An Englishman--explorer Henry Hudson--introduced alcohol to New
York City in 1609, giving the Delaware Indians their first taste
of spirits. The two hit it off, Manhattan and alcohol, so much
so that for centuries the name Manhattan was thought to have
derived from the Delaware word Manahactanienk: "The island where
we all got drunk."
It is still possible to get exceedingly drunk on Manhattan
island, especially in places where Englishmen congregate. And so
last Friday night, at a soccer speakeasy called Nevada Smith's,
English expats begin drinking eight hours in advance of
England's second-round World Cup match against Denmark. By
midnight the place is full. By kickoff--at 7:25 on Saturday
morning, when the several hundred men (and three women) in
attendance sing God Save the Queen--the air is alive with
methane gas; a lethal, weaponized form of BO; and giddy
Sure, the match is on basic cable. We could very well be
watching at home and not in the windowless basement of Smith's.
(With its stone walls and impossibly low ceiling that perspires
profusely, the bar resembles Fantastic Caverns in Springfield,
Mo.) But that misses the point of the World Cup. For here 10
beer taps bow in unison, like a Broadway cast. Here a man can
order his sixth pint of Harp and see--on a wristwatch lit only
by the cathode glow of six television screens--that it's still
only 9:48 in the morning.
No self-respecting soccer fan stays at home. Hell, Kieran Grady
flew all the way to Seoul to watch the World Cup on TV. The
34-year-old from Coventry, England--now living in New
York--watched the England-Argentina match on June 7 on a giant
screen in a public square. He arrived back in Manahactanienk on
Friday night, just in time for the Denmark match. "Three hundred
thousand of us were watching together," he says of that day in
Seoul. This bonhomie is what sport, at its best, is about. As
the banner outside the bar says, quoting English rock star Peter
Gabriel: GAMES WITHOUT FRONTIERS. WAR WITHOUT TEARS. 31 MAY-30
Kieran is with his mate Mick, whose head is entirely shaved,
except for an English Cross of Saint George, crew-cut into the
back of his scalp and dyed red, so that his white head, from the
rear, resembles the side of an ambulance. Next to him is Sandra
Collazo, a 33-year-old American of Ecuadoran parentage who knows
all the Latin soccer oases in New York. "Go to Chichaba, a
Colombian restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens," she
advises. "Argentines, Paraguayans, Portuguese, Mexicans, they'll
all be watching there." As she speaks, the Ecuadoran-American is
wearing, around her waist, a Union Jack.
These soccer speakeasies are nowhere and everywhere in New York,
invisible to the uninitiated but always thronged: Italian fans
are at Cafe All'Angelo in the Village. German fans are at the
Heidelberg on Second Avenue. And Irish fans are omnipresent in
the five boroughs, whose countless Irish pubs, at the dawn of
the last century, were lively enough that police--with some
cultural insensitivity--invented a new term for the vehicles
they used for rounding up drunks: paddy wagons.
Then there are bars like Nevada Smith's where Brazilians and
Italians and Irish and English all watch together. Indeed, after
England's 3-0 victory on Saturday morning, I repair--with
Charlie Baletto of Long Island; his girlfriend, Becky, of Luton,
England; and a guy from Ireland named Eamonn--to A Salt &
Battery on Greenwich Avenue for a postmatch breakfast of fish
and chips. At halftime, naturally, I had known none of these
Later on Saturday--much later--I endeavor to test the cultural
passport that is soccer. At 2:30 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday
morning, the whitest man in America (pictured, above left)
strolls into a jam-packed Senegalese restaurant called Africa on
116th Street in Harlem to watch the Senegal-Sweden match.
I am welcomed like an old friend. On 116th I meet Modou Wade,
41, whose sundries shop sells Senegalese striker El Hadji
Diouf's replica jersey for $35--up from $5 before Senegal beat
France in the opening match. "No one," he says, "is sleeping
I meet Muhammed y Fall, 31, who came to the U.S. in 1994 and is
now proprietor of Muhammed's Unisex, a barbershop on 116th.
"Boring?" he says of the prevailing American view of soccer.
"Watching Shaq dunk all night--that's boring."
Indeed, when Henri Camara scores a scintillating sudden-death
goal in the 104th minute to send Senegal to the quarterfinals,
Mardi Gras, Carnival and Freaknic erupt simultaneously inside
Africa and also outside on 116th, where hundreds are literally
dancing in the street. Allasane Djigal, a 28-year-old Senegalese
whom I've known for four hours, grabs my hand and yells, "I told
you so! I told you so!" and claps me on the back.
It is 4:41 a.m. in Harlem but time to hoof it crosstown.
Ireland-Spain kicks off at 7:25, and if you're not at Fiona's by
6:30--it's the Irish joint on First Avenue--well, you'll never
get in the door.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE
Soccer speakeasies are everywhere in New York, invisible to the
uninitiated but always thronged.