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James Comey's testimony packed Washington, D.C. bars like it was a playoff game

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Washington, D.C. citizens treated politics like yet another pro sport franchise as they filled bars to watch a former FBI director testify against president Donald Trump.

Across U.S, Interest High In Former FBI Director Comey's Testimony On Russia And Trump Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Will someone pick up the damn phone?

It’s been ringing on and off for hours. Understandably, things are busy here. Former FBI Director James Comey is testifying before Congress in a few minutes about his conversations with Donald Trump and the president’s alleged ties to Russia. And Duffy’s — an Irish Sports Bar that posits itself as a destination for Washington sports fans — opened early to take part in, and cash in on, the fun.

Before 10 a.m. on Thursday, a flat screen is positioned outside of the bar’s main entrance next to flags celebrating the Nationals. Camera crews are inside with devices that would come perilously close to knocking over bottles of liquor at the bar.

Hundreds of people were in places just like this in Washington and nationwide. Yes, it’s a weekday, but this is different. Washington bars, and sports bars like these, have always paid close attention to political events (presidential candidate debates, State of The Unions, etc.) and tried to take advantage of them, but some residents in the Capitol think this may be the show of the century.

To them, Congress hasn’t been this rowdy since perhaps the Clinton administration, and Trump’s administration may surpass that. They came to see a presidency potentially unravel on daytime television.

In Washington, politics are essentially the city’s seventh pro sports franchise. This moment has been served up as “Washington’s Super Bowl.” For many flacks, lobbyists, non-profit employees, students, transplants, and wonks, this is a passion. So, it’s not the most absurd thing — to them at least — that they would get up early to watch an episode of political theatre.

But before we can keep drinking, someone has to answer that damn phone.

“I wonder if they want us to answer the phone for them. ‘Hello Duffy's. We're closed. Fuck off,’” Sabin Bokus, 50, a resident who restores historic homes, says between sips of a Guinness.

"This town is full of nerds and always has been. The people that come here to study or work in policy or NGOs, this is what we enjoy,” he says. “We are political animals. Junkies. We make all our decisions based on politics. This is what people are drawn to here.”

People are rowdy, to say the least. There were “Nasty Women” shirts and other noted accoutrements from the Women's March and other movements against Trump's presidency. There was paraphernalia supporting former president Barack Obama, and grey “Comey is my homey” attire. A college kid or two snuck in to enjoy the party.

“Anybody getting beer?” the bartender asks. Half of the hands in the joint shot up. Moms bring newborns. Bikers park and drink. Cops wander in to peek at the fun.

Scott Auslander runs Ventnor’s, a sports bar in the Adams Morgan section of the city, and one of the few bars that didn’t open early for testimony. He wanted to open, but didn’t want to put his staff through an extra shift on a work day.

He understands the hype and why people would participate in these events, however. It’s central, he said, to Washington’s core.

"A third sport, especially before baseball was here, was politics,” Auslander said. “DC people go out for these kinds of things, especially the last five or 10 years. Around here, it's sort of like opening early for a Redskins game, which we've done before when they were in London."

Across U.S, Interest High In Former FBI Director Comey's Testimony On Russi Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Manda Moore, a 28-year-old resident, woke up early to go to Shaw’s Tavern. She said that this moment was unprecedented, but that there was something comforting about like-minded strangers getting together when something terrible is happening.

“This is serious but this has gone beyond,” she said. “At this point, it’s kind of like watching the Young & The Restless. It’s a complete shit show. It’s not something to be excited about, but it’s a train wreck. It’s very difficult but you can’t look away.”

Two George Washington University students, Morgan Moore and Jesse Zapata, were drinking at The Partisan near Judiciary Square around the same time. Moore said “politics were her sports.”

“Seeing this, it all feels like bullshit,” she said. “Hopefully this is the culmination of my hopes and dreams: the ruining of Donald Trump."

Zapata wasn’t sure what to make of the scene.

“I don't know if I'm drinking out of prosperity or despair,” he said. "I've thrown parties for sports but not this.”

Meaning?

“I once woke up, made some pancakes and rolled some joints for Liverpool-Arsenal."

Fair enough.

Back at Duffy’s, it seems Comey is about to take his star turn. Duffy’s Guinness keg is kicked by 10:20 am, but that doesn’t stop anyone. When Comey says, “those were lies, plain and simple,” describing Trump’s criticism of the FBI, the bar jumps.

“Oh no he diidddn’t!” someone yells.

When Comey says he didn't get to say goodbye to his colleagues, Duffy’s patrons sigh sympathetically. When Comey throws shots at the president, the bar sings.

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! This is awesome," someone yells.

Whatever Comey says — a barb, a confirmation of news hidden in secret sources — the bar erupts.

During the hearing, Comey remarks, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes” about Trump’s tweets suggesting that there are recordings of their conversations, and everyone at Duffy’s loses it.

"That's my next tattoo,” a man by the bar says. He was five whiskeys deep by noon.

Comey played his role well. He calls reporters flocks of seagulls he doesn’t want to feed when he talks about leaking information through a third party source. He says he left his wife on a date to instead have dinner with the president.

Nationwide, a bunch of adults decided politics were worth skipping work to take part in a morning tailgate. If you were comparing this day, this moment, in the Trump presidency directly to sports, it felt like watching Russell Westbrook, mid-series, in a playoff game. Comey gave a virtuoso performance. He had the crowd hanging on him as though he could change the series.

It’s not often the nerds of Washington gather for a liquor-fueled communal like this, much less in celebration of their collective loathing toward a president. At least as the nation’s highest office comes under fire, it’s comforting to have a beverage in hand to ease the ride.

"You know, I'm a college basketball fan. I’m a baseball fan. I'm a football fan, too,” Bokus says during the ruckus at Duffy’s. “But today, I'm a fan of the lifeblood of Washington."