The crowd of robust young men jostled for position in front of the six-foot color television screen, downing beers from 62-ounce pitchers at a relentless five-minutes-to-the-glass clip, commenting with inspired vulgarity on the action before them. "Hey, Rizzo's got the ball. Rizzo! Oh, what moves that mother has...." All in all, a typical weekend scene at the neighborhood tavern: a bunch of guys having a few beers and watching a game on the tube. Almost, but not quite, because these particular guys, members of the Santa Barbara, Calif., Grunions rugby team, were watching themselves play in a game videotaped that afternoon and shown that evening at Clyde Bennett's Instant Replay bar and grill. The big Rizzo fan was, in fact, Frank Rizzo himself, who is captain of the Grunions. Rizzo, like most Instant Replay patrons, was simply carried away by the sight of himself on TV. It was an exercise in narcissism made possible by a television crew consisting of...Clyde Bennett.
Although the 42-year-old Bennett's principal occupation is teaching physical education at the Montecito Union Elementary School, he has been operating the Instant Replay since April 22. His inspiration came from 15 years of playing and umpiring in Santa Barbara's vast city recreation program. Bennett observed that weekend jocks such as himself do pretty much the same thing after every game: they go someplace to drink beer, watch a little TV and endlessly rehash the activities of the day. He also became aware of another quirk of human nature: people get a big kick out of seeing themselves on television. The seeds of a big idea were germinating.
Digging into his savings, Bennett bought $6,000 worth of television equipment, including a camera with a zoom lens and a videotape machine. He knew he wanted to film his fellow softballers in action, but he didn't know where he could show the tapes. Should he charge admission? Should he be compensated for his expenditures or should he merely consider the whole endeavor a terribly expensive hobby? It was then that he took into account the importance of beer drinking to the postgame ritual. Bennett decided to become a publican. He searched Santa Barbara for available property and finally settled on a rundown former hippie bar at 33 West Anapamu Street. The Bennetts weren't deep in capital—"We depleted our savings to buy this place," says Bennett's wife, Oleta—so the Instant Replay became pretty much a family operation. All of the Bennetts—daughters Anne, 22, and Laura, 14, and son, Mark, 18—work there, dishing up hamburgers, pouring wine and beer and helping Bennett film his games.
The place was packed beyond its 65-seat capacity on opening night, when the feature film was a women's softball game played the previous weekend, and it remained filled throughout the summer when, on a given night, players from as many as six softball teams could see themselves in action. "Softball is our bread and butter," says Bennett, but his camera was soon focused on other events in sports-mad Santa Barbara. Now, Bennett will videotape almost anything sportive, especially if the participants are up to buying a few beers afterward.
"My basic idea is that this is advertising," says Bennett of his gimmick. "We have the understanding that if I film the players, they'll come in to watch. After all, any bar can show NFL games or baseball's Game of the Week. We show those, too, but the thing here is seeing yourself." In a remarkably short time, the Instant Replay became a Santa Barbara institution, and word of Bennett's genius soon spread beyond the city limits, particularly after the bar was featured on an NBC newscast. "I've had calls from all over the country from people wanting to copy the idea," says Bennett. "And I don't suppose there's any way I can stop them from doing it."
Indeed, there is every possibility that the tavern industry will soon be inundated with imitation Instant Replays. Even the most diehard fan might be prepared to forgo the Pittsburgh Steelers, say, for the opportunity of seeing himself throw a game-winning pass in the neighborhood touch football league. Still, it's questionable if an operation as extensive as Bennett's could succeed anywhere outside of Santa Barbara. This lovely beach community of about 74,000 active and mostly affluent souls is what every Easterner seems to think all California is like. The sun, save for some early morning fog, shines benevolently on thousands of lean, tanned and partially dressed young men and women whose dedication to semi-nudity is such that auslanders in long pants are looked upon as fetishists. Even the city's old folks—and their number is considerable—faithfully observe the rules of dishabille.
Everyone, young and old, rich and middle-class, does something physical. This includes all the usual sports, plus local favorites like two-man beach volleyball and over-the-line, a form of three-to-a-team beach softball. Nobody in Santa Barbara even seems to walk much. The citizens propel themselves along the oceanside thoroughfares on roller skates, bicycles and skateboards, and there seem to be more serious runners per capita than there are cab drivers in Manhattan. The waves are alive with surfers and the pools with swimmers.
Santa Barbara and the Instant Replay were made for each other, and Bennett's was an idea whose time had come. "We cover every sport, every age group," says Oleta. "Between Clyde and Mark, they know every jock in town." Just keeping up with what's going on has Bennett hopping, but besides his camera work, bar-keeping and schoolteaching, he's also the city's chief official for softball and basketball. On any one weekend, Bennett might umpire as many as 15 softball games. Fortunately, he's indefatigable, unflappable and doggedly good-humored.
