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SEATTLE — Seattle is somewhat spoiled for choice when it comes to soccer bars. The game’s status in the city’s culture means there are well-respected pubs all around the Puget Sound, where fans usually congregate to watch soccer both foreign and domestic.
If the early days of the 2018 World Cup in Russia are any indication, though, some bars are expecting to feel the hurt between the United States’ absence from the tournament and the awkward timing of the matches due to the time difference with Russia.
I’ve worked at one such bar for the past three years. In that time, I’ve come to appreciate the atmosphere of a cramped bar, reduced to standing-room only capacity for major international matches.
The 2015 CONCACAF Cup playoff between Mexico and the United States is one of the most vivid experiences in my time as a bartender, when a capacity crowd screamed, jumped and shouted before an eventual U.S. loss on a Paul Aguilar goal in the 118th minute for El Tri.
Still, this year’s World Cup worries the soccer-bar community in Seattle. Owners of other pubs have told me USA’s failure to qualify for the tournament will result in a revenue loss of nearly $20,000 per absent U.S. World Cup match.
On top of that, the timing of the matches is less than ideal for business owners. The tournament’s earliest matches kick off at 5 in the morning, an hour before it is legal to serve alcohol in the city. Since most of the soccer bars in the area are 21-and-over establishments, this hampers their usual business flow.
Still, the early days of the tournament have been festive at various bars in the Seattle area. The George & Dragon Pub in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood has, so far, opened early for every match, including weekdays. Such is to be expected from the city’s original soccer bar, which opened in 1995 and paid through the nose at the time for the rights to show as much televised soccer as it could.
When I shuffled into the George at 6:30 a.m. June 14, I was the first person through the door. As time went by, though, a dozen Saudi Arabian fans filtered in to watch the opening match against Russia, along with a half-dozen fans of the host nation. The following day, a 4:30 a.m. entrance was met with the offer of coffee and a full English breakfast. Drinks, customers were told, would have to wait until the start of the second half of Uruguay-Egypt.
It was the 8 a.m. match that Friday that provided the desired atmosphere, however. Nearly 100 Iran fans surged in to the bar for their country’s game against Morocco, packing the place with noise and energy. A pair of Iran fans joined my table, helpfully translating the chants and exclamations of the game from Persian to English. When Iran went on top in the 94th minute thanks to a Morocco own-goal, deafening noise erupted as total strangers — ecstatic with a triumphant start to Iran’s World Cup campaign — hugged me.
Similar environments can typically be found at Seattle’s other die-hard soccer bars, The Atlantic Crossing Pub in the Roosevelt District and downtown’s Fado Irish pub, for big-ticket club matches. Both bars have committed to opening for the 8 a.m. matches throughout the tournament.
Beyond that, some businesses have gotten creative.
Turtle Coffee, a coffee shop, is open for the 5 a.m. matches. So is ultra-tiny hangout The Dray, open to all ages in Ballard, while indoor soccer complex Arena Sports in Mill Creek is open for 8 a.m. games and will serve burgers and breakfast from its kitchen.
The Market Arms (where, to be upfront, I work) is open for select early matches, but mostly will show the 11 a.m. matches and then replay the earlier matches during the afternoon—a throwback to the old days of soccer viewership in the United States, where giving away the final score was a cardinal sin.
Outside of the main Seattle drag, most smaller cities in the Seattle metro area have their own designated soccer bar. Doyle’s Public House, a soccer-mad bar down in Tacoma, Wash., is open for every match (including the 3 a.m. kickoff that took place between France and Australia June 16). The Berliner Döner Kebab and The Dubliner in Redmond are both open for 11 a.m. matches as well.
Fans may well look at the early start times and simply choose to watch from their living room couches, but games like the Iran-Morocco clash have shown that the magic of the World Cup and the excitement around the tournament will not be dampened in Seattle.
Pro Soccer USA correspondent Andrew Harvey works at The Market Arms and has affiliations with the George & Dragon, Fado and the Atlantic Crossing