Published: Feb. 14, 1992

THE bug hit on Sunday, when I foolishly glanced at a television -- a dangerous appliance that I normally use only for PBS documentaries and CNN election coverage. Ski-ballet exhibitions? Behind-the-scenes chalk-talks with the Bulgarian slalom coach? Yes! More! Bring me the talking head of Tim McCarver right now. CBS? TNT? Hoo-oui! Just park that 200- channel satellite dish in the front yard, run the line in through the window and plug it straight into my arm.

Monday night, I called my personal Olympic commentator, Gold Medal Mark, and told him we had to find a proper jock bar -- er, bistro des jacques -- in which to fully appreciate the Albertville experience. Before you could say "Bonnie Blair," we were speeding up the Bayshore Freeway in the rain, headed for Knuckle's, a 100-seat sports-bar located just off the lobby of the ritzy Hyatt Regency in Burlingame.

Since my sporting passions are limited to greyhound racing and the Tour de France, I rarely frequent sports bars. Knuckle's turned out to be a clean, well-lighted place with gracious service, good food, comfortable appointments and a posted conduct policy that discourages "knuckleheaded behavior."

Although the almost-2-year-old club has a pre-fab feel to it (c'mon, what'd you expect in an airport hotel?), we were pleased nonetheless with what we saw: a mock-up of an Edwardian drawing room, with miles of dark polished wood, brass accents, a small billiard room, an elaborate faux-pressed-tin ceiling, antique team photos and a marble-topped bar in the center of the room.

Media-wise, we were mildly disappointed to find the 10 screens (including a jumbo one that was obscured by the pool players) all tuned to the same CBS signal. We had anticipated a global village of competing Olympic views. When the TV coverage waned, we amused ourselves by watching the Total Non-Sequitur Sports Ticker scroll by -- sporting news, out-of-context quotes, college scores, Vegas odds, off-season trades and more, all reduced to a pattern of blinking red dots.

We ordered a 23-ounce schooner of Anchor Steam on tap (a big seller here), a Sharps, a bowl of "Kareemy Clam Chowder" (good), an order of "Chili Canseco" (not so good) and a "Kezar Dog" with homemade hot mustard (real good) -- a lot of goodies for less than $20. We did not get around to sampling the "Pizza Puck." Nor did we partake of the "Spitballs" (commonly known as Rocky Mountain Oysters). "A buck a nut, two bucks a pair!" said the menu. Four balls and you walk, we thought.

Thanks largely to its airport location, Knuckle's pulls in a disparate (overwhelmingly male) crowd of local fans, twentysomething yuppies and weary, fresh-off-the-tarmac travelers who stop by to graze on baskets of free popcorn and peanuts. Doug and Marta, the two ace bartenders, were uncannily skilled at chatting up lonely out-of-towners on all subjects from Cactus League baseball to software sales.

One of the great things about the modern Olympic spectacle is its ability to make everyone an instant expert. From luge- steering strategy to aerodynamics, you name it, and we have an opinion on it.

Gold Medal Mark, my own Olympic commentator (who did actually build equipment for more than a dozen past Olympians), was in the middle of thoughtful debate with a guy two bar stools down on the subject of speed-skating lane changeovers when suddenly the room fell silent.

An announcement scrolled across the bottom of each screen: Mike Tyson found guilty. As the bartenders scrambled to switch all screens to ESPN, the bar-stool jury weighed in. "Good," said one man. "I hope they put him in a cell with Dahmer," said another. "Knockout," said a third.

Then, just as suddenly as it started, it was over, and we were back with the men's 30-kilometer cross-country. We stayed to watch Blair win the first gold medal for the U.S. team. When they got around to the bobsled-bloopers video -- with the sleds flying down the chute upside-down and sideways -- we knew it was time to go.

1333 Bayshore Highway
Details: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. weeknights, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. weekends.
(415) 347-1234.

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