In the runup to the 2014 World Cup, a lot of long-time fans have remarked upon how difficult it was to find a place to watch in 2010. During the Cup, the typical haunts for soccer in Chicago are packed to the teeth with what long-time fans often refer to as "tourists" or people clogging up soccer bars that are just there for the hype of the World Cup. In this special World Cup edition of Around the Campfire I will try to provide useful tips to both casual and long-time fans of where to watch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. I would also love the readers’ feedback on your favorite places to go and watch the cup!
In 2010, my wife Shannon and I were two of those "tourists". I remember naively showing up to the Globe Pub 15 minutes before kickoff for a USA match hoping to get in to watch, only to discover I needed reservations weeks in advance. Needless to say, I needed a backup plan fast.
The typical soccer bars in Chicago ARE the best places to watch. Bars like the Globe, the Atlantic Bar and Grill, Cleo's, AJ Hudson's, Fado's and Small Bar Division are going to be filled to rafters with high-energy fans and the atmosphere will not be able to be topped anywhere else in the city. I highly recommend getting out to a true soccer bar at some point during the cup. There is no better way to watch the cup unless you have tickets to Brazil and plan to go in person. However, if you plan on going to these locations to watch make reservations (if they take them), show up early (like two hours early) or don't plan on going at all. It is probably too late for this last suggestion, but it's still good advice - try to know the bartenders and owners at these locations. Take care of them with good tips and healthy tabs throughout the year. If you take care of them year-round, they might be inclined to take care of you when crunch time is on.
The reality is not everyone can show up two hours early or have a long-standing rapport with a bartender. Don't fret! There are still plenty of ways for you to watch. Just like there are tourist fans, bars are more than happen to capitalize on the World Cup even if they are not regularly a soccer bar and make their bar a "tourist" bar. Fans can walk in off the street to almost any bars with TVs and they will likely be happy for the business. Considering going to your favorite non-soccer bar and asking them to put a match of your choice on the TV. I guarantee there will be other people interested in watching. The environment might not be as energetic as the traditional soccer bars, but you'll have a better chance of finding a place to sit.
Below is a short list of suggested places to try if your favorite soccer pub is a no go or you want to try something different. I will also provide so general ideas of places to investigate on your own if getting into one of the premier soccer pubs is an ordeal but you still want a good experience. This is by no means a comprehensive list but these are some places that worked for me last go-round.
Laschets Inn / German Restaurants - One of the unconventional places I found to watch last go round was Laschets Inn. The same day I was turned away from the Globe in 2010 I walked the neighborhood looking for a place to watch the USA match. Just down the street from the Globe, the neighborhood German Restaurant had a World Cup sign outside so we went in ate a pretzel and potatoes pancakes and watched. There were a good 15-20 people with the same idea and we cheered on the USA together. I ended up watching several matches here and it was a lot of fun, especially matches involving the USA or Germany. Really any German restaurant with a pulse and a TV might be worth a try for some of the Germany matches.
Small Bar Avondale/ Logan Square - Everyone thinks of Small Bar Division as an option to watch. Less people consider the original Small Bar just north of Logan Square. In 2010 Small Bar did in fact open for the early 6 am matches played in South Africa. They were open for all World Cup matches just like their counterpart. However, situated in an entirely residential neighborhood and only featuring two Small TVs the draw to this spot was not huge. It was busy but not packed when I went to matches there. I ended up watching several matches here and each time had a wonderful time. I will always have a soft spot for this bar because it was my neighborhood haunt for my first few years in Chicago and it was also where I met my wife.
Go Tavern - Go Tavern was not even a place that would have been noticed last World Cup by anyone other than someone looking to brown bag a 22. The hip dive bar/ liquor store sits on a once desolate stretch of Armitage Ave which is now filled with life in South Logan Square. The reason I added Go to the list is simply because it's a great bar, affordable and (just recently) a host to Fire watch parties each week in conjunction with Section 8. Any place that is playing the Fire is a soccer bar to me. Go is open early so it should have plenty of opportunities for fans of the game. I think this location is ripe for the plucking as a takeover bar by World Cup fans.
Downtown hotel bars - One unconventional place to watch the World Cup is in a Downtown Hotel bar of your choice. Some of these hotels cater to a lot of international travelers. They very well might be inclined to put the World Cup on to encourage international fans to spend their money there rather than leaving downtown. You might even get lucky and meet someone from another country rooting for their national team which could make for a good time. Hotel bars can be a bit more pricey but well worth the visit for a unique experience.
Hidden Shamrock / Irish-American Bars / English Pubs - One place I caught one or two matches last go round was the Hidden Shamrock. Not a typical sports bar the Hidden Shamrock in Lakeview does feature several TV’s and a good atmosphere. It was no problem getting the bartender to put the World Cup on for us! There are hundreds of bars and pubs exactly like this one in the city. Find one that suits your taste and geography and experience the World Cup the way a "tourist" might. Similarly seek out and find an English style pub to watch a match (especially when England plays)!
Grant Park - If you’re a true red, white and blue American and only plan on watching the USA matches, Grant Park is a great opportunity for you! We often forget the US Soccer Federation is based right out of sweet home Chicago. USA Soccer is hosting watch parties on the jumbo-screen right in Grant Park for viewers. Even if you plan on watching other matches in other locations, the atmosphere created by hundreds of people watching and cheering the US in the middle of Chicago’s famed park is a terrific experience. I hope to get down to the park for at least one match this year!
Your local Mexican, Central American or South American Restaurant - Interested in how Mexico or Argentina does in the Cup? How about Chile or Columbia? Find a restaurant for the national team you are interested in and show up an hour before kickoff. Last time I watched a few Mexico matches in my local Mexican restaurant and had a great time. The food was terrific and the fans were every bit as passionate as any soccer bar I have ever walked into in Chicago. This is a great way to have a different World Cup experience. Check to make sure the place you are going has TVs, though.
Like Tapas?- With Spain always projected to do well, it is fun to watch the reigning champion play in a Spanish atmosphere. I watched a match from the last Euro Cup in the food service giant Lettuce Entertain You’s restaurant Café Ba Ba Reeba in Lincoln Park, at the front bar. There are probably 2 dozen less-commercial tapas bars in Chicago that would also be a great time to watch in. Once again, check to make sure the place you are going to has TVs.
Watch from home - Not glamorous or exciting, but the World Cup is on cable TV on ESPN. No need to have an upgraded sports package to watch from home. Realistically, most fans live busy lives and can’t take off every day from work. Similarly, not everyone can afford to drink and eat out every day of the cup. Consider watching from home or even invite some friends over for a watch party. It could be a great way to enjoy the game on the cheap and maybe sell the sport to some of your non-soccer friends.
What are you suggestions for watching the World Cup? I am excited to hear your feedback as we experience the carnival of soccer kicking off tomorrow!