What’s The Best Place To Watch The World Cup In America’s Most Diverse Place?
World Cup 2018 kicks off this week in Russia, and despite the United States’ not participating along with some other traditional favorites of Queens residents—Italy and Ireland—the borough is still the place to be for fans of the game known as soccer, football, futbol, Fußball or even 축구. (That’s Korean, for those who don’t know.)
There are teams from 32 countries participating in the Cup, and immigrants from almost every nation call Queens home. And it is a good bet that your morning or afternoon commutes for the next few months will be met with people sporting jerseys and coming into work a little late because they are trying to catch some of the 6 a.m. kickoffs or cutting out of work early for the 2 p.m. games. The entire country of Russia spans 11 time zones—but luckily, the World Cup games are only taking place in four different time zones, which still means mostly early morning viewings for diehards.
So what is the best bandwagon to jump on if you are like me, a soccer fanatic who lives in Queens and doesn’t have ties to any particular country, but is looking for the best experience?
I have looked at two main criteria in coming to my conclusion: first, the country that has the best fan base in the borough; second, the team that has a legit chance to go far in the tournament, allowing for additional watching experiences as we move out of the group stage and into the always-exciting knockout stages.
Before we get to my picks, let’s take a quick look at the rich cultural connection many Queens neighborhoods have to the teams participating, starting with the host nation of Russia. Now, generally speaking, the host nation’s fans abroad show extra pride, much as we saw with Brazilian flags and jerseys on full display in 2014 when Brazil hosted. According to the 2010 Census, roughly 2 percent of Queens residents are immigrants from Russia. But considering the political history, current controversies and lack of football-loving tradition of Russian immigrants, we don’t expect a similar outpouring of passionate support.
Each year, Europe has the most countries participating in the World Cup, and this year is no exception. The biggest national connections to Queens are Germans, who make up 3.5 percent of the borough’s population, and Poles, who make up approximately 2.9 percent. You can bet that German and Polish supporters will be out in full force when their teams hit the pitch in Russia. To meet up with fellow fans of Germany, you can visit one of the many beer gardens in the borough that are growing in popularity. Manor Oktoberfest in Forest Hills is another spot expected to have a good showing. Polish fans will be concentrated in Maspeth at Johnny’s Cafe, sporting their iconic red-and-white flag. On a smaller scale, you will see groups of support for several other European nations, including Portugal, whose fans will gather at O’Lavrador in Jamaica, and Croatia and Serbia, whose supporters will likely be at a few bars in Astoria. England, France, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium and Sweden are also in the World Cup, with their supporter groups either being smaller in concentration or opting to gather in other boroughs of New York City.
If you truly want to feel the passion of the World Cup, you might want to gravitate to the hordes of fans who will support Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. At least 80,000 people of Mexican descent call Queens home, and it seems like at least that many people will crowd into one of the many bars proudly flying Mexican flags on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights when “El Tri” plays. The team’s first match is arguably their toughest as they play Germany, one of the tournament favorites, on Sunday at 11 a.m. Be warned: The streets will be packed.
In the 1990s, Colombians were the third-largest Latino ethnicity in New York City, with more than 75 percent calling Elmhurst, Jackson Heights or Corona home. While the Colombian population is now more spread out across the five boroughs and not as prominent as other Spanish-speaking ethnic groups, this passionate, foot-ball crazy fan base is sure to have a huge presence. In 2014, they filled the streets outside the El Basurero bar in Astoria when they made it to the quarterfinals. Several other establishments—Barriles, El Paisa Bar and La Pollera Colorada II, all in Jackson Heights—are likely to be filled for their matches as well. New York City is only home to roughly 15,000 Argentinian immigrants, but you will be able to find the most passionate supporters by heading to Boca Juniors Steakhouse on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, a popular place for football matches 12 months out of the year. Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Panama and Costa Rica are also in the World Cup, and you will find some bars with supporters throughout the borough.
