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SPORTS ROCK CAFÉ

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When times get tough, the tough make do. The weak simply surrender. That's where I was two Sundays ago after that impressive microburst left our household without power for nearly two days. We'd drunk what beer we had, pitched the perishable contents of the fridge, and fretted if we could possibly go another hour without television. I suggested we relocate to the Sports Rock Café, which would solve so many problems at once: They served beer on Sunday, we could get a hot meal, and naturally there would be televisions.

When we arrived at about 5 p.m., the joint was pretty quiet. This was hardly a normal weekend in Pittsburgh, and our arrival coincided with the conclusion of the afternoon sporting events but before the start of evening games. Still, the dozens of TVs were gamely unspooling sports: the last inning of the Pirates game, the Kemper Open, the Winston Cup post-race show, the NBA playoffs and World Cup soccer. Our hostess led us to a booth where I discovered to my sheer delight that the booths here have their own individual television screens built right in!

The majesty of this set-up is not just that you don't have to squint to make out the image on the big-screen TV (the quality of which is hampered by the sunlight pouring in), but you can choose your own channel and get the sound. Each booth-TV had basic enhanced cable, so a fan could watch Professional Women's Bowling on ESPN (the one sporting event that was not afforded its own big screen) or any non-sports program, even on such chick-intensive channels as Lifetime or Oxygen. Admittedly, in the big scheme of things, having individual televisions tuned to 20 different channels in a group social setting such as a sports bar seems a sad reflection on our increasingly separate lives. However, I couldn't have been happier: I could finally watch the news. (Everybody else was watching the tape-delayed England vs. Sweden World Cup match, but I saw no point: I'd just seen the final score on the Headline News sports ticker on my own TV.)

The menu was amusingly printed in yellow paint on discarded vinyl records (through the "Sports Rock Greatest Hits" label I could barely make out the disc's provenance as some sort of "Chemical Dub Mix"). Naturally, yellow and black were popular colors here -- one wall had splashy big-image Pirates wallpaper; another wall had life-sized portraits of celebrated Steelers and Penguins. I'd expect nothing less in a Pittsburgh sports bar. Other decorations included framed jerseys, a display of helmets and curious ceiling fixtures made from dozens of suspended Louisville sluggers.

Perhaps reflecting our lack of hardiness, we ended up ordering an all-chicken meal. We began, as one must in all sport bars, with the requisite order of Buffalo chicken wings, a small order of 10 ($5.99); for the hungry and bargain-minded, $17.99 will bring a bucket of 40 wings -- a dozen flavors are available -- to the table. The hot-flavored wings were nicely spicy -- a good kick without being painful -- but were on the small side with more fried skin than meat.

My grilled chicken sandwich ($6.95) had a large splayed breast poking out from a fresh bun. Simply dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, it benefited from a generous addition of salt and pepper. The sandwich sides were the basics: a small bowl of coleslaw and thin French fries. My companion's dish -- barbecued chicken ($8.99) -- was two similarly grilled breasts topped with a sweet barbecue sauce that appeared to have been added after cooking. His meal -- a full entree and not a sandwich -- was accompanied by Spanish rice, a piece of garlic-toasted hoagie bread and a good-sized side salad of iceberg lettuce with tomato, red onions and big chunky croutons.

After being assured by Channel 11 that residential electrical power was imminent, I tore myself away from my private TV screen to visit the second floor. Here there are more bars, televisions and seating, but its primary attractions are eight pool tables, skee-ball, video-game machines and other amusements that await the barroom athlete. There's even a prize pit -- just like at Chuck E. Cheese -- where successful players can redeem game tickets for gee-gaws.

Returning to my booth, I was further distracted from my TV program by a heated discussion that had broken out at the bar amongst the World Cup fans. When some choice epithets regarding Great Britain and the words "World War Two" were loudly employed, I had to admit that real-life dust-ups in beer halls are often more compelling than any televised professional sports. The cathode ray may lure us in to these bars, but it's the drinks, the messy appetizers and the companionable arguing that keeps us there. * *

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