The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Where everyone knows your game

Posted by steigs on January 27, 2008

One of the many treats of Deadspin are the weekly updates from David Hirshey “the closer” and rather enthusiastic Arsenal fan.  His tales of the Kinsale Tavern in NYC on weekend mornings watching the EPL are always good for a laugh or two as well as a knowing nod.  Maybe they even give the mainstream Deadspin readers a taste for the beautiful game. 

You know, when he makes comments like these:

Kickoff for what the British papers were hyping as Grand Slam Sunday, because it involved The Big Four of ManU, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea and was at 8:30 — or to put it another way, three and a half hours before any alcohol could be served at the bar.  Imagine how frustrating it must have been to have a sweating beer tap a few tantalizing inches in front of you and realizing that if you reached over and yanked on it before NOON, you’d pull away a bloody stump. Yet all the deprivations of sleep and alcohol would have been worth it if the soccer on view hadn’t been so godawful.

Could there have been a more pathetic looking figure among the Kinsale mob than RZM? Even the shmuck at the end of the bar in a throwback Csonka jersey who tried to watch that other football game in London yesterday could at least delude himself that his 0-8 team once had a proud history. Poor RZM had nothing other than his pint of Guinness and the look of a man who had endured a double colonoscopy.

When I walked into Kinsale Tavern on Saturday morning at 8 a.m., the proprietor Pauline had the kind but concerned look of someone about to engage in an intervention. My initial thought was that she had caught wind of my insane plan for a 15-hour footy-watching drunkathlon and had decided it was a cry for help.

My version of the Kinsale is Summers, in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac from DC.  I’ve been going there for about a decade now.  It’s a sports bar, sure, but it’s really that rarer gem in the U.S. — a soccer bar.  A place where soccerheads like me can gather where everyone knows the game. 

So here’s a tribute to Summers I wrote when I was living overseas…

Being a soccer fan in America is to be part of a subculture.  We are everywhere but outnumbered, rendered less visible by dilution into the immense size of our society.  When you are part of a subculture, it becomes important to have a place to go where you can be yourself, where you can be open about what you like, whatever it is.  A place not to be alone. 

American society, with its amazing diversity, is absolutely full of subcultures and their meeting points B jazz clubs, bowling alleys, NASCAR races, Junior Leagues, raves, pow-wows, biker rallies.  Even churches, in their own way.  These are spaces where people who are into a particular activity can come together with others.   Your fascination can be reflected back and reinforced.  Your comments can be discussed.  Your complaints can be aired.  You can get new perspectives and notions.  It=s a community.  It=s a clubhouse. 

For soccer fans in the Washington area, our clubhouse is Summers.  You wouldn=t know it from the outside of the place.  When you drive past it, Summers appears to be a Denny=s wannabe.  On the inside, however, is an extraordinary sports bar.  In fact, this local institution in Arlington, Virginia was even voted the best soccer bar in America.  I was lucky enough to stumble across Summers early in my growing fascination with the sport.  Not only is Summers that rare sports bar willing to show soccer games B soccer is close to its central feature.      

By late 1998, following that year=s World Cup, I was developing a taste for following international soccer.  It was the discovery of Summers that let me actualize that desire and let me sample the full range of the game, not merely DC United games.  It was not merely the ability to actually watch games, although that obviously helped.  No, it was that I could watch soccer with other fans, the kind who wear the replica jerseys, who understand the sport, and who care passionately who wins.  For a baseball or basketball fan, this is common, taken for granted.  Any decent sports bar can offer the game you want and compatriots with whom to assess it.  Not so, for the American soccer fan.  If it ain=t the World Cup, it is rarely worth asking an average sports bar to show soccer B and maybe not even then.

Summers is ostensibly a Afamily@ restaurant.  It sits on a busy corner with a cheerful sign and a hint of neon in the window.  It is only a few steps from a stop on the Metro, the Washington area subway system, and a block from the Arlington County Courthouse.  A generation ago, the neighborhood bordered on seedy, a mix of low-rent law offices, bail-bondsmen, and fast food restaurants.  Traces of that heritage have been all but swept away by a wave of gentrification.  The Metro has brought easy access to downtown Washington, making it a desirable commuter neighborhood.  Luxury condos now rise nearby.  Pricey chain stores have moved in down the street.  My friend E. used to live a few blocks away, giving me yet another reason to hang out there.


