a great view of the pitch, but it also has a great view back out into Exposition Park and the downtown skyline.”
Opening next year, Banc of California Stadium is one of two major additions to LA’s historic Exposition Park, the other being filmmaker George Lucas’s massive Museum of Narrative Art, which is set to break ground in 2018. Joining the LA Memorial Coliseum, African American Museum, Natural History Museum, and California Science Center, these features will make the area a magnet for local and international visitors ahead of the 2028 Olympic Games, where the park will serve as a hub.
Emmett found inspiration for the stadium design from European grounds like Queens Park Rangers' Loftus Road, Liverpool's Anfield, and Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, but the bar feature resembles sports haunts closer to home.
“The notion of having a bar with a view of the pitch took inspiration from more traditional US sports,” says Emmett. “What they want is to not have to leave the game experience to go hang out at the bar and have a drink.”
Listening to supporters has been the first step in every decision for the 2018 MLS expansion side since its inception. From the club’s name, crest, colors, and stadium features, LAFC have looked to their burgeoning supporter groups for direction.
“We could try to guess what they’d want,” says club president and co-owner Tom Penn. “But it’d be the completely wrong thing to do.”
Penn, other club staffers, sponsors, and supporter groups met for a third design session last month at Gensler’s downtown headquarters to iron out the bar’s details. Ideas were as broad as including local craft beer options and as specific as embedding supporter group scarves in the counter design.
“The decisions now are helping to decide how we’re frosting the cake,” says Penn. “But the reality is that they’ve helped us design the cake from the start.”
Supporters suggested the bar’s vibe borrow from LA’s native hip-hop, soul, and funk music cultures while being at the intersection where English Premier League supporter culture meets the spirit of Argentina's barra bravas.
“It will be where the casual fan will go and meet the hardcore supporter but feel comfortable about it,” Reyes says, seeing the bar as a kind of neutral ground where even away supporters can share a cordial drink before and after the intense, banter-filled 90 minutes of game time.
Having ownership in the design, the club and architect hope, will create a completely immersive gameday experience.
“We conceived something that’s going to feel very authentic for the fans and not just feel like another sponsor bar in a stadium,” said Emmett. “You are almost more of a participant in the game as opposed to being a spectator.”
The supporter bar is one of a few spaces at the wider Banc of California Stadium complex that will be open for televised matches, including LAFC away games and other competitions. This is where supporters hope they can intersect with the pub-supporter culture of the city and win them over.
“You always get the sense that supporters of European clubs look at the MLS and say, ‘You’re just not there yet, maybe in another ten years,’” says Reyes, whose Lucky Boys support group was birthed by fans following European clubs at Lucky Baldwin's Pub in Pasadena.
“We’re all just trying to grow the game in the US, so let’s make this simple: let’s have a pint.”