Watching the World Cup in New York City is the next best thing to being in Brazil itself. That’s because New York is a microcosm of the world and there are so many opportunities to watch the matches with locals from each of the participating nations. In fact, according to a December 2013 article in the Huffington Post, the US Census Bureau reports that:
Over 37 percent of New York City residents were born in another country, according to a new report, the highest percentage in over 100 years. A record high 3.07 million foreign-born immigrants live in New York City, more than any other city in the world.
With that in mind I set out to watch the World Cup in the various bars and restaurants where soccer fans gather to watch their homeland play.
My first stop was the Belgian restaurant Brasserie Magritte on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Belgium was meeting Algeria in Group H first round action from Belo Horizonte. Despite the 12 p.m. kick off, Brasserie Magritte was showing the match on the restaurant’s big screen.
I knew I was in the right place as a large Belgian flag was draped over the windows of the entrance and two boards out front invited customers to watch the World Cup matches featuring Belgian’s national team, the Red Devils. Inside, Belgian flags, soccer jerseys and scarves surrounded the bar.
Owner Shohn Donaghy opened the restaurant a little over a year ago. When I asked about his Irish sounding name, he told me that he was indeed from Ireland but his parents were of Belgian descent.
As it was the middle of a work day outside of midtown, a small group was gathered for the match. Donaghy mentioned that the restaurant also attracted Dutch soccer fans and it had been packed for Holland’s first round upset of Spain. He added that the restaurant was fully booked for Belgium’s second group match with Russia. Luckily this game is scheduled for a more restaurant friendly brunch time kick off on a Sunday.
Waiter Gerald van der Planken was watching the match from behind the bar. Having arrived in New York from Antwerp, he was wearing a Belgian World Cup t-shirt and tri-color hat. He told me how much the World Cup means to those back home. He confidently stated, “Everyone in Belgium is watching this match now.”
When the Algerians were awarded a penalty in the 25th minute, you could feel the mood in the restaurant change. Forward Sofian Feghouli scored and the first half ended with Belgium down by one goal.
Luckily order was restored in the second half. Marouane Fellaini scored on a header in the 70th minute to tie the match. Ten minutes later Dries Mertens slotted home and Belgium hung on for a 2-1 win.
Should the Belgian’s move on in the tournament, Brasserie Magritte is ready to welcome soccer fans while serving up Belgian specialties and plenty of Belgian beer.