The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Soccer bar Summers nearing final whistle

The crowd at Summers during the 2010 World Cup. (By Jahi Chikwendiu — The Washington Post)
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Before every Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal match was available on your flat screen at home, there was Summers.

Before GolTV and Fox Soccer Channel and beIN Sports and NBC Sports Network and Fox Soccer Plus, before, Fios, Xfinity and DirecTV, before every World Cup game was live and commercial free and in HD, before digital programming, outdoor fanfests, mega-sports bars and video on your cell phone, there was Summers.

Before you could share your euphoria or despair about a stoppage-time goal via text message, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vine or Instagram, there was the communal experience of Summers.

After 30 years, those Summers days are fading.

One of the original gathering places in the Washington area to watch and bond over the beautiful game, Summers Restaurant in Arlington is down by three goals in the 90th minute. Barring a miracle of the magnitude of the United States beating England at the 1950 World Cup, it will close Dec. 31. Owner Joe Javidara notified the landlord this fall that he is pulling out of the lease, which has two years’ remaining.

“We were at the top of the cliff and all of a sudden we dropped,” Javidara said on a cold and rainy Monday while a few patrons watched Chelsea defeat Stoke City. “I didn’t think we would end up like this. I thought maybe 10 years from now we could pass it to someone else, with soccer as the priority.”

From the corner of North Courthouse Road and Clarendon Boulevard, Summers does not look like much. Behind the green and white awning, though, was a soccer fan’s dream: 60 TVs, ranging from 42 to 70 inches, showing matches from around the world.

Times have changed. To see an overseas match, it’s no longer necessary to leave home. And if you do, the number of establishments offering a game, good food and good cheer has broadened.

Summers, which opened in 1982 and began showing soccer two years later, struggled to keep up. Business has not been the same since a fire at the adjacent print shop in June 2013 forced Javidara to close for 16 months the more popular half of his restaurant – the darker, narrower and, at one time, smokier side anchored by a bar. He reopened that space this fall with new TVs and fixtures, but many regulars had discovered new bar stools around town. The other side of the restaurant, which also includes a bar but looks and feels more like a family restaurant sans salad bar, has remained open throughout.

Insurance covered only part of the damage caused by the fire. Javidara poured some $70,000 into renovations. He is almost out of money.

In a perfect world, he said, an investor would come along and keep Summers afloat for six months until he is back on firmer financial ground. Maybe, he hoped, a buyer could take over at the current location or a new site while retaining the name and theme.

“We are looking for someone to continue with the same tradition,” Javidara said.

Summers showed more than soccer. With satellite dishes perched atop the roof, Javidara brought in hard-to-find or pay programming like rugby, cricket, mixed martial arts, Formula One racing and boxing, plus the staples: NFL, college football, basketball, baseball and hockey. University of Oregon football fans gathered every weekend to watch the Ducks – until the fire, that is. The group did not return.

Jerry Seinfeld once visited to watch the Tour de France. Mike Tyson was there for an auto race. Mick Jagger and his entourage showed up at midnight to watch Formula One racing in Australia. Alex Ovechkin took in the UEFA Champions League.

Soccer, however, was the primary attraction. For early-morning matches beamed from Europe, the kitchen would open before the sun rose. Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga, Champions League, Copa Libertadores and World Cup qualifiers would fill the screens. Cover charges helped defray the cost of purchasing the rights. Javidara would roam the rooms juggling remote controls.

“At that time, when we began showing the games, nobody showed soccer,” said Javidara, 60, who arrived from Malta in 1971 and attended the University of Maryland. “The rest of the bars around here, they would say it’s a sissy sport. Football and basketball were sports.”

Through personal experience and word of mouth, Summers was the place to go for soccer viewing. Ambassadors, diplomats and congressmen would grab a booth. Players and coaches from MLS teams in town to play D.C. United would drop by. In a 2002 online poll conducted by the U.S. Soccer Federation, Summers was voted “Best Soccer Bar” in the United States.

Javidara’s fondest memories were from the 2002 World Cup, which was staged in South Korea and Japan. Because of the time difference, some matches kicked off in the wee hours of the morning. Summers closes at 2 a.m., so instead of going home, Javidara and some staff walked between the work place and a Hilton in shifts. The line of fans waiting to enter stretched down the sidewalk.

There also was a 1998 World Cup qualifying playoff between Iran and Australia that began at 4 a.m. Every seat was taken – 350 capacity. Without another soul allowed inside, about 100 people pressed against the windows to steal a glimpse. The cops arrived, confused by the sidewalk spectacle. They too watched the Iranians advance to France.

Technological and economic forces were working against Summers, however. With soccer’s popularity rising in the United States, programming increased. Cable channels were dedicated to the sport and online viewing broadened its exposure. These days, it’s as easy to see a Premier League match in the United States as in Britain. The necessity of visiting a bar was fading.

In Arlington, the competition for customers intensified. In the booming corridor between Rosslyn and Ballston, Javidara counted 68 bars. Almost all of them have screens. Many began showing soccer and offering better food options.

Summers fell out of vogue.

The fire and partial closure compounded problems. Sales fell 50 percent and, even after the reopening this fall, the slump continued. Bills stacked up. The landlord, JBG Companies, offered a discount on the rent. Next month, though, it was to return to the previous rates. Javidara couldn’t afford to continue. Even if he could, Summers in its current form was probably on borrowed time. At some point, JBG seems likely to redevelop the block, a prime piece of Arlington just a corner kick from the Courthouse Metro station.

When word of Summers’ closing began to spread, longtime bartender Donna Nelson received about 100 messages. Javidara fielded a call from “Bar Rescue,” the Spike TV reality show. Neighborhood regulars, who don’t care much for soccer but wouldn’t miss a lunch or dinner, were saddened. One regular, Big John, asked, “Where are we all going to go now?” Another, when told the news, began to cry.

Barring a lifeline, the annual New Year’s Eve party will mark the end. At 2 a.m., Javidara will click off the TVs for the final time.

“I’ll lock the door and go cry someplace,” he said. “No, just kidding. But emotionally I will feel like, ‘Hey, I am losing something.’ ”