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 anticipation.
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 JUNE 2002.
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 Caf� 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 people.
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 around here."
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."