World Cup Fever
by Andrew Rosenberg, 04/29/2014
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Got a ticket to Brazil? Color us green with envy. Fortunately, the streets of New York City will be alive with World Cup spirit from June 12 to July 13—no matter what colors you support. The green, white and red of the Azzurri. The green, red and yellow of the Indomitable Lions. The blue and white of Los Catrachos. (That’s Italy, Cameroon and Honduras, for those keeping track at home).
For one, there is a wide array of bars dedicated to soccer viewing in the City, and they’ll all be kicking into high gear for the month. The friendly folks at Kent Ale House, in Williamsburg, will have Brooklyn Brewery take over the taps for kickoff night. Zum Schneider, in the East Village, will offer a special World Cup menu. Woodwork Brooklyn, in Prospect Heights, makes sure there are drink specials corresponding with the countries playing each day. Other all-around good footie hangouts range from neighborhood joints, like the Black Horse Pub, in South Slope, to trilevel bars in Midtown with some 45 TVs—that’s the Football Factory at Legends. But in addition, practically every ethnic café, bakery, restaurant and community hangout turns into a fan hub come World Cup time. Crowds huddle around TVs, frequently decked out in the national jerseys, cheering—or bemoaning—every big play and bad call.
We've compiled a citywide guide of such spots—organized by World Cup group, of course—to help folks find a place where they can join their compatriots, or where the unaffiliated can stop by and catch a bit of authentic fútbol fever.
Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon, Mexico
All eyes will be on host country and pretournament favorite Brazil. Duck in anywhere in “Little Brazil,” on Manhattan’s West 46th Street, or head down to the bright, airy BarBossa café, to see a crowd in SoHo with something on its mind other than shopping. The sign may be down at the moment, but you’ll have a hard time missing Caffe Bar Scorpio, at least on a Croatia game day; boisterous supporters, many decked out in distinctive red-and-white checkerboard jerseys, should be spilling out into the streets. Africa Kiné Restaurant, on a major African-influenced strip in West Harlem, is Senegalese in cuisine, but big and welcoming enough for supporters of Cameroon and other African teams (a second option, Harlem Tavern, a rare sports bar in the neighborhood, is half a block away). Mexico’s national team, meanwhile, probably has more supporters in NYC than any other non-US club; Corona, in Queens, and Sunset Park, in Brooklyn, are jammed with spots to find the game, though the large television, authentic tacos and free guacamole in the back room of Greenwood Heights’ El Tenampa bodega provide a compelling alternative.
Australia, Chile, Spain, Netherlands
The back room at Sheep Station boasts a wide screen, usually reserved for cricket watching. None of that during soccer games, and no vegemite sandwich jokes, either; better to opt for the signature burger, topped with pickled beets, pineapple and a fried egg. A similarly idiosyncratic treat can be had at San Antonio Bakery, in Astoria, where Chileans will be rooting on La Roja and knocking back a few Chilean hot dogs, topped with guacamole, mayo and garlic sauce. Where to see defending champions Spain try to keep their incredible international run going? The Spanish Benevolent Society offers a prime location: the two-room La Nacional will be bursting with supporters. Make sure to arrive early if you want to be able to see; if not, perhaps you can find a corner spot and enjoy some of the mean paella they dish out. As for the Netherlands, well, the Dutch were the first Europeans to settle in NYC, anchoring down on the southern tip of Manhattan. So perhaps one of the many bar-restaurants on historic Stone Street, said to be New Amsterdam’s first paved thoroughfare, would be appropriate. (Though note, Tonic Times Square has been a popular venue for Dutch expats in Cups past.)
Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Elmhurst, like Jackson Heights to its north, has scores of Central and South American establishments on its main roads (Roosevelt Avenue and Queens Boulevard). Settle into one of these, like the popular bakery-café-restaurant Sabor Colombiano, to cheer Los Cafeteros. Its corner perch, extensive sidewalk seating and long drink menu make Athens Café popular come summertime; it will just be more so for the Greece games. (In addition, lots of Brazilians live in the area, so expect a crowd for the host’s games too.) Harlem holds perhaps the City’s only Ivory Coast restaurant, New Ivoire, a casual, friendly place with TVs that’s a cabbie hangout. Ninth Street, in the East Village, is a nominal Little Tokyo, comprised of several sake bars, noodle shops and sushi palaces. As these places are fairly sedate, you’re probably better off heading to a lively izakaya like Sake Bar Hagi, in Times Square, to catch the second-ranked team in the Asian Football Confederation. The venue is basement level and totally authentic.
Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay
You’d think from the name that the festive Bogota Latin Bistro would be strictly Colombian, but it celebrates all of Latin America, doing, for example, the Ticos proud with dishes like gallo pinto, part of a “Costa Rican Breakfast.” With Little Italys throughout the City (Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst), Azzurri fans will be spoiled for places to gather. But in the heart of the most famous Little Italy of all, corner trattoria Grotta Azzurra—once a haunt for Sinatra and Caruso—will be showing every game, and their Facebook page is evidence that they’re pretty excited about it. England, too, has supporters in every corner of the five boroughs, with themed and authentic pubs to match. Among the more charming is The Monro, in Park Slope, a narrow nook where you can order up a meat pie, douse it in HP sauce and join fellow Liverpool backers. If nothing else, you can toast Steven Gerrard and the Reds’ within-grasp Premier League title (or curse them to damnation should they have let it slip away). La Gran Uruguaya bakery and its affiliated bar next door will be dishing out the empanadas and maté (and probably some stronger stuff) to the mass of Uruguayans who invariably gather here for games. Expect blue-and-white flags to be strung across the street.
Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland
Colorful inside and out, Barzola sits on the edge of Jackson Heights, attracting Ecuadoreans for native cuisine, late-night karaoke and, of course, the beautiful game. Cobble Hill has become a bit of a Francophilic 'hood in recent years; leading the charge is Bar Tabac, a boîte with outdoor seating that draws a crowd for Les Bleus—and plenty of non–World Cup games throughout the year. It’s also the center for pétanque action during Smith Street’s Bastille Day celebration in July. While Mott Haven in the Bronx has a large Honduran population, Staten Island’s Los Catrachos is one of the few dedicated Honduran restaurants in the City. They’ll be showing all the games on their large telly and serving up plenty of baleadas (a bean- and cheese-filled tortilla) while doing so. To follow the Swiss, head down to NoLIta’s Café Select. Fondue might be on hiatus during the summer, but excitement is not: last time around the flags of every qualifying nation hung from the awning, and folks jammed in to view the front corner TV come game time.
Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Covered in fútbol memorabilia and with flat-screen TVs and flags of the world throughout the dining room, Boca Juniors Restaurant seems to be a dream come true for fans of Lionel Messi and Co. A more modest place, Cevabdzinica Sarajevo, plans to get a television installed in the coming weeks to prepare for the first-ever World Cup appearance of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In truth, we’d go there just for another plate of cevapi (grilled sausages) dipped in red pepper sauce, the added excitement being how the drama plays out at this small hangout. Similar in scale, Café Nadery is one of the few (maybe only) Iranian cafés in the city. Cut from the cloth of Greenwich Village coffeehouses, complete with musical troubadours, it will transform for Iran’s matches during the month. Over in Clinton Hill, members of the Nigerian community will gather at Buka, where you can get specialties like Igbo-spiced goat head or cow feet.
Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States
Zum Schneider, mentioned above, gets lots of Germany supporters, but you may prefer the homemade wursts, Deutsch wines and unsportsbarlike feel of Austro-German brasserie Blaue Gans. Framed pictures of famed leaders line the wall, but all eyes will be on the screen in the back of the Meytex Café, in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, when Ghana takes the pitch. Need proof? Check this out from last World Cup, when Ghana advanced to the quarterfinals. While the Ironbound District, over in Newark, New Jersey, is home to the area’s Portuguese community, you can try a place like Pão!, which exudes West SoHo cool, has an extensive Iberian wine and snacks list and whose website is vaguely NSFW. To join the ranks pulling for the Yanks, head to one of the official meeting places for the American Outlaws, a group of fanatical USA supporters with chapters across the country. In NYC, that means either Jack Demsey’s, a Midtown Irish pub, or Lonestar Sports Bar & Grill, a family-owned honky-tonk down in Bay Ridge.
Algeria, Belgium, South Korea, Russia
Italian-owned, Algerian-run Caffé Borbone, on Steinway Street in Astoria, drew big crowds in 2010 for Algeria’s first Cup appearance in 24 years. Expectations—and, perhaps, local turnout—will be raised this tournament. While there’s not a huge Belgian expat community in the City, there are plenty of Belgian beer bars. One of the biggest suds selections (as well as plenty of moules et frites) can be found at BXL East, in Midtown East, where a big screen will be set up in the back of the restaurant. Manhattan’s Koreatown, barely more than a one-block strip of 32nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, will be thrumming when the Reds play. The Wa Bar gastropub is a good bet, as every table has a view of one of the screens (which include an 80-inch projector), though folks have been known to pack in anywhere on the strip—at banks, or what have you—showing the game. Kebeer Bar & Grill may be more Eastern European than Russian, but its location smack dab in Brighton Beach’s Little Odessa—plus the fact that soccer plays there almost nonstop—marks it as a hot spot. It’s a good time to say nyet to current politics and revel in Russia’s WC qualification, after being absent for the last two tourneys.