Watching sports is boring. Watching the Tour de France at the Summit Public House is fantastic. Snacks, beer, worked-up bicycle geeks: It's an irrefutable trifecta of greatness.
Before the 5:00 p.m. rebroadcast begins, the Summit is nearly empty. Subtitled Scooby Doo is showing on the TVs, Ray Charles is playing on the stereo, the sun is slanting in the windows obliquely, and an industrial-strength fan is creating a pleasant if near gale-force wind. The place is properly pubby and cave-like, more about the crowd than anything else. A couple of out-of-place mosaic pillars are the only decoration of note, left over from some distant time when the place was a tapas cafe. (It's lettered into the mosaic: "tapas" and "cafe.")
At 5:00 on the dot, all the seats at the bar fill up; by 6:30 the place is standing room only. The group tends toward guys with shorn hair and messenger bags, with a Campagnolo cap and a jersey here and there.
I'm getting a scattershot education about "the Tour," as my cycling-obsessed friends call it, but mostly I'm letting it all wash over me while I drink a lot of Rainier ($2.25). It's stage five out of 21 stages. The cyclists are pedaling like maniacs from Chambord to Montargis. They wear short-sleeved, short-legged spandex suits and grimaces; the T-Mobile team is looking pretty festive in pink and white. A debate ensues about whether the bike-racer aesthetic is hot. The appeal of the skin-tight outfits is mitigated, some argue, by the fact that hunkered down on their bikes with their weird, finlike helmets, the cyclists look like video-game characters. The man-as-machine thing works just fine for others.
"Peloton" is the word for the amoeba shape the group of riders takes on as they bike past France's walled castles, fields with rolls of hay, medieval villages, millions of sunflowers. The skycam views are gorgeous, organic-looking; the peloton stays tight, an ever-shifting stream. Like most things, it gets more abstract and better looking the more you drink.
The bartender is simultaneously all business and incredibly nice, a rare and highly admirable combination. When the cook brings out our food—a decent Reuben ($7), grilled panini-style, and an above-average BLT ($6.25), sided with skinny, pale fries ($1.50 extra)—he thanks us sincerely, above the din, for coming in.
Someone's telling me about the significance of the different-colored jerseys the cyclists can win at each stage: a yellow one, a green one, and a polka-dot one known as the King of the Mountains. This is not a joke. I love France.
There's a collective gasp as one guy bites it going around a curve, then another at the finish when an Australian pulls ahead at literally the last second. Everyone cheers as he rides no-handed, pointing at himself ferociously. "HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW?" somebody shouts.
Summit Public House is at 601 Summit Ave, 324-7611; the Tour's showing from 5–7 pm through July 24 (the 18th is a rest day).