Friday, December 4, 2009

Old School: taking in the big game at the corner bar

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 8:21 PM

During a recent month-long ESPN sports film festival one of the featured films dealt with Baltimore’s loss of their beloved Colts and how it affected the fan base, especially those in the all-volunteer Colts marching band.
In a story of never ending loyalty the Colts band stayed together in spite of the team being hustled off to Indianapolis in the middle of the night by its owners to and the city being left without a pro team for years.
A smaller theme running through in the film was how NFL football fans used to watch the game and the importance of the local bar or tavern in that viewing.
Time was when the big game, heck any game, was on, the best place to watch it was at the joint around the corner. That’s because, by some form of unknown magic, the local bar seemed to get the best television reception, and probably had a bigger, like maybe a 24-incher, black and white television set than the one you had at home.  So instead of watching the game on your 14-inch screen while fooling with the rabbit ears to get a decent picture, you could enjoy a beer, some eats, some camaraderie and some pigskin at a place that by comparison made the “Cheers” bar set look like the dining room at Hearst Castle.
One of my favorite East Coast corner bars was so dingy, the owner, former boxing great Willie Pep, used to keep the interior lights even on the sunniest day so you could see three feet in front of you.
Now the corner bar is pretty much a thing of the past or on well on its way out. Watching the game at the corner bar started losing favor with fans when more affordable color television sets came into being and took a precipitous dive when cable became a mainstay. Once fans started watching games at home, there was little hope for the corner bar.
But then along came the Vegas idea of the corner bar-the sports bar. I’m no fan of sports bars. I consider them impersonal and watching a game at one has all the zing of watching a lounge act at a third-rate casino.
This year’s Civil War enticed me to put my sports bar prejudice aside and venture out to see the game at one. I found a place close to where I live that looked, from the outside through tinted windows, to have a mix of corner bar coziness and sports bar television technology.
When I walked in the joint in question Thursday night, I didn’t get the old “hey Bobby how ya doin?” greeting I used to get at a bar in Manhattan I used to frequent to watch the New York football Giants on the small screen while swilling Knickerbockers (“Knock for Knickerbocker New York’s favorite beer”) and eating greasy bar food.
I was acknowledged and sat at a table near the bar. On looking around, it became clear the bar’s décor was more disco/lounge than I expected. Expected was the mandatory attractive waitresses wearing a tee shirt imprinted a sports expression that could be taken an entirely two ways- one tame the other titillating.
Soon the place was mobbed with people in Duck and Beaver colors. Despite the getups, most of them seemed to be there more for the socializing than the game.
That is except for the four Beaver Believers seated next to me. They were 100 percent into the game, the food (decent) and the beer (also decent).
Yet even that small band of rabid fans, the decent eats and the booze didn’t diminish the lingering sense of detachment in the room. It was if people had been detached into small pods unable to interact with other pods made up of people rooting for the same team. It was too civil.

As the gridiron action heated up the second half, the bartender started doing stupid bartender tricks like the ones actors did in that one-star movie of a few years ago-juggling open bottles, pouring shots from six feet above the bar, and make behind-the-back bottle and glass passes.
I surmised that the bartender felt the Ducks and Beavers were beginning to steal his limelight so he trotted out his Cirque du Booze act to get it back.

Somehow his sideshow took the edge off the game and I slouched out of the bar and headed back home to catch the last quarter on the small screen accompanied by my pal Jack Daniels who wasn’t poured into a glass as I cart wheeled across my living room floor.
And that’s how my hope that there was still a chance to watch a big game in the comfort of a cozy corner bar (dive) was dashed.
To get back that corner bar big game feeling back, I guess I have to head to Philly, Cleveland, Pittsburg-someplace east of the Rockies where corner bars still thrive exist albeit now it with 50-inch high-def televisions sets.

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