Tuesday, April 23, 2024


Cambridge 1, in Harvard Square, has delicious pizza and beautiful minimalist design — and a television over the bar at right, just like so many other area restaurants. (Photo: Angela de Março)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site MainStreet.com ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, I was asked about sports and the Super Bowl.

I am sports averse and and always agawp at how deeply Bostonians love their players, teams and sports. I can indulge myself, though, because it’s OK to stare; people who are that much in love never notice and wouldn’t mind anyway. They want to share their love with the world. They want to display it. They want to boast of it. (They do not, apparently, know 1 Corinthians 13.)

Occasionally they even get drunk and find people who love others and fight about who is more in love and whose objects of devotion are better — a perverse show of dedication you’re not likely to find in human relationships.

You may hear about some of our gross public displays of affection when local teams win. The fans whoop and holler and, seeking some way to display their fondness and passion, litter, set things on fire and vomit in the streets, seizing a chance to show the world that despite the area’s abundance of institutions of higher learning and reputation as the cradle of governance and innovation, they can also aspire to deindividuation and dangerous hooliganism. The worst of it was after a Red Sox win in 2004 when a 21-year-old Emerson College student was killed partying in Kenmore Square, shot in the eye with a police pepper spray projectile. It’s a pretty bitter joke that she shouldn’t have been there at all; I went to Emerson, and it’s a lousy sports school.

Usually games mean just a lot of traffic, hordes of people wearing and carrying merchandise from whatever franchise is playing that day — and there’s always, always, always, always, always someone playing something somewhere — and the inescapable glow of a game from a television set or two or two dozen installed above a bar, dining room or urinal. The number of restaurants without televisions dwindles in inverse proportion to the number of games played and channels available, so it already feels like Big Brother is not only watching, but watching in the jersey of his favorite player and very eager to show you that first down again, this time in slow motion. And now a beer commercial.

The number and kind of establishments joining in are astounding and appalling. Locke-Ober, for instance, is a hidden, opulent world of private rooms for the rich, a lounge of dark, carved wood and red velvet and a glittering, gleaming cafe that truly transports diners back into an idealized 1850s, when it first started serving French and classic New England cuisine in its elegant brick alley off Boston’s Downtown Crossing. And, oh yeah, the game is on a flat-screen TV stuck over the bar. And there’s Cambridge 1, the Harvard Square restaurant of solid, muted, modern design, with its spare, carefully chosen menu of pizzas and salads. Couldn’t be more different from Locke-Ober, except of course for the TV stuck over the bar.

Cambridge 1’s managers are convinced business would suffer with the removal of their sports television, or so a server told me, as though the careful, clever menu might as well be chicken fingers and curly fries and the place just as successfully built of plastic and formica and lit like a Burger King.

These establishments are so unsure of their appeal that they’re selling themselves cheap, but the TV they offer is exactly the same as what’s offered at countless other bars and restaurants across the region. Owners could think instead about what sets them apart, since the generic sports fixation is so at odds with the atmosphere of their properties, but instead they essentially give in to peer pressure in a bid to be loved. Or at least used.

As we come up to Super Bowl Sunday, then — one of the half-dozen or so Valentine’s Days sports lovers celebrate here over the course of a year — it’ll take some thought pinning down where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing. Alone, probably. Because, you know, I’m not in that kind of relationship.

An earlier version of this post appeared here.