 

In addition to the general neighborhood gentrification, the courthouse complex itself has been redeveloped to include restaurants and a multiplex cinema.  Only in America would such a thing happen to a criminal justice center.  Of course, the Pentagon City mall is only a few minutes drive from Summers, a shopping complex named for B and adjacent to B our nation=s military headquarters.  Pretty soon we will redevelop the White House and Yellowstone Park to add more shopping.  It seems to be in our blood. 

When you enter Summers, the restaurant area is to your immediate left, a mix of booths and free-standing tables.  You could be in any coffee shop, except for the large televisions strategically placed throughout the space.  Still, it=s quite possible to wander in for a Saturday brunch and not realize you have entered a serious sports bar.

Well, the framed Sports Illustrated covers dating back decades would probably be a clue.  Still, the atmosphere is casual, and sometimes the televisions are on CNN, not sports.

Going deeper into Summers, past the cash register and the cigarette machine, you arrive in the bar.  It again opens off to the left.  Along each wall in the front half are booths.  Down the middle runs a very long table, actually several tables placed end on end, to maximize the number of seats.  There=s one giant screen and several normal-sized televisions scattered in corners.  You can usually see two or three screens from any seat, if you are willing to twist and turn.   

The back half of the bar area has the traditional bar, a dozen stools along it, plus a few more tables.  Behind the bar are eight more televisions.  Tiny Christmas lights cling to the ceiling.  Dozens of miniature soccer team pennants hang from the upper part of the bar.  Real Madrid.  Wolves.  Arsenal.    I like it there B you can most easily watch the action in two games at the same time.  Morna, however, doesn=t like the way the smoke builds up in the bar and prefers the restaurant side where no smoking is allowed.

So far I=ve described what could be any neighborhood sports bar.  This extends to the menu, which is oddly familiar bar/diner fare, given the international sports and clientele.  You can guess the bulk of it B burgers, chicken sandwiches, omelettes.  There is a set of Mexican options but these are not, shall we say, the cook=s strong suit.  There is also a wicked chocolate cake with chocolate chips and chocolate icing.  As Homer Simpson would say, mmmmm, chocolate. 

What truly distinguishes Summers is out of sight.  Up on the roof is a satellite dish array that must rival NASA=s, supposedly involving at least ten dishes.  If a soccer game is being broadcast anywhere on the planet, there is a decent chance Summers can show it.  Soccer is the star at Summers.  Well, aside from the NFL on fall Sunday afternoons…

English Premiership?  Standard.  Argentine league?  Every week there=s a game.  South American World Cup qualifiers?  Big draw, even though there=s a cover charge for them.  African Cup of Nations?  Sure.  French league?  Usually at least one game a week.  MLS?  Of course.  Champions League?  One of the main drawing cards. 

To prove my point, I offer an actual schedule of games, taken from the Summers website, a bookmark of long-standing on my computer.  This is from a week when there was no MLS action and a slate of European Champions League games.


 

DAY                                                                                                                                                    GAME                         LIVE (*TD)     COVER            RE-RUN

TUESDAY                  Arsenal v. Juventus                                                                    2:30 pm                                    7 pm

Real Madrid v. Panathinaikos                                                     *4:45 pm                                  9 pm

Bayer Leverkusen v.

Deportivo                                                                                 *11:30 pm

WEDNESDAY            Roma v. Liverpool                                                                    2:30 pm                                     6 pm

Nantes v. Bayern Munich                                                          2:40 pm                                    6:30 pm

Barcelona v. Galatasary                                                            *4:45 pm                                  8:30 pm

Manchester United vs.

Boavista                                                                                   *8 pm                                      Friday

THURSDAY               Leeds v. Grasshoppers 3 pm                                                     6 pm

Sporting v. AC Milan                                                                3 pm                                        8 pm

PSG v. Rangers                                                                         2 pm                $10                  6:30 pm

Celtic vs. Valencia                                                                      3 pm                $10                  8:30 pm

FRIDAY                       Arsenal v. Juventus                                                                                                                 6 pm

Barcelona v. Galatasary                                                                                                         8 pm

Manchester United v.

Boavista                                                                                                                                     10 pm

SATURDAY              Manchester United v.

