The best football (the other Kind) bar in New York

| 19 Feb 2019 | 05:10

    Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, how you got here, and how you got into the soccer bar business.I’m from Cork, in Ireland. I came here in 1989. I started working for Terry O’Neal on the Upper East Side, for three years. Then Terry opened up Nevada Smith’s, I think it was in 1992. I was in Nevada Smith’s for 18 years, that’s where all the football started, the soccer. From Nevada’s I went to Smithfield, on West 28th St.. And from there I went to Smithfield on West 25th St., which we still have.

    Is there a specific team you support?I’ve always been a Manchester United supporter, since I was a kid. It’s like when you grow up young and you pick a team, you stick to it through good or bad. We all pick a team and stick with them.

    And did Man United have an impact on you deciding to open up a football bar?No, not necessarily. I saw an opening in the market ... I knew so many expats who were living in New York who were trying to watch a football match. So, you know, we just started showing it, and gradually it grew into something huge. Then we got a name as being the best soccer bar in New York, and people just kept on coming.

    As you said, Smithfield Hall is a huge success. Did you expect it to be? And why do you think it is?Every bar you open, you want it to be successful, you want it to be good. So through the years, I started making lots of relationships with different people from different [soccer] clubs and that just grew. And ... from the early days in Nevada’s they followed me to Smithfield ... and hopefully they’ll follow me here as well. And so, it’s just over the years, creating good relationships with people.

    Right, you’re opening a new bar in Times Square. Will it also be a football bar?We’ll definitely show football, of course, but it will be a sports bar. Because where we are, in Times Square, a lot of different nationalities come here. We’re going to cover everything. At Smithfield soccer is a priority, but here it’ll be everything.

    How hard, or easy, was it to get the word out to the public about this place, and how exactly did you do it?It’s easier in the last 10 years, since social media, with Facebook and everything else. It’s a lot easier from the days when Nevada’s started, when we used to put an advertisement in the paper that came out once a week. But now with social media, I can just blast out that the Manchester United football team is coming to Smithfield Hall, and within five minutes a hundred thousand people will know, you know? So social media is a big, big influence. People coming from overseas who want to watch a soccer match, type into the internet “watch football in New York, and luckily we’re one of the first [locations] that pops up.

    When you first started Smithfield Hall, what kind of clientele were you expecting, football-specific fans, or just kind of a family-friendly environment?We were always hoping to have the football people that we knew through the years, but from the original Smithfield [on West 28th St.] we were so close to Madison Square Garden that we were hoping to tap into that market as well, the people who go to shows, games, you know. And in the general area, because there’s an awful lot of businesses, we were hoping to jump into the lunch trade with them. When that Smithfield closed and we moved to West 25th Street, we were still in the neighborhood ... so we have a great soccer crowd, we have a great after-work crowd, but we don’t have a late night crowd, because in the area it’s not a late night business. But listen, the business we do during the day with football and lunch, most bars would love to have at nighttime, so you take the good with the bad.

    Now that you’ve run the Smithfield on West 25th Street for more than five years, how heated can the bar get during rival matches?Through the years, we’ve learned that if we have particular supporters’ groups, like for instance we have Barcelona, when there’s a big game, like when they play Real Madrid, unfortunately we won’t let any Real Madrid fans in, only for the simple reason that it does get heated, and you don’t want that to happen. You don’t want anybody to have a bad experience. It’s the same when Manchester United play Liverpool, we won’t let in Liverpool fans. Any other day of the week or any other game, no problem. But in those big particular games, you know what to look for.

    Do you have certain policies, in addition to that, to prevent ugly scenes?Luckily we have a great doorman in Fitz, and he can spot who’s had one too many from the night before, you know? But we’re very lucky, because, as I said, a lot of these supporters have come from Nevada’s and we know a lot of them, and we’re very lucky that we don’t have too many messes. Unfortunately it happens sometimes, but we kind of know everybody. We know the guys of Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and we can go to them and say “Listen, we’re going to get rid of them.”

    What do you think about the whole hooligan stereotype of football fans. Was it an issue for you when you opened Smithfield?Not in Smithfield. In Nevada’s I would say yes, because we were the only game in town, everybody came to Nevada’s no matter who you supported. Thus there were unfortunately some incidents where rival groups would go at each other. But in Smithfield, we don’t have that because I don’t think hooliganism is as bad as it used to be in the early 80s or 90s. I think it’s kind of [faded] out, they don’t do it anymore. You’re still going to have the fights, but you’re not going to have the riots that they used to have.

    What’s the most memorable game that you’ve shown at Smithfield Hall?It has to be when Manchester United beat Bayern Munich [the interviewer’s favorite team] for the treble (in 1999).

    Oh ...I didn’t want to bring that up (laughs).