FAIRFIELD — Harry’s Sportsman’s Lounge is not a dive bar.
At least don’t let the owner Harry Petterson hear you call it that.
“To look from the outside, you’d think so,” Petterson said. “But I don’t like that term.”
Part of his disdain for the word is the work he’s put into improving the image and reputation for the 16 years he’s owned it.
Walking in, it’s tough not to get distracted by the 26 large-screen televisions showing sports. Walking past the multiple of dart boards and pool tables, next is a line of friendly locals bellied up while exchanging fishing tales.
“The atmosphere is great. You don’t have to watch your back. Everyone looks out for one another,” he said. “I enjoy it for all the people. They’re like a family.”
Larry Rizzio was imbibing a bottled beer, enjoying the free time of retirement and taking in a ball game. He said it’s a relaxing place that has come a long way.
“Harry’s done a hell of a job. He’s really turned it around,” Rizzio said. “You can’t beat this place on a Sunday.”
When Petterson took over the bar, he knew it well from drinking there after work. He acquired it after the previous owner approached him. After being laid off from Mare Island, Petterson was a railroad worker and jumped at the chance to own a bar – one that has been in downtown Fairfield for a century.
“He was turning 62, he was ready to get out,” Petterson said. “I saw the potential. It was downtown. It was the greatest investment I ever made.”
Being familiar with the bar, Petterson knew he had to change the crowd if he wanted to attract a wider audience. He started by kicking out the riffraff.
“At the time, it was a rough crowd. I was 86ing people a little at a time. Then all of a sudden I didn’t have any clients,” he said with a laugh. “I knew I had to get rid of them, but that was my income.”
He struggled through some lean times, but used word of mouth and a growing clientele to survive. Eventually a couple of nearby bars closed down, sending their patrons to his joint instead.
With the customers from other bars came bartender Corinne Nevins, who has tended at Harry’s for six years. She said the locals keep her going and she enjoys seeing longtime customers from years ago.
“A lot of people you will see from 20 years ago and remember them,” Nevins said. “Then there’s someone you’ve seen 100 times and only have a nickname for.”
Harry has slowly changed the feel of the bar by adding karaoke, domino tournaments and a DJ on some nights. He said the front alcove was once identified by the city to receive some redevelopment money. He said the two sides had several talks, but the elimination of redevelopment put a stop to that.
“The front, it looks a little scary,” Petterson said. “Eventually we will get to it.”
There’s one thing Petterson points to for his success in a bar actually making money.
“That’s the secret, you don’t drink at your own bar,” he said. “In fact, when I first bought it, I stopped drinking completely. I started going out of town. Of course, then I saw someone I knew. I just can’t get away.”
Reach Danny Bernardini at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.
Harry’s Sportsman’s Lounge
Address: 833 Texas St., Fairfield
Hours: 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily