Chicago bars anticipating huge turnout for Sunday's U.S. World Cup match

Raw footage of fans cheering the U.S. World Cup soccer team at the Fifty/50 bar.

The Fifty/50 expected a big crowd Monday for the U.S. men’s national team’s World Cup game against Ghana. It just didn’t expect that big crowd to show up so early.

There were no tables available on the main floor or patio at the Ukrainian Village sports bar three hours before the 5 p.m. game and there was a growing wait list at the hostess stand. The second floor and basement area were empty, but no one could sit there because the staff working those designated areas wasn’t scheduled to come in until 3 p.m.

“We figured two hours before the game was plenty of time,” said Fifty/50 general manager Justin Reicher. “We didn’t think people would come out so early. But it seemed like people took the day off from work – especially because the first game featured two awesome teams, Germany and Portugal. And the weather was gorgeous. We could have had the entire place full by 2 p.m. As soon as we opened (the second floor and basement), they filled up within 15 minutes.”

If it seems like it’s getting harder to score a table at a bar during the World Cup games, that’s because it is.

Stuart Johnston – owner of The Globe Pub in the North Center neighborhood, widely considered one of, if not the best soccer bar in the country – said he’s noticed a stronger turnout so far for the 2014 World Cup games than in years past.

“We’ve always been one of the most popular soccer bars in Chicago and this year has been very much improved,” Johnston said. “There are far more fans. On Saturday, we closed the doors at 11 a.m. (because we were at capacity) and it was one-in-one-out until 7 p.m. We had people waiting outside at 8 a.m. One of the guys was wearing an Ivory Coast shirt. I told him ‘You realize they don’t play until 8 p.m., right?’ and he said ‘Yeah, I just want to be sure I get in.’ (On Monday,) we closed the doors at 3:30 p.m. And that was a work day.”

The U.S. will face Portugal in its second group stage game Sunday at 5 p.m. Because it’s a weekend and there is a buzz around the U.S. team due to its dramatic win over Ghana, bars are expecting larger than normal crowds for the games.

  • Reicher recommends that those who want a table at The Fifty/50 arrive three and a half to four hours before the game. He said the most coveted seats are the ones on the patio.
  • Fado spokeswoman Mallory McSweeney believes you will need to arrive by 2 p.m. if you want a table at the River North Irish pub. She added that you'll likely need to get there by 4 p.m. just to get in the door.
  • AJ Hudson’s Public House spokeswoman Julia Shell recommends arriving around noon if you want a table at the Lakeview establishment, which, like the Globe Pub and Fado, is known for being a popular soccer bar. There is, however, more seating thanks to the outdoor tent that has been added to the bar, increasing the space by at least a third, according to Shell.
  • Prefer a bar where you can arrive closer to game time to get a table? Try Public House in the Near North neighborhood (no relation to AJ Hudson's Public House), which is bigger than your typical sports bar. Public House didn’t fill up until 15 minutes after game time Monday, according to manager Danielle Rodgers. Still, she recommends larger groups make table reservations for Sunday’s match.
  • Another option is the outdoor watch party at Lower Hutchinson Field in Grant Park. The 19-by-33-foot, high-definition screen used for Monday’s match will be back Sunday, as will ESPN, which once again will feature a live look-in of the Grant Park crowd during its broadcast. U.S. Soccer communications operations coordinator Sinhue Mendoza said there were around 8,000 people by game time Monday.

Of course, ESPN wasn’t the only one filming crowd reactions. You’ll find several videos on YouTube of fans celebrating both U.S. goals Monday, including at Benchmark in the Old Town neighborhood. The instant jubilation and "USA" chants following a big goal are always entertaining. Well, as long as nobody gets hurt.

“We had one server get headbutted by accident,” Reicher said. “This guy jumped up from his table after (Clint) Dempsey’s goal and hit her accidentally in the eye as she walked the aisle. Her eye was pretty red after that, but there were no hard feelings.”

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