By Christopher Munden
It’s opening weekend of a new season of the English Premier League and the bar is packed with soccer fans staring at large TV screens. They wear the starkly-colored jerseys of their favorite teams. A stadium chant breaks out in one corner. The bartender pours another round of beers.
This isn’t a pub in London or Manchester. This is a scene played out each week at bars across the Philadelphia area. Over the last 25 years, soccer has gained a foothold in American sports culture; it’s now the fourth most-watched sport in the country, ahead of ice hockey, tennis and golf. But, while most bars in the city might have a soccer game on among several sports-filled screens, some cater especially to the growing audiences of an increasingly mainstream sport, combining the best social aspects of fandom and beer.
Fadó Irish Pub at 15th and Locust was a pioneer hub for Philadelphia soccer fans. They love the sport so much here that they’ll close down the busy Center City block for major World Cup games. Every weekend you’ll find the large bar buzzing with fans switching their attention between games on the multiple screens or engrossed in the action of their favorite team.
Although Fadó organizes bus trips to see the local Philadelphia Union, most people who gather in Philadelphia bars aren’t watching homegrown Major League Soccer games. Instead, their attention is on foreign leagues, especially the English Premier League, the Europe-wide Champions League and Mexico’s Liga MX. The international nature of the sport makes for diverse clientele at the bar.
“We get a lot of supporters of Manchester United,” says Fadó bartender Chris Miller, referencing a popular English team. “But we get fans of every team from every country. We’re wall to wall for El Clásico [games between Spanish rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid], and last year we had a group of Albanian police here. They were training in this area and came with flags and banners to watch all of their country’s games. It was an amazing atmosphere.”
Because of the time difference, European games can begin as early as 7am on a weekend morning, so it requires a particularly committed staff to run a Philadelphia soccer bar. But owner/barkeep Aidan Travers of relative newcomer The Black Taxi, in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, will be up early to cater to his soccer-loving patrons, especially those of English team Manchester City.
“Some drink coffee,” Travers says of the early risers. “But beer is popular here at any time of the day.” Travers pours from a rotating list of craft and imported draughts and serves a menu of British classics (bangers and mash, fish and chips, curry chips) and pub favorites.
Close to Love Park, Tir Na Nóg is another of those treasured places that will open up for the early games. Thankfully, like Black Taxi, they welcome morning patrons with a plate-filling traditional Irish breakfast and boast a full slate of imported and domestic beers on tap and in bottles, including Irish brew Smithwick’s.
As one of the best soccer bars in the city, Tir Na Nóg attracts fans of many soccer and rugby teams. It’s the home base of the supporters club with the most to celebrate this year: that of London’s Chelsea FC, winners of the 2016/17 English Premier League.
Chelsea fans can also be found at The 700 in Northern Liberties, and many bars focus their attention on fans of a single English Premier League team. Across the street from Fadoó, Misconduct Tavern draws supporters of London team Arsenal. Liverpool faithful head to nearby Jose Pistola’s, Victoria Freehouse in Old City or to Iron Abbey in Horsham. Fans of the Reds’ city rival Everton gather at O’Neals Pub near South Street. Followers of rising club Tottenham Hotspur meet at Center City saloon Tavern on Broad. The rabid support of Scottish outfit Rangers drink and cheer at Cavanaugh’s on Headhouse Square, which also hosts fans of West Ham and other English soccer and rugby teams.
Black Sheep, a cozy pub near Rittenhouse Square, serves as the Philly headquarters of the most-followed, best-loved (and perhaps most-hated) English team, Manchester United. Because they’re so numerous, “Man U” fans can be found in bars around the city, but they’re drawn to Black Sheep for the weekend brunch and the selection of bottled crafts.
And the best fans of them all (in the unbiased opinion of this Newcastle-born author), the “Toon Army” supporters of Newcastle United, head to The Bards near Rittenhouse Square. British clubs aren’t the first love of every American soccer fan. The most-watched league in the U.S. remains Mexico’s Liga MX. You can see Mexican expats following their teams at taquerias and bars all around the city, including South Philly’s Blue Corn, Plaza Garibaldi or Los Taquitos de Puebla.
Meanwhile, South Street biergarten Brauhaus Schmitz focuses on the league with the most live spectators in the world, Germany’s fast-action Bundesliga. With its selection of German beers and wursts, this old country restaurant/bar buzzes with excitement during European soccer matches and has a lively crowd of Philadelphia Union supporters. You may find co-owner Doug Hager, a dual German-American citizen, among the enthusiastic crowd.
The excitement for soccer in Philadelphia will build to a crescendo next summer, when national teams from around the world head to Russia for the World Cup. Held every four years, the tournament is the most-watched sporting event in the world. More than ever, a good number of those viewers will be huddled in Philadelphia bars, enjoying a brew and the company of their fellow soccer fans.
Philly’s Best Soccer Bars
Fadó Irish Pub
1500 Locust St.
Fans of many clubs gather to watch on the multiple screens.
Tir Na Nóg Irish Bar & Grill
1600 Arch St.
Come for open spaces and separated supporters’ sections.
Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant
247 S. 17th St.
Good food, varied beer list, intimate viewing space.
The Black Taxi
747 N. 25th St.
Cozy neighborhood bar with a solid menu and many British beers.
718 South St.
German beer, German food, world soccer.
Soccer Bars in the Burbs
240 N. Sycamore St., Newtown
680 Easton Rd., Horsham
Kildares Irish Pub
18 W. Gay St., West Chester
Union Jack’s Olde Glory Pub
2750 Limekiln Pk., Glenside
603 Summit Ave., Jenkintown