Downtown bars catering to huge crowds for World Cup

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June 21, 2010
By: Katherine Lymn
Katherine Lymn
Hours before the start of the first U.S. soccer match of the World Cup, determined fans waited in a line that snaked outside Brit’s Pub and onto Nicollet Mall.

“I’m just going to stay here until I get in,” said U.S. fan Mike Valesano as he rounded the corner onto 11th Avenue, half a block from Brit’s. He had already been waiting for a half hour to see the U.S. battle England on the world stage.

Neither the game’s tied ending nor the day’s rain put a damper on fans that packed local bars to capacity that Saturday, June 12. At Brit’s, even the lawn on the roof was packed, general manager Shane Higgins said. By 11:45 a.m. — almost two hours before the game began — the building had reached its capacity of just over 2,100 people, he said. At that point, fans could only get in one at a time.

“We had to start letting one in, one out,” Higgins said.

This frenzy, which has taken over much of the Downtown bar scene since the first U.S. game, has endured through round one of the World Cup and is predicted to last through the July 11 final. Area bars are excited and prepared for the spur in energy and business.

At The Local, wait staff had to lift their food trays high to avoid a mess while pushing through the packed building on June 12. With casual concentrations of U.S. fans on one side and opposing team England’s fans on the other, going from one side of the building to the bar was more a trek than a stroll.

For some, it was all too much. Matt Herzog sat with a friend on the outskirts of the mob to watch the beginning of the game — and then planned on leaving. “It’s too crowded,” he said. “We’re not enjoying it.”

Kieran’s, which entertainment manager David Lavery said has a “mini rivalry” with Brit’s, also reached its capacity of 480 people, he said.

“Unfortunately we had to turn a few people away just because it was a safety concern, but the atmosphere was great,” he said.

With the World Cup taking place a half-a-world away in South Africa, many of the games do not take place during a regular happy hour. The hotspots for games are responding by simply opening earlier — a lot earlier. Kieran’s has opened at 5:45 a.m. for every 6:30 a.m. game.

Coffee has been the beverage of choice for these games, however. For the first time in a while, a state ordinance that prohibits alcohol to be served between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. has been more of a problem at the beginning of the day than at the end of it.

Minneapolis license inspector Craig Eliason, whose jurisdiction includes Brit’s Pub, Kieran’s and The Local, said this type of problem is new to him. He said in some cases, specific city ordinances can have a smaller prohibited time period, but Minneapolis ordinances are very similar to those of the state of Minnesota.

Extended happy hours and specials on pints and appetizers are not the only good deals for the month-long tournament.

At Kieran’s, customers are welcome to submit their name in a raffle for special treatment at the July 11 final game. The winner will receive a reservation for four at a front V.I.P. table with a view, as well as a $200 bar tab, Lavery said.

Brit’s is hosting soccer-themed activities throughout the month. Two movie nights, the Thursdays of July 1 and 8, will feature World-Cup-themed films, “Fever Pitch” — the soccer version — and “The Damned United.”

The Local will sponsor flights and a hotel for a trip to Ireland for one drawing winner. To apply to win, it’s pretty simple — drink more beer. General manager Josh Petzel said customers must fill out a beer purchase punch card to enter the drawing.

As the tournament endures and teams are eliminated, Petzel predicts the frenzy will stick around. Further down the road, “the games have even more meaning to fans,” he said. “I imagine it’s only going to grow as it continues.”