West Ham                                                                                          10 am               $5                7 pm

Liverpool v Middlesbrough                                                             *12 noon                                  9 pm

Auxerre v Monaco                                                                          *2:30 pm

Piacensza v. Bologna                                                                        2:30 pm

Tenerife v. Real Madrid                                                                   4 pm                                        8 pm

Feyernoord v. NEC                                                                          *5 pm

SUNDAY                    Rangers v. Hearts                                                                             10 am               $10

Dumfermline v. Celtic                                                                        10 am               $10

Arsenal v. Aston Villa                                                                      11 am               $5                  5:30 pm

Deportivo v. Valencia                                                                      11 am                                       6 pm

Sunderland v. Chelsea                                                                   *1 pm                                      7:30 pm

Barcelona v. Celta                                                                            2 pm                                        8 pm

AC Milan v. Juventus                                                                    2:30 pm

Velez vs. Boca Juniors                                                                      3 pm

Bosch vs. Ajax                                                                               *5 pm

Lyon vs. Bordeaux                                                                         *8 pm


 

Now that is a lot of soccer.  It is tremendously easy to become an afficionado when virtually any day of the week you can stop in and catch a decent match from overseas.  Note that there are a lot of replays.  Many European soccer games are played in the evening to pick up the prime-time television audience there, like Monday Night Football.  The nature of the time zones involved means those games are effectively afternoon games for the East Coast.  (Afternoon games in Europe become morning games for the East Coast B which doesn=t seem to keep the Scottish fans from their pints of ale with Celtic and Rangers matches, even if it is a 10 am kick-off.)  Summers frequently re-plays the games during the evening to allow those of us who can=t sneak away from the office during the day to see them.  Of course then you have to spend the day avoiding finding out the result so as not to spoil the suspense.

The manager of Summers, Joe Javidara, has himself become a cult figure.  He wanders about with the remote control, flipping the channels on the two dozen screens, like the conductor of a soccer symphony.  (Owning the remote to that many televisions perpetually set to sports probably qualifies as the secret fantasy of a significant portion of American males.)  Joe is lean, in the older part of middle age, with olive skin, a minor limp, and a regular chuckle.  The story is that he competed for Malta in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics as a javelin thrower.  He makes small talk as he moves around.  He has a deep voice and a bit of an accent.  Regulars importune him for this game or that, almost like junkies pleading with a pusher for another hit.  Joe is, as we say, Athe man@.  Meanwhile a set of bartenders and waiters of long tenure B most of them have been there as long as I=ve been going B make the rounds with pitchers and burgers

Joe takes great pride in the satellite equipment at Summers, as well he should.  Summers regularly shows games from every corner of the globe, not just a healthy dose of the European leagues.  A few examples:

$                   During the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the American men=s soccer team managed an inspiring run to the semi-finals.  (For men=s soccer, Olympic squads are almost entirely under 23 so it=s sort of a World Cup for younger players.)  M. and I were eager to see the semi-final versus Spain.  So were a lot of Summers regulars.  But men=s soccer wasn=t a priority for NBC, busy with track, swimming, gymnastics etc.  The time zones involved also meant that the game was at 4 am, Eastern time, and that the few highlights NBC would show would be on hours after the game ended.  Joe to the rescue!  He opened Summers at 4 am, just for the game, and got a live feed of the game, initially from Canada and after that signal became fuzzy he found a feed from some Asian country.  Bruce Arena, the World Cup team coach (and local resident) joined the full house.  (Alas, the US lost.)              

$                   One night I was sitting at the bar to watch a European World Cup qualifier, Portugal versus Ireland, two of my favorites.  But it turned out to be a dour struggle.  Not too interesting.  My attention was drawn to the wide-open offensive battle on the next screen.  I got caught up in it, eventually discerning that it was Ukraine versus Armenia, from Armenia.  The picture was a bit snowy but, hey, it was from Yerevan!

$                   Another night, there for a Champions League match, I ended up watching Iran versus Iraq with an Iranian expatriate on the next bar stool.  It was being played, in of all places, Lebanon.  (Iran, Iraq, Lebanon B now that=s a trifecta guaranteed to bring back bad memories for Americans.)  The game was so-so, if hard-fought, but I noticed that many of the commercials at half-time resembled those you see on American television, except the mothers in the happy families were wearing head scarves.  Maybe we=re not so different after all, at least in the eyes of ad agencies.


