John Harrison, left, with Legends co-owner John Naylor.
Photo by Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin

Where legends are made

Sports bar co-owners made their dream come true

By Mike Fitzgerald

They are the odd couple of Nahua Street.

John Harrison: Outgoing and opinionated. Worked in various Oahu nightclubs.

John Naylor: Quiet and reserved. Formerly a traveling musician.

But four years ago, they shared a dream. And today, the Legends Sports Pub is celebrating its third anniversary.

Las Vegas wouldn't have bothered to post odds on the small bar making it past the first year.

"People thought we were nuts when we planned this," said the 37-year-old Harrison, a native of New Jersey who came to Hawaii 13 years ago.

The two guys looked at about 20 locations before finding the little hole in the wall in mid-Waikiki.

Then they scraped up all the money they had between them.

"And then some," said the 44-year-old Naylor, a New York native who spent 20 years on the road as a musician and started coming to the islands in the 1970s before settling on Oahu six years ago.

But coming up with the big chunk of cash wasn't the only problem. The place had to be completely renovated, so they called in their army.

"It was an old-fashioned barn raising," said Harrison. "Everyone helped out. If it wasn't for family and friends, we wouldn't have been able to open the place up. Period.

"My brother-in-law helped with the plumbing. Another friend is an electrician. Another contractor friend came down every day after his other job."

One year later, it was finally opening day - but the long hours continued for the two dreamers.

"Our goal was to keep the doors open the first year no matter what," said Harrison. "It was just me and John the first year. There was no payroll.

"We lived here seven days a week. A full day off didn't come until the start of our third year."

Now there are six employees, two full-time and four part-time, to help out. But Harrison or Naylor are always there and they make sure to greet any new faces.

"If we don't know you when you walk in, we'll know you by the time you leave," said Harrison.

Obviously, live sports on television - especially here in the land of network tape-delay - is the main attraction.

There are five TV sets perched amid the rows of sports caps and a wall filed with photos of quite a few celebrities who have found their way inside.

Current Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian was there to watch an NBA playoff game and it turned out to be the day that O.J. Simpson led police on the famous Bronco chase.

"We even had a towel laid out for him," Harrison said.

"People thought we were nuts when we planned this."

John Harrison
Co-owner, "Legends Sports Pub."

Sportscaster Brent Musburger wandered in on his own a few months ago and came back the next night.

Harrison, who played amateur hockey back east, has had several of his old skating pals as guests - including NHL stars Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Brian Noonan.

Actually, hockey turned into an important game for the sports bar, even in the balmy climate.

"Hockey wasn't a surprise because I knew a lot of people who were looking for a place to watch it, including myself," said Harrison. "And we get a lot of Canadian tourists.

"We also cater to the international sports market - the Aussie rules football, the rugby, the soccer. We do really well with that."

As far as the satellite dishes, both Harrison and Naylor are experts at bringing in the myriad feeds.

"John and I are pro-active on sports, not reactive," said Harrison. "Every day we know what we're showing on each TV and at what time. We don't sit there with MTV or ESPN on."

The co-owners said the customers break down into three groups.

"About a third of the people live in this area, about a third work in this area and a third are tourists," Harrison said.

"What surprised me is the amount of international tourist support we get here."

Besides limited parking, little advertising money and Hawaii's typically huge overhead, the place has made it.

"What surprised me the most is that most things in life don't turn out anywhere near what you expected," said Naylor. "But this place turned out almost exactly what we expected."

"There were things that exceeded expectations and there were things that fell short of expectations, but overall we're real happy," said Harrison.

Local competition continues to keep the partners on their toes.

"There have been new places popping up every six months around here," said Naylor, "and 'sports bar' is a catchword of the 90s."

There are several paybacks to the customers over the year. Every Thanksgiving, a homemade turkey dinner is served for everyone away from home that day. Same goes for Christmas Eve.

And the odd couple of Nahua Street also credit a couple of other key players who were directly involved in the unlikely success of Legends Sports Pub.

Harrison and his wife, Sara, have a 2-year-old son, Sean. Naylor and his wife, Maria, got married after playing in the same band for many years.

"We put them through a lot," Harrison said. "If it wasn't for our wives, we wouldn't have made it."

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