Rare is the sports dive bar somehow immune to the California sun.
It is natural to be a little wary of dive bars with the term ‘sports bar’ in the title, suggestion being that the emphasis is more on absolute television coverage played at blaring levels rather than the classic dimly lit, wood paneled dive bar look. While east Sacramento’s Cheaters Sports Bar comes up a bit short in the wood paneling department, the sports bar focus doesn’t take away from the very dive bar-friendly vibes within, a balancing act Cheaters Sports Bar pulls off.
Past Sacramento’s urban core, city density rapidly melts away, transitioning into a series of pleasant, neighborhood streets dotted with restaurants and bars. Cheaters Sports Bar sits in the middle of a scattered set of businesses in what is otherwise a fairly residential area. And that kind of location always lends itself well to the corner neighborhood dive bar feeling and Cheaters certainly benefits from its surroundings in that way. This is a classic spot for locals ducking in for a few beers and a game.
Outside, a pair of signs sit above a large awning of sorts that stretches over the sidewalk leading to Cheaters’ front door. One sign serves as a marquee, making clear that Sacramento’s sports teams can be found inside. The other is an epic, seemingly 80s-style backlit sign with the name of the bar complemented by a martini glass and a very ominous pair of eyes. The look is very much in line with an airbrushed t-shirt on a boardwalk somewhere, the only thing missing the name of a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend.
A series of reflective windows flank the front door, behind which blinds are likely perpetually drawn to keep the California sun at bay. The exterior looks as if it has been redone, but the fact that some question remains around that fact suggests that any work done here kept the spirit of the hole-in-the-wall Sacramento dive bar alive. A red neon sign in the window says all it needs to say, reading simply ‘cocktails.’
The bar setup inside follows a classic pattern, the narrow space filled by a long, L-shaped bar that windows around to a small nook in back and not much else. The bar itself has been updated over the years but the shelving behind it looks to be a bit older, classic illuminated shelving at foot level housing portions of the dive bar’s liquor selection.
Above, sparse shelving completes the liquor set in between a small collection of televisions. Above all of this is where things get a bit more interesting, some of the dive bar’s memorabilia on display that hits a few expected themes like football helmets and beer signs but includes a fairly fascinating stretch of ornate lettering that looks at first glance to spell some sort of set of dive bar commandments. A bit of furious research failed to turn up the source of the quote that focuses on sincerity and the sweetness of women’s lips. All leads are welcome to diagnose maybe the most intriguing feature inside Cheaters Sports Bar. Bobbleheads, tin signs and even a gnome complete the display.
Opposite the bar, a line of small round tables runs along thew all providing a bit of extra seating before giving way to the somewhat larger space in back. Without a doubt, space is at a premium here, the cushioned stools along the bar providing the majority of available seating with only a handful of tables providing overflow capacity. Fittingly, the space also doubles as meeting space for a handful of NFL fan bases living in Sacramento but loyal to a home state franchise (a Steelers plaque and jersey claim the space for at least one team).
The best possible compliment for any sports bar is the space’s ability to cater to the needs of sports fan without sacrificing the authenticity and character of a dive bar. Cheaters Sports Bar does a good job of walking that line, providing the memorability and television coverage required of a sports bar while ensuring that the space looks and feels like a classic corner neighborhood dive bar. And why not throw a little intrigue on top with an ornately crafted mystery quote running through the bar.