In his 1880 novel "Democracy," Henry Adams writes about two young women, expatriate New Yorkers passing a season in the District. "I wish we had never come to Washington," 24-year-old Sybil Ross complains. "New York is so much nicer and the people there are much more amusing; they dance ever so much better and send one flowers all the time, and then they never talk about first principles."
Ross's real-life counterparts -- New Yorkers who feel Washington is just a little staid, just a little provincial, just a little narrow in its interests -- are still very much with us. Today, as in Adams's time, they often seek out one another to assuage their District discontent.
On NFL afternoons, those of a sporting bent tend to get their Big Apple bite at the 51st State, a cozy little bar in Foggy Bottom near where L Street slices across Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Yesterday, they happily watched New York Giants running back Tiki Barber glide over, around and through the lead-footed Redskins, who lost, 36-0.
"We concentrate on all New York teams: Giants, Jets, Bills," bar manager Bjarne Hecht explained. A 47-year-old Dane, Hecht lived in Manhattan for many years before migrating to the District two years ago. He came down looking for work after restaurant and bar jobs became scarce in post-Sept. 11 New York. The 51st State opened last fall in what had been a sushi bar.
"We're the only bar in D.C. that concentrates on New York," he said. "The New York teams are not all that popular outside New York, except that people love to hate us."
Yesterday, Washingtonians didn't bother -- and neither did Giants fans. The 51st State was as quiet as the Redskins' woeful offense.
Hecht had his theories. He suspected Saturday-night Halloween festivities the night before, in Georgetown and elsewhere, had left people at home recuperating. Plus, the game was on local television, so both Giants and Redskins fans were able to stay in and watch.
Rachel Volinski showed up to watch her beloved Giants on the bar's widescreen TV; she had read online about the 51st State and its New York focus.
"I was supposed to be a boy, so my dad said, 'You're a Giants fan,' " the 24-year-old said. Her father, in years past a Long Island Oldsmobile dealer who took her to several games a season, was at home in Mattituck yesterday, wearing his lucky Giants regalia and watching the game on TV.
Volinski could be the real-life Sybil Ross, except that she likes Washington well enough. She works on the staff of Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) and expects to stay awhile before drifting back north, perhaps to run for office someday.
She was with her friend, Rob Rushenberg, a Defense Department mechanical engineer who grew up in Nebraska. Both arrived wearing Giants-blue T-shirts expecting a large New York contingent. When Barber got loose in the first quarter for a 59-yard gallop, Volinski shouted with glee and then looked around with a bit of an embarrassed look on her face. "Hey, there's no screaming in this bar," she said, laughing.
Despite the dismal turnout, the bucket of Bud Lights was cold, the Buffalo wings spicy hot. Volinski and Rushenberg, 25, agreed that they were enjoying themselves.
Mike Dolan and Bert Doyle arrived a little before halftime, hoping to change the Redskins' fortunes. College buddies at the University of Maryland a couple of decades ago, they had been watching the game at another bar and hoped to change the dynamic.
They wandered in despite the proud New York chauvinism of the 51st State. "We're from our nation's capital," Dolan, 49, announced. "We live in the neighborhood. We've been Redskins fans for a long time."
"Here we go, 'Skins!" Doyle, 50, shouted as he took a seat at a high table near the TV. "Turn it around! Our whole season begins now!"
"A bar dedicated to the New York Giants," scoffed Dolan, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union. "Hah! Whoever heard of such a thing?"
"Thank God for Wellington Mara and Y.A. Tittle," remarked Doyle, who works in alumni relations at Georgetown University.
Doyle grew up in New York City. "Who else would know who Y.A. Tittle is?" he asked, referring to the legendary Giants quarterback.
He and his friend agreed that the death last week of Mara, the Giants' longtime owner, had given the team extra inspiration. While Redskins fans were celebrating faux morbidity on a Saturday night, the Giants were dealing with the real thing.
The Giants scored yet again in the opening minutes of the second half. Dolan looked at his friend. "Maybe we need to find another bar," he suggested.
Doyle agreed. "Obviously, there's a maelstrom of Giant energy in this place," he said. "We're just caught up in it, and there's no escape."
Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell had a pass blocked, and Giants fan Volinski contributed to the maelstrom. "Yeah!" she shouted.
"I believe the appropriate phrase is, 'Yeah, how do you like me now?' " said a do-rag-bedecked Doyle, calling on his urban roots.
The Giants scored yet again, making it 29-0 with more than a quarter to go.
"What we're seeing is an illustration of Einstein's theory of relativity," Doyle announced. "When things suck, time slows down."
"There's plenty of time left in this game," Dolan said sarcastically. "Plenty of time!"
Barber scored again, making it 36-0.
Volinski and Rushenberg, true-blue Giants fans, stayed to the end, happily watching the hapless Redskins trudge off the field. Joe Gibbs's boys seemed to be in a Henry Adams frame of mind -- the same Adams who returned to Washington after a sojourn in Europe and wrote of himself: "In Paris and London, he had seen nothing to make a return to life worthwhile; in Washington, he saw plenty of reasons for staying dead."