 

A clubhouse needs club members.  As you would expect, the misfits and misplaced feature heavily in the cast.  There are the dedicated American soccerheads.  Maybe they played in high school.  Maybe they still play in weekend recreational leagues in the area.  Or maybe they=re just members of the Screaming Eagles or Barra Brava, the DC United supporters clubs, grateful for a sports bar which takes their sport seriously.  And people like me, converts won over by World Cups and MLS.                    

Then there=s the expatriate crowd, a strong element at Summers.  They turn up for a taste of home, no matter if home is Leeds or Turin or Lagos or Rosario.  Maybe a chance to affirm their allegiances or just to keep current during a temporary exile.  The international nature of Washington provides a richer mix of nationalities than most American cities would.  While the British are most numerous, there are regular groups of Italians, Iranians, Argentines, Africans, Turks, and Spaniards.  (The Mexican and Central American crowd is small since their immigrant communities in Washington are significant enough to support their own Spanish-speaking network of restaurants and bars.)  During one weekend of international finance meetings, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, dropped in to catch a Manchester United game.  (I won=t claim to have recognized him but the Brits were buzzing about it as soon as he left.)  I remember watching a Euro 2004 qualifier in which the Ukraine scored a late goal to tie Spain.  The Ukrainian guy sitting across the table from me got an immediate joyful text message on his cell-phone from a buddy at the game in Kiev.  

Finally, there are the loners seeking a spot of company.  The guys just a little too eager to ask the others about the teams, a little too loud or anxious.  Every bar has them, I suppose.  Characters like those found on ACheers@ (except without the witty writing).  At Summers they glom on to soccer, becoming Chelsea or Real Madrid fans to belong.                                

Summers reached a new level during the 2002 World Cup.  With the competition arranged to play most games during television prime time in Korea and Japan, the result was they were largely in the middle of the night on the East Coast.  If you had ESPN2 or Univision, you could watch at home.  If you didn=t, or wanted to watch with groups of like-minded fans, you were in trouble.  The District of Columbia turned down an applications by a handful of bars to stay open late to show the games.  Joe, on the other hand, managed to get clearance from Arlington County to remain open all night.  (Although the alcohol did stop at 2 am, much to the consternation of Irish fans one night I was there.)  He rented a hotel room nearby to give himself and his staff a place to rest.  Each game was shown live in the middle of the night and then repeated the next day and next evening.  Basically, it was non-stop World Cup for a month at Summers.                       

The Washington Post discovered Summers, running local color pieces about the crazies who were up at 2:30 am to watch soccer and the bar which gave them a home.  One, headlined perhaps inevitably AA Summers Night Dream,@ described the people dancing on Wilson Boulevard at 5 in the morning after the US beat Mexico.  Another was AUp All Night, at a Fever Pitch@ and it ran on the front page.  Here=s how it sums up the end of the night:  ASix hours, three games and a couple of hundred pots of Colombian coffee later, they push through the doors into a brilliant morning, blinking and cowering like vampires.@


 

A regular who went over to Japan for the World Cup reported later that she saw footage of Summers during a new story on the American fan reaction to our upset win over Portugal. 

But there was a growing cloud over Summers.  The neighborhood was in the process of going even more upscale.  Its lease was up soon and the landlord was making plans to redevelop the block, kicking out Summers.  (Rumor had it a McDonald=s would replace Summers, with a multi-story office building overhead.)  Joe began searching around for alternative locations.  But it was difficult to find a space near the Metro and able to handle the satellite dishes needed.

So the Summers faithful swung into action, mounting an e-mail campaign to the county board.  By the time they were through, the board had gotten more than 10,000 e-mails, reportedly the most they had ever received on any issue.  Even ESPN sent a letter of support.  Eventually, word got around that Summers was safe B the board had told the landlord to work something out with Summers if he wanted approval for his plans.  Soon, a new long-term lease was in place B at a higher rent B and Joe had begun to improve the kitchen and rearrange the space to get more seats.  And plasma screens!

So if you=re in the Washington area and want to catch some soccer, you now know where to go.  Say hi to Joe and the rest of the staff.  You=ll find me there many a Champions League evening, watching the taped replays of the mid-week games I miss while at the office.  And some Saturdays or Sundays, slipping in with the Brits for the pay-per-view EPL match-up or with the Catalans rooting for Barcelona.  We=re always up for new members of the club.    

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One Response to “Where everyone knows your game”

  1. Andy said

    If you live too far from Summers (or the Kinsale), you can find similar congregations worshipping “the Beautiful Game” at SoccerBars.com

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