The Red Bull New York locker room is an impressively diverse place, with players hailing from a dozen different nations occupying every corner of the map. (The only continent not represented on the MLS team’s roster is Antarctica.) Among friends and teammates, international relations are typically amicable — at least until the World Cup kicks off on June 12 in Brazil. Then diplomacy goes by the wayside.
“We always trash talk each other,” says midfielder Michael Bustamante, one of two Colombian players on the squad. “Especially if we’re playing teams from the opposite country.”
Colombia faces Japan on June 24 in the opening round, and Red Bulls defender Kosuke Kimura plans to use the freeze-out strategy on Bustamante and teammate Jámison Olave until bragging rights are assured. “I’m not talking to the Colombians,” Kimura says. “And when Japan wins against them, I’m going to go crazy.”
Much like New York City itself, the Red Bulls’ locker room during the World Cup is a hodgepodge of cultures crammed into close proximity and engaged in a friendly but intense rivalry. As Kimura and Bustamante both attest, aside from making a pilgrimage to Brazil, there is no better place to be during the World Cup than New York, where even casual fans schedule their lives around matches, transforming sleepy ethnic bars and restaurants into madhouses packed full of screaming, face-painted fanatics.
Several soccer-centric bars have opened in Manhattan and Brooklyn in recent years, but the key to an unforgettable World Cup viewing experience is finding where expats from each nation assemble to support their respective teams. The Voice consulted a variety of experts, pounded the pavement, and guzzled several frosty bottles of lager in far-flung neighborhoods (all in the name of research) to create these tips for mapping an authentic World Cup tour of New York.
1. Know Your Neighborhoods
For Colombia’s opening match, expect to find Bustamante in Jackson Heights. More than 75,000 Colombian immigrants call Queens home, and walking down 37th Avenue is like being transported to Bogotá; for an afternoon stroll. Señoras peddle ice cream from sidewalk carts, and reggaeton thumps from shops selling jerseys of national team star Radamel Falcao.
Bustamante prefers Las Margaritas, a restaurant that is ostensibly Mexican, but other neighborhood highlights include El Basurero (32-17 Steinway Street, 718-545-7077) — a full-on sports bar decked out with jerseys and soccer décor — and a small restaurant next door called La Fonda Antioqueña (32-25 Steinway Street, 718-726-9857), which offers heaping platters of meat and seafood and potent margaritas.
Jackson Heights is also a destination for fans of Uruguay, Ecuador, and Argentina, who gather at La Gran Uruguaya (85-6 37th Avenue, 718-505-0404), a restaurant and bar attached to a bakery and bodega on 37th Avenue. The owners are from Uruguay, the bartender is Colombian, and the customers come from across Latin America to sip Pilsen, Quilmes, and other beers from home. A replica of the World Cup trophy stands behind the bar. The steak sandwich — a medium-rare slab of juicy skirt steak topped with tomato and red onion and slathered with garlicky chimichurri sauce — is worth the trip alone.
Other neighborhoods known for their immigrant populations — Russians in Brighton Beach, French-speaking West Africans in Harlem’s Le Petit Senegal — are obvious targets. Manhattan’s Avenue C boasts everything from a sprawling German beer hall (Zum Schneider, 107 Avenue C, 212-598-1098) that is absolutely jammed for soccer matches, to a tiny sake bar (Sake Bar Satsko, 202 East 7th Street, 212-614-0933) with a solitary TV screen that leaves the owner, as one server put it during a recent visit, “simultaneously cheering and cursing” when Japan plays.
2. Do Your Homework
When Braden Ruddy, a United Nations speechwriter and soccer fanatic from Queens, was compiling a list of World Cup-centric New York establishments for the travel site Roads and Kingdoms, he couldn’t find a place dedicated to showing Cameroon matches. Phoning the country’s Permanent Mission at the United Nations for a recommendation, he discovered that the diplomats plan to open their doors to the public on match days.
“Try to look beyond the prototypical Irish and English bars and pubs,” Ruddy recommends. “Look at off-the-beaten-path establishments — cafés, grocery stores, social clubs, juice bars. People love to connect through soccer and through food. This is a once-in-a-four-year opportunity to meet different kinds of people you live right next to.”
The New York-based soccer site First Touch offers a free “soccer bar finder” app for iOS and Android that provides live broadcast schedules and points you to the nearest pub. The app is geared toward traditional pubs and soccer mega-bars such as Nevada Smiths and Legends, which will likely have extremely diverse crowds. For purely partisan viewing, First Touch publisher David Witchard suggests visiting Little Brazil on West 46th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
“Police section off the whole block for every Brazil match,” Witchard says. “It just becomes a street party. It’s great — everybody is out dancing and playing drums in the streets.”
3. Adopt a Team
With USA stuck in a Group of Death with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana, it may prove wise to have a backup team to support in the later stages of the tournament. Defending champions Spain are again favored to reach the finals, and the best place to watch La Furia Roja defend their title is La Nacional (239 West 14th Street, 212-243-9308), a Spanish restaurant in Chelsea with a tranquil basement cantina frequented by silver-haired men who sip red wine and argue about fútbol. The tapas are delectable and affordable — try a buttery wedge of tortilla Española, big enough to serve two — and the drink selection includes the devious Basque concoction kalimotxo, a mix of wine and Coca-Cola.
If you prefer to pledge your allegiance to an underdog, consider Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the smallest countries in this year’s tournament, Bosnia’s national team features an electric striker in Manchester City star Edin Dzeko and has served as a unifying force in the ethnically divided Balkan nation. Bosnian fans gather en masse at Old Bridge (28-51 42nd Street, 718-932-7683), a hole-in-the-wall in Astoria that specializes in cevapi, thumb-sized lamb and beef sausages served with a pita-like bread. When their squad qualified for the Cup last year, Bosnian fans flooded the street outside the restaurant waving flags, honking car horns, and setting off fireworks.
Bosnia faces Argentina in the opening round, a foe with a superior soccer pedigree and an equally rabid New York following. Ruddy recommends arriving early if you want to score a seat at Boca Juniors Restaurant (81-08 Queens Boulevard, 718-429-2077) in Elmhurst, a steakhouse named after Argentina’s most popular professional club. Another Queens option for would-be Argentina fans is La Esquina Criolla (94-67 Corona Avenue, 718-699-5579), a restaurant and social club in Corona. Richard Turkieltaub, president of NYC Argentina, a club team competing in New York’s Cosmos Copa soccer tournament, says newcomers are always welcome, as long as they’re pulling for Messi and Co.
“All you have to do is put on a jersey and join,” Turkieltaub says. “No one is going to make you feel uncomfortable. Everyone is there for a specific reason, and that’s to scream and yell and cheer for the country they love and the team they love.”