Super Bowl matchup brews a rivalry at two neighboring Capitol Hill bars
By Petula Dvorak,
Sure, there are the Redskins.
But they haven't mattered on a Super Bowl Sunday in two decades. And I better leave it at that. In case Dan Snyder's reading.
Let's just say that blind, unreasonable devotion to the Redskins isn't one of those D.C. customs that expats usually embrace when they move here.
I mean, there are plenty of other things newcomers do to blend in. Floridians fade to that fluorescent-light pallor, Hawaiians wear close-toed shoes, Californians begin to speak in full sentences, and flinty Midwesterners learn to faint or drive like ninnies at the sight of a snowflake.
But become Redskins fans?
Nope. Most folks wind up staying true to their hometown team.
So unlike most other cities in the nation, we have a legion of sports bars dedicated to out-of-town teams. It's like Embassy Row for the wings-and-pitcher-beer set.
Want to root for the Eagles? Go to the Rhino Bar and Pumphouse on M Street. The Original Steakhouse & Sports Theatre in Woodbridge is the place where Oakland Raiders fans gather. Kelly's Irish Times is home base for New England Patriots fans, and the 18th Amendment on Capitol Hill has long been where Carolina Panthers fans go to cheer.
You can try to go all bipartisan and venture to a sports bar of mixed alliances, a la the 2011 State of the Union seating chart. The reality, however, is that sports fans don't want to spend big game days as uncomfortable as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
But for this year's bowl, the partisanship won't be hard to miss.
Two of the city's most rabidly devoted team bars are right next to each other, and appropriately three blocks from the Capitol. The Hawk 'n' Dove, the go-to political bar on the Hill, has been the Green Bay Packers' bar for almost a decade. And two doors over, past the health food and wig stores, is the Pour House, a.k.a. Steeler Nation HQ.
For weeks, fans have been leering at each other across the sidewalk. Throwing insults over the box hedges and past the wig displays.
The bar managers are considering a bet.
The buildup to game day has been so intense that the D.C. Council passed a resolution officially renaming the 300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE "Super Bowl Avenue" on Feb. 6:
"WHEREAS, the Hawk 'n' Dove is the biggest Green Bay Packers bar outside of Wisconsin and the Pour House is the most intense Pittsburgh Steelers bar in town," and so forth.
At the Hawk 'n' Dove, you're greeted at the front door with a big picture of President Obama wearing that awful foam cheesehead hat. There's a neon Packers G behind the bar, an inflatable Green Bay helmet hanging from a lamp.
Sometimes, these things grow slowly, organically, as it did for Green Bay on Capitol Hill.
A few years back, some of the Wisconsin delegation in town began hanging out at the Hawk 'n' Dove. More cheeseheads followed, and they began watching the games there. General Manager Paul Meagher began offering brats and sauerkraut and turning all 17 televisions to the Packers on game day.
Sunday manager Carol Masterson, a local, started wearing a Packers cheerleader outfit. "She's a turncoat," Meagher said.
It was easy for Masterson and some other D.C. natives to start rooting for the Packers. There's an emotional tie to the team through NFL legend Willie Wood, a D.C. native who went from D.C. public schools to the Football Hall of Fame. He was the Pac-10's first African American quarterback when he played for the USC Trojans, then walked on to the Packers as a safety when no NFL team drafted him out of college. He was also a regular at the Hawk 'n' Dove for years after he retired.
But bartender James Williams, who has been working at the Hawk 'n' Dove for 35 years, has yet to embrace his inner cheddar. He keeps his head down, working, and smiles politely as cheeseheads cheer.
"When they were playing the Redskins? Now that was hard," Williams told me, wiping the bar obsessively, even though it was clean. "We wanted to cheer for them, but all our customers were for Green Bay. So we'd run in the back there, jump up and down and cheer, then come right back out."
Over at the Pour House, the link is a little more owner-mandated.
The former owner, D.C. restaurateur Joe Englert, infused the place with his Pittsburgh loyalties. Steelers and Penguins gear is everywhere - mirrors, flags, pennants.
He sold the bar, "but the fans have kept coming and coming," said Katie Gorscak, who looks more like the spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (her day job) than the president of D.C. Steeler Nation. But I'm told she is a Steelers fanatic.
"Word has traveled fast, and when Pittsburghers visit D.C., they usually make a trek to the bar to watch the game with our local fans," she told me. "Do I feel bad for the Redskins? Maybe a little bit. I feel worse for their fans."
So what about bar manager Andre Priest, who grew up in Washington?
"Have you become a Steelers fan now?" I asked him. He hemmed. He hawed.
"Not sure if you should print this," he whispered. "But no."
"Ah, loyal to the Redskins!" I said.
"Actually, nope. Can't do that," and he leaned closer to my ear. "I'm an Oakland Raiders fan."
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