One Friday not long ago, Bennett, wearing his yellow Instant Replay sports shirt and checkered slacks, popped into his bar-restaurant shortly after 10 in the morning. At noon, he would be showing a videotape of the dramatic semifinal game in the women's city soccer tournament. At two, he would be taping the Santa Barbara Invitational Triples Lawn Bowling Tournament, and at 6:30 he would film a practice game between players from the Grunions and U.C.-Santa Barbara. After that, it would be back to the bar for the rugby telecast. The next day, he would umpire five softball games in Ojai, 35 miles east of Santa Barbara, while Mark stayed in town to videotape the women's soccer finals between the Sockers and Nick's Chicks.
"I have fun here," Bennett said, glancing about his modest establishment.
The Instant Replay, with its red straight-back chairs, large front windows and homey, have-a-hamburger atmosphere, looks more like a lunch counter than a bar, which is the way Bennett wants it. As a schoolteacher he retains a slightly puritanical approach to his new business, preferring to call the Replay a "restaurant," although the fare is largely limited to hamburgers. He serves only wine and beer, primarily because he thinks male jocks are beer drinkers and female jocks are wine drinkers, but also because he doesn't want to assume the responsibility hard liquor involves. Still, an occasional drunk will wander into the place by mistake, momentarily despoiling the locker-room ambience Bennett so assiduously cultivates.
Such occurrences are rare, however. The Replay is so jockish in conversation, entertainment and decor—the walls are adorned with action photographs of myriad Santa Barbara sports events—that patrons accustomed to more conventional watering holes become quickly disoriented, especially when they perceive that the game on the back-wall screen isn't the Rams and the Cowboys but the Sockers and Nick's Chicks.
Or, perhaps even lawn bowlers. On a recent afternoon Bennett packed up his camera and portable tape machine and headed for a tournament at the Santa Barbara Lawn Bowling Club a block away. It was, of course, a sunny day, and the setting was as pastoral and serene as a painting by Renoir. The bowling green was marble smooth and shaded by a profusion of trees—palms and eucalypti and a gigantic Moreton Bay fig whose branches spread protectively over the elderly bowlers. The Spanish towers of the old Arlington Theater rose in the distance, framed against the hazy blue peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The bowlers wore white, and because many of them were British expatriates, they seemed to have been transported to Santa Barbara from another century.
Into this gauzy scene strode the lantern-jawed Bennett in his yellow shirt, camera perched on his shoulder, bustling among the bowlers as if he were filming the Game of the Week. He was, predictably, the object of much curiosity. "You mean he's photographing us for television?" a woman in an umbrella hat inquired. "Incredible." Simply by being there, Bennett was drumming up business for the Replay, although it did occur to him that the elegant old lawn bowlers were hardly the sort of people who would lose an afternoon watching TV in a bar. Still, they were gratified to learn that they could see themselves that very afternoon if they wished, at a place so nearby. "As I understand it, you will give me a replay for a beer," a gray-haired woman said in a cultivated British accent.
Bennett moved on, focusing his camera on a portly septuagenarian in white shorts and a pith helmet. "I'm planning to do four hours on lawn bowling," he said. "These people say they'll come to watch." But he knew that lawn bowling was a gamble. Rugby, his subject later in the day, wasn't. "I like rugby players because they're good beer drinkers and they're big eaters, too."
Ruggers, softballers, lawn bowlers, women soccer players, volleyballers—all come to the Instant Replay, a bar that truly makes a statement on the human condition. "It's thrilling to see yourself score," says Replay customer Alissa Arp, a center forward for the Sockers and a graduate student in marine biology at U.C.-Santa Barbara. "I played football through the college level," says rugger Rizzo, "and we always had films. But they were used so the coaches could get on you. Here, you just have a few beers and enjoy yourself. You can see for yourself what you're doing wrong and there's nobody to get on you."
So far the Bennetts haven't gotten rich operating their unusual tavern, but they're staying afloat and they're having as much fun, for all of the labor, as their customers. "Basically, we're an athletic family, a crazy family, not a normal family," says Oleta, who quit her job as a counselor for the Santa Barbara County Probation Department to help out at the Replay. "I listen to the conversations in here, and it seems to me that a lot of these jocks can't really have a close relationship with one another except through sports. They rarely look deeply into themselves. Maybe that's why they like to see themselves up there."
Non-jocks have also tried to get in on Bennett's act. He did agree to tape a rock concert rehearsal and he has filmed a wedding reception that was held, conveniently, in the Replay, but he rejected a suggestion from a known porno operator that he enliven his format with X-rated material. These are mere aberrations, though. Bennett holds firm to his original scheme. "This," he says, with determination, "is a jock bar."
Bennett enjoys telling of the night an attractive young woman dropped in, obviously noticing that the Replay was populated with fit young men. She sat unattended at the bar as, to her amazement, the men spent their time shouting at their images on the screen. After some minutes of this, she turned to Bennett and asked, "Say, what kind of a place is this, anyway?" She couldn't have known what a good question that was.