While World Cup crowds in bars across the country chant, “I believe that we will win,” bar owners are singing their own happy tune: “I believe that we will make a lot of money if we win.”
It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but bars are cleaning up during a World Cup where the excitement around the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team is palpable. In Washington, bar owners hope the success of the U.S. team continues, for pride and for pocket.
Fado in Chinatown has been a hot spot for watching the last five World Cups, since it opened in 1998. It’s even listed as an official U.S. soccer bar by the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team. General Manager Michelle Stewart is used to the soccer crowds, but there’s something different this year.
“It’s like a rally,” Stewart says. “When the U.S. scores, the walls in the building literally shake. It’s like if you watch the games on TV and see the fan sections, just imagine dropping all that cheering and singing and jumping out of those stands and into a bar.”
Bar owners hope the success of the U.S. team continues, for pride and for pocket.
That excitement translates to drink sales during a time of the year where many bars struggle. In the past couple weeks, Stewart has seen a 50 percent jump in sales compared with this time last year.
At Biergarten Haus on H Street Northeast, General Manager Sigi Smailys says they went through 160 kegs of beer this last weekend, twice as much as they would have in a regular week. When the U.S. started its game against Portugal on Sunday, he says 100 people were waiting outside, watching the match through the windows.
Down the street at Queen Vic, sales have doubled in the past couple weeks, says owner Ryan Gordon. During weekdays, the pub is usually open after 5 p.m. But for the World Cup, it opens at 11 a.m. That means 100 percent gains in sales during the times it would have been closed. During regular hours still, Gordon has seen a 50 percent boost in sales. When the U.S. plays, he says, you can see the difference.
“The majority of people are going out and experiencing it, they are enjoying the camaraderie that they’re only about to experience every four years,” Gordon says. “It’s more of an American thing this time.”
But there is a concern among those in the restaurant industry about what happens if the U.S. does not advance to the next round in the World Cup. England is already feeling the economic pain of an early knockout from the tournament, with many supermarkets and sports shops missing out on what would have been a welcome boost.
Yes, the true U.S. soccer fans will continue to attend games at bars for the final rounds, but the crowds won’t be as big, nor will that excitement shake walls.
“We’re a British bar, so when England got knocked out, we knew we were going to lose thousands and thousands of dollars,” says Gordon. “But you try to keep that going with the U.S.”
There’s similar concern at Buffalo Billiards in Dupont Circle. Jamie Walther, the general manager, says the only time he’s seen this level of excitement, attendance, and sales is during the NCAA Tournament. He recalls the game versus Ghana: “The first goal that was scored was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard anything anywhere. It vibrated the entire place.” His staff, he says, is going as fast as they can from about an hour before the game to about an hour after the game.
“The further they go, the better we do,” says Walther. “Obviously, we want them to go as far as possible because the difference is measurable.”
All four bars have been at capacity at least an hour before U.S. games start, sometimes with lines stretching around the block to get in. They’ve had to turn people away. The further the U.S. goes, the more money these places have to gain.
“The further they go, the better we do.”
It makes sense that Washington bars would reap the benefits of the World Cup. For the second week in a row, D.C. has led the country in watching the World Cup, with a 13.3 rating. That’s more than Columbus, Ohio (12.6), New York City (12.5), and Boston (11.5). And that sort of enthusiasm is nationwide. Sunday night’s game against Portugal received an overnight rating of a 9.1, making it the most watched World Cup game ever on ESPN or ESPN2.
Many of those people watching those games were in bars. People like to share big national moments like this together, and what better a place than the local watering hole? In July, we’ll get a better sense of how well D.C. bars in particular did from the World Cup when the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development releases beverage sales figures.
But it’s clear already: Bar owners and general managers are having a banner June and hoping to carry that into July. Root for the U.S. team for love of country, yes. But you should also root for love of local business.
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