Queens is home to more than 50,000 South Korean immigrants, primarily in Flushing, and it’s a good bet that when they kick off their tournament on June 18 at 8 a.m., many establishments on and around Northern Boulevard will be packed with supporters. A couple of great spots to consider, since they are open 24 hours a day, are Hahm Ji Bach and Tang, both on Northern Boulevard. Another spot, just steps from the Murray Hill Long Island Rail Road stop, is Hahm Ji Bach, which is renowned for its high-quality food and atmosphere. Japan is also in the tournament, but not likely to have a huge showing of support. According to the 2010 Census, the largest concentration of Japanese immigrants lived in Astoria, numbering at about 1,300.
Rest Of The World
Filling out the field for the World Cup are teams from the Middle East and Africa, and the best place to catch the action is in the “Little Egypt” section of Astoria on Steinway Street. There are nine bars or restaurants within walking distance of each other that will cater to supporters of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco. Iran is also in the tournament, and some of its supporters will likely be at Patoug Persian Cuisine in Bayside. One buzz team of the tournament is Nigeria, whose Nike World Cup jerseys are selling like hotcakes. It will have some supporters at the Tropical Grill & Lounge in Rochdale.
My Third Choice
If you get off the N train at the 30th Avenue or Astoria Boulevard stops and walk about half a mile to the east, you will hit a football mecca tucked in the middle of Queens in the “Little Egypt” neighborhood. At least nine coffee shops, lounges and restaurants will be home to four countries hoping to make waves in the 2018 World Cup, led by Egypt and its rising star, Mohamed Salah. Friday kicks off with Egypt vs. Uruguay at 8 a.m., which you could watch at Dream Cafe, Egyptian Coffee Shop or Jasmin Lounge, all steps from each other on Steinway Street. After the match, you can slowly move a few more steps down Steinway to take in Morocco vs. Iran at 11 a.m. at the Casa Lounge, the Moroccan House or Mazag, all also on Steinway. There are also establishments in the area that will be home to supporters of Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, and likely many of these places will gladly welcome fans to watch the game anytime.
My Second Choice
Currently, Argentina is the fifth choice to win the World Cup in most betting venues. But they also arguably have the greatest player ever in Lionel Messi, and they play a style in international tournaments that makes it extremely hard for opposing teams to score on them. So, there is a good chance this team will go deep in the tournament, similar to four years ago when they lost to Germany 1-0 in extra time in the finals. So, my second choice for experiencing this World Cup is to get to Boca Juniors in Elmhurst early on Saturday for the 9 a.m. kickoff against Iceland. Make friends and get comfortable because there is a good shot that Argentina will be playing in mid-July, giving you ample opportunities to come back and experience the festivities. And if they win the World Cup, you’ll be a part of a party for the ages.
Wear yellow, get off the 7 train at the 82nd Street stop and wander north just one block. If you want the best World Cup experience in Queens, then the place to be is Jackson Heights when Colombia is playing in their signature yellow jerseys. Barriles on 37th Avenue is a block from the 7 train and sure to be packed with fans of Los Cafeteros, their nickname, which means the “coffee growers.” If you can’t get in, no worries—just walk less than half a mile farther north and you can probably find a seat at La Pollera Colorada II or El Paisa Bar (both on Northern Boulevard). And honestly, if you strike out there, you probably can just pop into any establishment; the game will likely be on the television, with patrons living and dying with every bounce of the ball.
Colombia is currently around 35-1 to win the World Cup. They are definitely long shots, but they are not impossible and they are definitely improving. They lost to Brazil 2-1 four years ago in the quarterfinals, when Brazil was the host nation and they weren’t expected to win. This year, they should be able to best Poland, Senegal and Japan and will likely play the likes of Belgium or England in the knockout stage. If they get past that test, they will probably match up against 2014 champions Germany. It is a tough road to go deep in the tournament, but Colombia has the talent to do it and the party atmosphere that will follow upset wins over any of those European powerhouses will be very much worth jumping on this yellow bandwagon. If they get past Germany (or whoever beats them), then they stand as good a chance as anyone to win the whole thing. Colombia kicks off their campaign next Tuesday at 8 a.m. versus Japan.