ESPN's Professional Southerner Wright Thompson used his space in Grantland to write a loving meditation on Elaine's, the now-defunct bad New York restaurant mainly known to people under 45 as a Billy Joel lyric. This made Thompson at least the third member of his little circle of sportswriting buddies to get misty about the place.
The Grantland subhead identified Elaine's as "the best bar in New York City," which is like calling Joe Namath the best quarterback in the NFL. If you weren't already a working writer at the time of the moon landing, Elaine's had nothing to offer you but doom and cobwebs. A writer in his 30s rambling on about how magical Elaine's was might as well be talking about the great meal he had at Bubba Gump in Times Square.
Whenever I went to Elaine's (an annoying hike from the subway), it was because my job required me to go. I had a pleasant dinner of mediocre food there once with a famous writer I was writing about. And I had a miserable round of drinks there with a hack editor who went around afterward telling people that I'd showed up stoned. Apparently my loathing was like a narcotic, and I—but you don't care, because this has nothing to do with sports, right? You're not here to read about my life.
And that, so far, is the single most baffling thing about Grantland: Who cares what Wright Thompson felt, in his sensitive, writerly heart, about this pointless and fading celebrity bar? (At least his crony Jeff MacGregor confessed that the Elaine's thing was basically a pose.) In the week when the Mavericks were putting together the most unexpected Finals triumph since the Billups-Wallace-Wallace Pistons beat the Lakers, who needed an essay telling the story of how Wright Thompson dreamed of growing up to be a Writer and drinking in the Big City? ("This time, when I walked into Elaine's, I felt like I belonged.")
It's the Grantland Fallacy, encoded in the site's very name: People care about sports because sports is what sportswriters write about, because sportswriters are the most interesting people in the world. That's the premise. How does Chuck Klosterman feel about the way he watches sports on TV? When did Chris Jones lose his virginity? (No, seriously, when, again?) What are Bill Simmons's thoughts about what people might think about Bill Simmons writing about hockey? It's like someone replaced the clear glass in the press box with a one-way mirror, pointed inward. Watch the writers watch themselves.