It's June, 1998, the United States is playing Iran in World Cup soccer in Lyon, France. And in Arlington, Iranians and Americans are crowded into Summers restaurant and bar to watch the game. The place is full, 300 people, and the doors are shut -- there's room for no more. It's a tense day in France leading up to the game; no one has forgotten the Iran hostage crisis less than two decades before. Even an uncharacteristic uneasiness exists in Summers, where soccer fans traditionally gather for games, always passionately but always respectful of one another.
Summers has two rooms. Americans take to one room, Iranians the other. But then something happens: Little by little, people from the two rooms begin to mingle. And some from both rooms decide to have a little U.S. flag painted on one side of their face and a little Iranian flag on the other. No sport around the world brings out emotions like soccer. Sometimes we hear about ugly things happening at games. Less is heard of, perhaps, the most amazing thing about the sport: It produces friendship, sometimes even it breaks down barriers between people.
And that's what it did that day at Summers.
Now some bad news. Summers may have to close, at its present location at least. Its owner, Joe Javidara, is desperately seeking a new space by the first of the year, he said, because of demands put on him by a new landlord. Over coffee before the midday crowds began arriving Friday, Javidara said he had acquiesced that morning to the new landlord's every condition (higher rent, even a $250,000 remodeling). But he remained uncertain of the response and his chance of staying.
Some alternate sites nearby in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor have been either too small or too big or not able to accommodate the 10 satellite dishes that have to be put on the roof.
Javidara's story is about the heart and, in the best sense, pride. That's what soccer is about. And that's what the business he has built is about. Such a gathering place -- where people can exchange views, maybe tell their troubles, above all share good times -- usually finds a place in the heart.
There are many bars, but few great ones. Summers is a great one because of its devotion to soccer.
Once, a busload of fans drove in from New York to watch a game being televised from Melbourne, and some couldn't get squeezed inside the place; so the blinds on the windows were rolled up so the rest could see the TVs from the street.
You go there for a game and you find people from Nigeria or Canada or Scotland, you name it. "People like to watch the game together," Javidara said.
If only diplomats could sit down together as easily as soccer fans.
On Sundays at Summers, you can see 14 American football games. You can watch rugby. But soccer fans around here say there's no other bar that caters to them like Javidara's. There's no place like it when, say, Brazil and Argentina are playing. For the three weeks of the World Cup, game after game, the bar was filled.
There never would have been a place like this if it weren't for a man who grew up in Malta, kicking a soccer ball, who then came to America chasing a dream. When Javidara opened Summers in 1983, technology obviously wasn't what it is now and not much soccer was available to televise. But things improved in the late '80s when games became widely available. Soccer interest in the United States picked up even more in 1990 when the Americans qualified for the World Cup finals in Italy. When a soccer game was scheduled, Summers began to be the place to be. What mattered most to Javidara then and matters most to him now is, he has been able to take the game he loves and make a life he loves even better.
And his customers love him for it. These include foreign government officials and world-class soccer players from around the globe, but mainly just plain soccer fans. "God knows what I would do on the weekend mornings when I am normally there," said Simon Burke, who is from North London and works at the International Monetary Fund.
Lisa Middlebrook, from Australia and a member of the D.C. United fan group Screaming Eagles, often can be found in Summers. "I went to the World Cup in Japan and there on television I saw Summers," she said. "They were showing fan reaction in America after the U.S.-Portugal game and there I saw the green-and-white awnings. I said, this looks all too familiar. It was Summers. And there everybody was, jumping up and down. It was a surreal experience."
A game was on in there Thursday when Bob Donaldson, whose wife, Mirtha, owns USA Print & Copy next door, heard a crowd roar that he said snapped him out of a late-afternoon weariness that had overtaken him. "Something good must have happened in there, I thought," he said. "The walls started tumbling and rumbling."
The two men, Javidara and Donaldson, laughed. They have been there on the block together for years, small businesses side by side. Javidara has his soccer fliers printed at Donaldson's.
Middlebrook recently sent out a questionnaire to some Summer regulars, asking them, among other things, what they liked about the place. One wrote that going to Summers was like going to "Cheers." Another called it was "a fixture in the community." Another hailed its "great service to the community by having soccer and Guinness readily available."
Middlebrook looked wistfully at Javidara and Donaldson, disliking the possibility of good friends being separated. She said that she and a friend have begun a campaign among fans concerned about Javidara and the fate of his restaurant. It's called "Save Our Summers."