Correction: Any earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the location of Texas alumni football-watching parties. This version has been corrected.
Rumor has it, September is a wonderful month to be outside. But who can really be sure when there’s so much football to watch? ¶ We’ve reached the first weekend of the college football season, while the NFL’s regular season starts in less than a week. And that’s to say nothing of the other football season, now a few weeks old and riding a fresh wave of fan interest after summer’s World Cup. ¶ The great outdoors will wait; kickoff will not. ¶ In other words, although there may be no better time of year to get outside, there’s also no better time of year to head for the sports bar to support your favorite squad. ¶ We asked three Post reporters to tell us why.
The soccer bar
Some people wake up before dawn on weekends, get dressed and go to church. I do something similar: I rub sleep from my eyes, pull a piece of red-and-white polyester over my head and head to a bar to watch Arsenal, my favorite English soccer team, as I’ve been doing for almost 20 years.
The thing is, I don’t have to do this. The English Premier League’s television contract means that every match is either shown on NBC’s networks or streamed online. I could roll out of bed, get the coffee started, turn on my TV and watch Olivier Giroud put shots over the bar from the comfort of my couch. And yet I rarely watch Arsenal at home.
For American fans of English soccer, going to a bar is part of the culture. It’s a ritual that has become muscle memory.
I think it’s rooted in the difficult history of televised soccer in America. In the mid-’90s, television coverage of the Premiership was virtually nonexistent. The Internet was still in the days of rec.sport.soccer newsgroups, and video streaming and clips were years away. Restaurants that had satellite dishes or showed pay-per-view channels, such as Summers in Arlington or Flanagan’s in Bethesda, were our only lifelines, showing one match on Saturday and possibly one more on Sunday. (Can you imagine having to pay $20 to watch a live broadcast of the FA Cup Final? I did, in 1996. I didn’t even like the teams playing, but it was the FA Cup Final.)
Social psychologists have all kinds of ways to explain why sports fans watch games in groups:
• Disinhibition, which is why we hug strangers standing next to us when midfielder Aaron Ramsey scores one of his late goals.
• Ingroup-outgroup distinctions, best demonstrated by Arsenal supporters mocking a stranger wearing the jersey of rival Tottenham, solely because the two teams play in neighboring postcodes in north London that most American fans have never visited.
• Basking in reflected glory, or BIRGing, which boils down to fans experiencing increased self-esteem and self-concept when their sports team does well. It’s the only way to explain the joy in the streets of Dupont Circle after we won the FA Cup in May. (“We.” There I go BIRGing again.)
The psychology is fascinating, but supporting a team is a visceral experience. I go back to London — really, back to the Arsenal — multiple times a year, but I’m always going to be watching the majority of games here, in bars, surrounded by dozens, or hundreds, of people wearing the same colors.
Over the years, I’ve shouted “Come on Arsenal!” at TVs in countless pubs, including the now-closed Union Tap at the British Embassy. I’ve been late to get a bar stool because I dithered over whether wearing a Patrick Vieira jersey or an Andrey Arshavin jersey would ensure better luck. I’ve hoisted celebratory pints at 8 a.m. after Thierry Henry goals and stared into a glass after a gut-wrenching defeat at Manchester United. I’ve made friends with people with whom I have practically nothing in common except a love of the Arsenal. And all of this happens before most of my neighbors have decided where they’re going for brunch.
I know that singing about how much “we” hate Tottenham at Lucky Bar will never replace singing the same song in my seat at the Emirates Stadium. But 3,600 miles away, surrounded by people wearing red and white shirts, screaming for every Arsenal goal and swearing at every Arsenal miss, is as close as most of us can get.
BEST BARS FOR FANS OF ENGLISH SOCCER
Growing crowds of supporters mean bars are hosting fan groups for specific clubs.
Lucky Bar: Arsenal, Manchester City
1221 Connecticut Ave. NW
Ireland’s Four Courts: Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur
2051 N. Wilson Blvd., Arlington.
Fado: Everton, Manchester United
808 Seventh St. NW.
The Pug: Everton
1234 H St. NE.
The Queen Vic: Liverpool
1206 H St. NE.
Ri-Ra Clarendon: Liverpool
2915 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.
Ri-Ra Georgetown: Manchester United
3125 M St. NW.
500 H St. NW.
The NFL bar
If you’re a fantasy football enthusiast, Week 1 of the NFL season is a bit like the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.
You’ve researched and drafted a team, or teams, with at least as much effort (I hope) as you put into filling out a bracket. You’ve analyzed matchups and tinkered with your lineup before kickoff, agonizing over which late-round flier to start in your Flex spot. And you’ve picked a hilarious team name. Now it’s time to sit back and watch your players — studs and sleepers alike — perform.
Early-season NFL action, like the NCAA tournament, is best experienced at a bar, unless your home features a wall of televisions showing every game, in which case I’ll bring the beer (contact info below). There are benefits to watching at home, of course, and I’ve done so a fair amount since I first subscribed to the NFL’s RedZone Channel three years ago. You can eat and drink whatever you want at home, often for a fraction of the cost; you can use the DVR; you can wear what you wore to bed, or nothing at all, while you cheer for Danny Woodhead or Montee Ball.
