Football in Manhattan

On the town with the World Cup.

Among the many valuable lessons I learned while watching the FIFA World Cup on the town in New York City is that it is de rigueur, among the type of Brazilian model who passes her afternoons stalking SoHo, to dress with an extreme emphasis on patriotism and comparatively meager attention to modesty. I had never known it was possible to wear so much yellow and green while not really wearing much at all.

But then I squeezed into Felix—nominally a French restaurant, but the “food” is a mere pretense anyway—to watch a heaving throng of Brazil loyalists watch its team trounce Japan in Group F play. The caipirinhas were quite good, which is all the more impressive considering the bartender’s many other obligations. When Brazil scored the first of its four goals, he was first obliged to snag an air horn and deploy it assaultively. Then, for the benefit of those patrons miraculously remaining undeafened, he swiveled to the stereo and blasted 16 bars of something you could samba to. Then he realized that he was out of tricks and threw a stack of cocktail napkins at the ceiling. For the record, we were tuned to Univision, so the play-by-play man was giving it a hearty “¡GOL!”—complete, as always, with the wonderful throbbing ¡GOL! graphic—but there was no hope of hearing it above the collective yelp.

It’s amazing how many ways there are to scream in Portuguese. The noise I picked up on when Portugal edged Holland in a round-of-16 match was much more of a shriek. The match was a classic of nastiness (“ugly, vicious, cynical”—George Vecsey, New York Times), and the venue was the ESPNZone in Times Square, meaning that the match was about half as nasty as the nacho plate. (The bloodies, however, are stellar, and very nearly worth $9.75.) There are flat-screen TVs everywhere you look in the main dining room at the ESPNZone; it seemed that 10 or 12 dozen of them were tuned to soccer. Because we were watching an ABC-ESPN production, we were listening to the usual nonsense of Dave O’Brien and Marcelo Balboa. They have said many ridiculous things over the past month; my favorite came when Sweden scored a goal against England: “That’s a good way to get back in the game.” Thankfully, at this restaurant you could only really hear them when watching the wee little flat-screens mounted above the urinals in the men’s room. Because we were watching a high-definition broadcast, we saw the starkly beautiful four-way shadows players at midfield cast under the stadium lights. We apprehended every bead of sweat of every forehead. While this was highly disgusting, it still posed no threat to the nachos.

No, to get the grossest World Cup experience Manhattan has to offer, you must venture to the East Village and cross the doorway of Nevada Smith’s, “where football is religion,” according to a slogan. The religion is clearly pagan. I went there to watch the Germany-Argentina quarterfinal with an associate at a fancy law firm and a hedge-fund dude and their BlackBerrys. These guys were playing hooky in the most fetid bar on the Eastern seaboard, a space combining the salient features of an S&M dungeon and a mildewed shower curtain. The only thing more wrong than drinking pints at 11 a.m. is doing so in a windowless, stone-walled basement. The only thing more wrong than that is doing so while you’re pressed up against the bare and bristly beer gut of a wannabe football hooligan and fruitlessly scanning the walls for a fire exit. When Argentina pulled its goalkeeper, a Germany fan suggested that the injury had something to do with the goalie’s ovaries. When the satellite signal went out for two moments—we were watching a brisk and laconic British broadcast on DirecTV—I knew fear.

It was much more relaxing to catch the Italy-Ukraine quarterfinal at the Vienna Café, also known as the Austria Café, a cozy little place in the United Nations General Assembly Building. The thing about the crowd at the United Nations, of course, is the diversity: Winstons, Marlboro Reds, menthol Pall Malls—within the U.N., folks were slipping out of a conference on small arms to hack the best butts that the duty-free shops had to offer. Except for one yellow-jerseyed Ukrainian and his two sad balloons, the crowd was largely apathetic. I sat next to a Peruvian woman whose interest in the tournament had faded with Argentina’s ouster. My chaperone, a Swede, assured me the things had been more exciting when Ghana played the U.S., and the game drew a cheering mass of Africans.

The highlight of my World Cup was France’s upset of Brazil. I caught this at my local ersatz French bistro, one of those places that look like a T.G.I. Friday’s furnished exclusively with stuff from the Latin Quarter. I am neither a fire marshal nor a physicist, but what happened at Bar Tabac must have run counter to the laws of space and the dictates of public health—a full house, a tinnitus-inspiring din, the people coalescing into a crowd and entering a trance state. ¡GOL!