Posted Friday, June 18, 2010, at 2:29 PM
The red, white, and blue Slovenian flag drew me to the back corner of Washington, D.C.'s Buffalo Billiards, a 14,000-square-foot shrine to beer, sports, and Americana. On this sunny Friday morning, the place was teeming with U.S. soccer fans. Except for a small living-room-sized area in the back filled with 100 or so Slovenes, who were decked out in green-and-white jerseys, scarves, and "I feel S love nia" hats. The gathering was advertised on the Slovenian Embassy's Web site . The organizers, however, failed to tell the bar about it.
"I read about it in the sports section ," laughed Geoff Dawson, a co-owner of Buffalo Billiards. Not that he minded. His pool hall was hopping. Slovenian public-television cameraman Sylvester Stok was on hand to document the festivities. Even Ambassador Roman Kirn made an appearance, high-fiving countrymen after both of Slovenia's goals. It was a fitting scene: Slovenia, a country of about 2 million people, has its own little corner of Europe; here, it had its own little corner of a bar (though, perhaps unfittingly, one decorated with canoes, antlers, and other Old West-themed paraphernalia). To the Slovenes, the team's 2-0 lead at halftime was as beautiful as the Julian Alps , the mountain range that appears on the national team's jerseys .
"This is the best propaganda ever!" said Masa Siftar de Arzu, second secretary of the Slovenian Embassy. She hoped a Slovenia World Cup victory over the United States would boost tourism. It certainly would've been a landmark moment for a nation that only declared independence in 1991. That's why Neja Brglez, a twentysomething Slovenian Embassy worker, was fidgeting in her seat. She nearly dropped her drink when Landon Donovan scored for the United States early in the second half. Still, the crowd remained boisterous, shaking noisemakers (the party was vuvuzela-free) every time Slovenia pushed forward. Even Michael Bradley's equalizing strike in the 82nd minute could only dampen the mood a little.
As the final whistle was blown on a 2-2 tie, I tried to pay my tab and leave. At the bar, I met a few gregarious middle-age men from various parts of the former Yugoslavia. "We split up so we could have more countries in the World Cup," one told me. His Bosnian friend said he was rooting for Slovenia as a gesture of solidarity, "in spite of all the shit" their countries have been through. A third guy, who was rocking a bushy black mustache, jokingly told me that he was incognito. "My girlfriend doesn't know I'm here." (His wife was standing a few feet away.) "Have a beer!" he said, grabbing my arm. I quickly learned that like me, he was a writer. And apparently a teacher. "I tell all my students, there is no journalism without beer." For a moment, I wished I were Slovenian, too.