Although watching at home may be more comfortable than posting up at a bar, the experience is lacking if you’re interested in more than your favorite team’s game. You haven’t fully experienced the madness of fantasy football until you’ve cheered like crazy for a Greg Olsen four-yard catch in the late afternoon Carolina-Tampa Bay game, while another poor owner two seats away curses an unknown fullback for vulturing a touchdown.
Tracking 10 games at once without the guidance of RedZone’s hosts can prove dizzying, but shouts from different parts of the bar will help direct your attention. And live scoring of your head-to-head matchup is always an app away on your phone. (Bring a charger.)
What makes a good fantasy football bar? The number and layout of the TVs is, by far, the most important factor. Every game should be on at least one TV, and the less swiveling required to watch each game the better. Audio is a bonus, while two feeds showing the same game — with one on a slight delay — can be maddening. A good beer list is ideal and food and drink specials are essential.
It’s true: No one else really cares about your fantasy football team, and you should avoid talking about your squad’s bad luck or dominance as a general rule. But if there’s one place where it’s acceptable to bemoan the fact that three of your first four draft picks are injured, or brag that you own Jimmy Graham after he scores yet another touchdown, it’s among friends and fellow fantasy fools in a bar, where every snap, in every game, matters to someone.
So venture out. Don’t be afraid to shout for Robert Griffin III to throw the ball with his team ahead by 30 in the fourth quarter (talk about fantasy) so Pierre Garcon can get the seven yards he needs — you need — for a 100-yard bonus. Chances are good there’s an owner nearby who’s rooting for the same thing, and you just can’t find that at home. Good luck this season. See you out there.
BEST BARS FOR NFL FANS
These bars have enough TVs to ensure that every game you want to watch is being shown.
Arlington Rooftop Bar and Grill
2424 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.
1210 N. Garfield St., Arlington.
Caddies on Cordell
4922 Cordell Ave., Bethesda.
Crystal City Sports Pub
529 23rd St., Arlington.
3400 11th St. NW.
801 E St. NW.
Dupont Circle: 1214 18th St. NW.
Tenleytown: 4611 41st St. NW.
The college football bar
You can never really re-create the game-day experience that takes place at a big college football school, where time grinds to a halt as kickoff approaches and the stadium — filled with 90,000 people on the best of days — assumes its rightful place at the center of the universe. When you are lucky enough to attend a big football school (Florida, in my case), you don’t really think about how you are eventually going to have to leave the big football school and venture into the real world, where game days are just days.
So you try and find the next best thing, which means finding another setting where you can gather elbow-to-elbow with as many Gators as you can stuff into a single room. That is when you discover the Gators bar, where life again revolves around game day, where people with real lives and jobs and mortgages and shifts later that night still hang out in a sea of orange, blue and nostalgia to re-create the Swamp as best they can. So you begin going each week, because you can gather with friends and strangers in a place where the game again assumes its rightful place at the center of the universe.
You think about how the games became about more than just the games. You think about the time when the Florida game ended and everyone turned to hope that USC would choke away its shot at the title game, cheering for UCLA of all schools because UCLA’s win meant Florida could make it into the championship game. You think about watching Florida win the title a few weeks later and how, after the game ended, no one left for a good long while, because why would you leave? You think about watching the team lose a single game during 2008, but a crowd still remaining to watch the postgame press conference to hear the quarterback promise that it won’t happen again. (But you never go back to that bar, because they lost, because that’s what you get for trying a new Gators bar.)
You think about someone showing up five hours early before the big game against Oklahoma to stake out a table, because you all know exactly which table you want for the big game. You think about hugging strangers and savoring the moment because even though it’s just a football game, it isn’t just a football game. You think about demolishing Georgia and Florida State and Tennessee, memories that will help during the lean years, because everyone experiences those lean years eventually.
The experience of watching sports has changed dramatically in recent years as people buy bigger and better televisions. Watching the game in someone’s home becomes a better option, particularly as people start showing up at kickoff with strollers and diaper bags. Yet there is nothing quite like watching it at the bar, surrounded by like-minded souls who know that regardless of the team’s record or the game’s big-picture meaning, it’s Saturday, which means it’s game day.
BEST BARS FOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS
Alumni from every major Football Bowl Subdivision school host game-watching parties in the Washington area. Some have central locations: Texas will turn Penn Social burnt orange this fall (after going to Rhodeside Grill in previous years), while the Florida State crowd cheers on the Seminoles at Union Pub. Others are much more spread out: Ohio State has five “sponsored bars” in the District, Maryland and Virginia, while Michigan offers a choice of four. We have a list of viewing sites for the Top 25 teams, and other major programs, on www.goingoutguide.com.
These are some of the biggest college football bars in town, home to fan clubs from multiple major programs:
Crystal City Sports Pub: Baylor, Georgia and Arizona State.
529 23rd St., Arlington. 703-521-8215. www.ccsportspub.com.
Mason Inn: South Carolina, Georgia and Ole Miss.
2408 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-1313. www.masoninndc.com.
Mister Days: Ohio State and Missouri.
3100 Clarendon Blvd, Arlington.
Penn Quarter Sports Tavern:
Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
639 Indiana Ave. NW. 202-347-6666. www.dcsportstavern.com.
Lou’s City Bar: Wisconsin and Washington.
1400 Irving St. NW. 202-518-5687. www.louscitybar.com.