A crowd erupted with cheers after witnessing a narrow basketball game win, filling a Westwood bar shoulder-to-shoulder.
Sports memorabilia and brightly lit signs lined the green walls, with customers crowding tables for a better view of the numerous television screens. Warm lights illuminated the bar, emanating out to the streets.
Guests have packed Sepi’s, a hole-in-the-wall sports bar on Le Conte Avenue, since hearing about its planned closure.
Since Sepi’s announced it would close its doors April 30 after 50 years in Westwood, visitors have brought back the bar’s former vibrancy, said Aaron Roberts, a Sepi’s employee and UCLA alumnus.
While the bar has seen a decline in business in the past two years, Roberts said many former regulars have returned since the announcement and that the bar has also seen an increased number of first-time customers in the last week.
Kifishia Kawachi, owner of Sepi’s, released a statement April 16, which said the sports bar was unable to relocate to a new location due to permit issues and costly appeals against its alcohol license filed by a community member involved with Westwood politics.
Community members responded to Kawachi’s announcement by creating a petition to save the establishment.
Grayson Peters, a member of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council and second-year political science student, helped organize the petition and gathered over 4,400 signatures in a week.
Peters said he thinks the strong response to the petition indicates how Sepi’s is a staple to the community.
While the petition has garnered community support, Alison Simard, a spokesperson for Councilmember Paul Koretz, said Koretz, who represents Westwood and its surrounding areas, cannot take any action because Kawachi withdrew her application to relocate and obtain an alcohol license.
The petition was intended to gather support for Sepi’s and expose the interfering community member, Peters said.
Joan Pelico, Koretz’s chief of staff, said in an email statement Koretz asked his planning deputy to work with the owners to identify future plans to bring Sepi’s back into Westwood.
Kawachi and her husband took over Sepi’s 10 years ago when the walls were crimson, illuminated by red bulbs.
“Nothing about the decor felt UCLA,” she said. “There was a small beer fridge with one tap handle – a Budweiser tap. It had one old cathode-ray TV in the back of the store and one little stereo to play music.”
Six months after they bought Sepi’s, the couple remodeled the restaurant to expand beer selections, changed its decor and added TVs and sound systems all over the restaurant, she said.
The original Sepi’s sandwiches, however, did not change.
In the 1970s, Sepi’s was a popular meet-up spot for locals and UCLA students, said Lisa Carton, a former student who lived near Westwood. Sepi’s was only a sandwich shop back then. While Carton was not a fan of the food, she often found herself ordering fries and conversing with friends there.
“If those walls could talk, you’d hear a lot of stories there,” Carton said.
Not a moment passed without commotion from the constant murmur of conversation over beers, music blasting from outdoor speakers or cheers roaring from basketball game viewers Tuesday evening.
Brian Tognolini, third-year civil engineering student, said he regularly visited Sepi’s to watch basketball games and socialize with friends.
“I’ve never had a bad memory here,” Tognolini said. “It’s a place you can depend on.”
In her time as Sepi’s owner, Kawachi said she has witnessed customers returning with their families, celebrated countless events and even comforted customers in times of need.
Kawachi said the business will close Tuesday, but she will continue to look for potential spots to one day reopen Sepi’s.