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If you are going to watch a World Cup semifinal match between Germany and Italy, there's really only one place to do it: Zum Schneider, the Bavarian bar at Avenue C and 7th Street. The Germans throw a fun party, win or lose. Plus, it is a universally accepted fact that they have better beer.
Even though I was technically a traitor (I am, if you couldn't tell from my last name, Italian), I was rooting for the German team all the way. Zum Schneider is a neighborhood bar under attack from its landlord, and I can't stand for that. (Owner Sylvester Schneider says the landlord wants to raise the rent. Ah, the never ending ironic cycle of a bar making an unhip neighborhood cool and then getting the boot because the neighborhood is now too expensive. Gee, we've never heard that story before.)
It's quite a multiculti lineup on Avenue C, with the Brazilian spot Baraza and Australians up the way at the Sunburnt Cowbut Zum Schneider seemed a little more . . . obsessive. During the earlier America-Ghana match, U.S. fans commiserated over their doomed fate with dark beers before noon. "That was amazing," Schneider recalls. "Those guys were so into it, I felt so bad for them."
Indeed, during the last World Cup in 2002, Zum Schneider was such a draw that a line snaked not just down the street, but all the way to Avenue B. To prevent such madness and to keep the neighbors somewhat happy, this time they resorted to selling tickets (150 tickets, at $15 a pop, went in five minutes) and closing the doors during games. This worked.
"We're just trying everything to be good," Schneider says. "But you can't ignore the World Cup. And with Germany being the host we had to do something here.
Four years ago, the whole city was not as much into it as this year. "Everybody's starting to catch up that the World Cup is the biggest sporting event ever. It's bigger than the Olympics."
But for the Fourth of July's Germany-Italy match, the humidity and heat combined to turn the city into an inescapable sauna, and it only got worse in an enclosed bar at three in the afternoon with a bunch of Germans and their friends well on their way to getting drunk. After only a few minutes inside, I already needed a shower, not to mention a beer or three. The crowd and staff were painted up in Germany's black, red, and yellow, with various flags and dots marking their faces. One guy wore lederhosen. Ja.
In slow moments, Schneider would lead the crowd in chants: "Deutschland! Deutschland! Deutschland!" or sometimes "Lehmann! Lehmann! Lehmann!" after the German goalie, Jens Lehmann. Occasionally, they also broke into a popular German World Cup song that named all the years the Germans have won (including, optimistically, 2006).
The heat was getting unbearable. I asked Schneider if there would be any commercial breaks. "Commercial breaks?" he sniffed. "That shows how much you know about soccer."
As little as I knew, I could surmise the following during the game: (a) The German goalie deserved a raise (until the very end), (b) the Germans were either playing dirty or the Italians were a bunch of pussies (I am voting for the latter), and (c) soccer players are really hot (really, really hot).
In the middle of all the bargoers' chanting during the mostly scoreless game, I spotted a lone Italian fan, bravely donning his blue uniform in the midst of the Enemy. He was with another not-so-brave Italian who didn't wear a jersey. "I'm good friends with the manager here. I know he said it was an all-German bar, but" explained Frankie Ferrara, a 21-year-old aspiring actor. "Hopefully Italy wins, and I'm gonna try and get outta here without a black eye."
Indeed, Germany lost after two swift Italian goals in overtime. Dejected fans drunk on good beer stood outside, booing some Italian fans who chanted "Italia!" as they walked by. Auf Wiedersehen!
The next day, I picked the winners, France, and watched at Félix, the trendy French restaurant on West Broadway. The Germans drink beer; the French dine on fine fare. They too were charging at the door ($20 a ticket) and also sold World Cup T-shirts. Apparently Félix blessedly lacks neighbor or landlord problems and allowed people to stand on the sidewalk and gawk. On a normal day, the restaurant fits around 100, but for the France-Portugal semifinal match, it was jam-packed. Across the street, the restaurant-bars Novacento and Diva also screened the games; so did the ultra-trendy Soho Grand, hosting a party in its outside café-restaurant, the Yard. Hipsters could watch the Productshop NYChosted games at Pianos, but I had a feeling the Félix crowd would be more vociferous. I was right: It was a sea of blue uniforms, there were incessant chants of "Go blue!" in French, and scores of French hotties stared at the screens. Did I mention the French hotties?
One especially excited fan, Nejla Nourai, says she's been coming to either Félix or Piola, an Italian spot, to watch the games. For Germany-Italy, she rooted for the Italians. She is apparently smarter than me. "For the good-looking guys," she says. Obviously.
For Sunday's Italy-France final, I decided to follow her advice and finally be with my people; Little Italy has been awash in red, white, and green the whole tournament. In the meatpacking district, Florent Morellet hosted a standoff between his French fans at Florent and Macelleria, the Italian spot across the street. And then there was Nourai's suggestion, Piola. There were indeed good-looking guys (who paid a whopping $50 to get in), but the Italians were so serious about their soccer, not even women could distract them. One boorish type shoved me a few times so he could get a better look at the screen, proving that there's always a buffoon to ruin it for everyone else at a sporting event, no matter what the nationality.
The Italians' propensity for drama was on display. The jersey-clad men in front leapt with joy, threw their arms up in anger, cursed at the screen (hey, this was feeling bizarrely familiar), and got so excited during goals, it was like a stampede. More than a few of the glass lamps hanging from the ceiling were broken. After last week's Italian victory over Germany, Piola partner Marco Moretti experienced what he calls "the loudest scream I ever heard in my life"; during the final's nail-biting penalty-kicks conclusion, a few Italian fans actually looked like they might cry, so I was very glad when Italy won.
Suspiciously, Frenchie DJ Neil Aline couldn't be reached by press time, but Rome-born local techno DJ Silver wrote in: "I was walking my dog when we won. I heard cars beeping and a number of people shouting, 'Forza Italia!' Of course, I thought they were cheering me, but then I realized we won the cup. One more good reason to play Italo disco and cosmic disco. I smell a big Italian revivalhopefully this time it'll be more about music and art than pizza and spaghetti. We gave you art, food, Mafia, amazing Italo disco, and the fourth World Cup. Italians do it better!"