I am a sad Bengals fan. So sad for so many years.
"It’s time to make you a football widow,” tell my girlfriend on a recent Sunday, as the clock ticks close to 1 p.m.—kickoff time for the first slate of NFL games.
She sighs.“Off to the lesbian bar?” The last couple years, I’ve caught my bumbling Cincinnati Bengals inside the cave-like confines of Park Slope’s unlikely NFL hangout, girly club Cattyshack. There, I could choke down bloodies while watching my footballers choke away countless games. Unlike other local bars, namely the unruly 200 Fifth, nobody berated me as Bengals losses piled like dog poo. Cattyshack was a kinder, calmer football clubhouse—a breed with a fruit fly’s lifespan.
An ownership dispute resulted in Cattyshack’s springtime rebranding as 249 Bar and Lounge, an LGBT-friendly establishment. It flopped like New Coke. A recent cruise-by revealed a shuttered gate and a sign reading CLUB FOR SALE.
“I’m not sure, baby,” I reply, grabbing my bike. “There’s gotta be somewhere in Brooklyn for a Bengals fan.”
I pedal toward blue-collar Windsor Terrace, peeking in Farrell’s. A battalion of off-duty firefighters and cops—Styrofoam freighters of foamy beer in hand—cheer the J-E-T-S. Unexpectedly, there’s not a Sunkistorange Bengals jersey in sight. I push on, fighting temptation to buy a flaky, curried veggie DUB Pie, when my friend Aaron’s advice tiptoes into my consciousness.
“Go to Rhythm & Booze,” he advised last year. “They have every game on TV— and cheap beer.” His words haunting my ears, I wind through leafy Windsor Terrace’s till I find Rhythm & Booze (1674 10th Ave., betw. Prospect Ave. & Sherman St., 718- 788-9699, Brooklyn), a corner saloon with a name recalling a third-rate wedding cover band. I enter Rhythm and, amid the greenclad Jets fans, I notice a graying, construction-worker sort sporting an orange-and-black Bengals jersey. I charge him like a bull stampeding a toreador’s red cape. “Bengals fans are a rare breed in Brooklyn,” I say, by way of introduction.
“True that,” I reply wearily, affixing my rump on a busted green stool. Long-suffering Bengals fans suffer a form of sportsbased Stockholm Syndrome. No matter today’s outcome, Rhythm is a comforting, welcoming room: The tavern’s sunny, with both waitress-service tables and an L-shape bar lined with dudes in Sunday dungarees. Above that, flat-screen TVs crowd side by side, like colorful soldiers. In fact, nearly every centimeter of wall space is decorated with televisions, each broadcasting a different gridiron battle—but with just one sound output, from the Jets game. It’s like watching a badly dubbed foreign movie, or perhaps a silent film starring overweight, spandex-clad mimes with violent tendencies.
But I will gladly take football in even a silent format, especially when accompanied by inexpensive brews ($4 to $4.75 a pint). Rhythm pours a dozen-odd drafts, ranging from pigskin-appropriate Bud Light to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Guinness, poured as slow and creamy as cupcake frosting. I order one and 12 chicken wings, discounted to $.50 apiece on game day.
Oftentimes, fried fowl wings are minuscule, more bone than flesh. Not so at Rhythm. The flats and drummettes are meaty, as oily and plump as Conan-era Arnold Schwarzenegger. They’re juicy giants, more enjoyable than the Bengals game: a ragged affair filled with fumbles and penalties, missed tackles and injured atheletes with knees as shredded as packaged cheese. Nonetheless, for my fellow football watchers—stubbly middle-aged men, some pouring Bud into glasses as carefully as fine wine—the outcomes are far less important than escapism: from homes, from wives, from hectic lives.
My days and evenings are as stuffed as chile rellenos, from writing about drinking to, well, drinking in order to get material to write. I rarely allow myself to sit still for three hours, to de-stress and unwind—even if it means muttering obscenities at a silent TV. My girlfriend thinks I’m football-crazed. “I can’t believe you’re checking the Bengals’ online message board,” she says, as disgusted as if I were downloading transsexual porn.
What she misses is that watching football is my meditation. Perhaps it’d be better to unwind with yoga, but if a relaxation routine works, why change? Cattyshack is dead.
Long live Rhythm & Booze, which passes my most crucial test: After the Bengals soulcrushingly blow the game in the last 30 seconds, no one mocks me. Sometimes a defeat can feel an awful lot like a win.