World Cup Watch: A guide to local bars with strong international soccer reputations

The World Cup kicks off Sunday in Qatar, with the first match of the monthlong tournament featuring Qatar and Ecuador at 10 a.m.

Arguably the most popular international sporting event in the world, the World Cup features 32 senior men’s national teams divided among eight groups. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout stage, which begins Dec. 3.

Reigning champion France is in Group D, along with Australia, Tunisia and Denmark, and has the depth and experience on its roster to retain its title. The United States is in Group B with England, Iran and Wales and opens play at 1 p.m. Monday against Wales. The furthest the U.S. men have made it in the tournament is the semifinals. (The United States has won the Women’s World Cup four times.) Mexico is in Group C with Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Poland.

The final will be played at 10 a.m. Dec. 18.

Chicago has a deeply rooted international soccer culture that will be on full display in the next four weeks at a handful of pubs that have earned a citywide reputation as go-tos for the world’s game.

Places such as The Globe Pub and A.J. Hudson’s are soccer staples in Chicago, and others are just beginning to be recognized as such. Some draw large crowds from specific countries, but all are destinations for international soccer fans.

One City Tap, 3115 S. Archer Avenue

Marco Antonio Lopez of McKinley Park opened One City Tap five years ago after a career in the restaurant industry.

One City Tap quickly earned a nod as one of Chicago’s go-to soccer bars when it began hosting Fire watch parties last year. As the World Cup begins, it is highlighting two teams specifically: Mexico and the United States.

One City Tap will open its doors at noon for all matches, except when it opens at 10 a.m. Tuesday for Mexico’s first match against Poland.

R Public House, 1508 W. Jarvis Ave.

This pub initially struggled with its decision to show the World Cup this year, but R Public House in Rogers Park will be donating $1 from every draft pour of Hazy Pitch IPA to the Nepal Youth Foundation.

”We really wrestled with the fact of whether we should show it at all because of what’s happened,” owner Renee Labrana said, referring to the many Nepalese migrants in Qatar who have faced poor working conditions for years.

”We knew even if we boycotted it, people were going to watch it. . . . We chose to at least try and give back and raise awareness.”

Simone’s, 960 W. 18th St.

Simone’s will kick off World Cup viewings Tuesday, when Mexico goes against Poland. The bar will prioritize games featuring Central American and South American teams, according to its manager, but also will be showing all U.S. games.

For now, there are no drink specials at Simone’s, but the kitchen will be open for fans who want to purchase Mexican-inspired pub grub.

Fans of Team Mexico frequented this spot during World Cups past, and fans of Mexico’s club teams can catch games here throughout the season, making it a staple for any real ”futbol” fans.

Cleos, 1935 W. Chicago Ave.

Cleos already is preparing for the group-stage match between England and the United States at 1 p.m. Friday, for which it is expecting a rowdy crowd.

Cleos earned a reputation as one of Chicago’s premier soccer hubs after a discussion the bar’s ownership and management had 10 years ago. Trying to decide what the bar’s identity should be, they came to the conclusion that turning into a college football bar wouldn’t serve their community.

”We felt like soccer was something that our neighborhood could really get into,” soccer manager Maggie Ednie said.

Cleos isn’t home to any national team specifically, but a number of its patrons are supporters of the United States, Mexico, Germany and England.

Damen Tavern, 701 N. Damen Ave.

If Cleos ends up being too crowded, Damen Tavern will be open for business throughout the tournament with its usual drink deals: $3 Bud Lights and $25 buckets of domestic beers.

Bartender Amanda Lopez Martinez, who describes herself as a casual soccer fan, said the bar will be hosting a special screening of the Mexico-Argentina game next Saturday. The tavern will prioritize promoting the weekend games, which draw some of the largest fan bases in Chicago.

The Embassy Public House, 1435 W. Taylor St.

Lifelong soccer fan and general manager Adrian Lewis says The Embassy has received more than 120 reservations from fans who want to catch the U.S. games, which begin Monday against Wales.

”I’m a big football fan,” said Lewis, who is from England. ”Obviously, I’m looking forward to England and Wales because my parents were from Wales originally.”

The Embassy is an Irish-owned European pub that will be opening earlier than usual for the 7 a.m. matches. Fans can catch all of the matches there, including potential reruns of 4 a.m. games. The bar has special drink promotions planned, with Krombacher for Germany games and Modelo for Mexico games.

A.J. Hudson’s, 3801 N. Ashland Ave.

Formerly Ginger Ale House, A.J. Hudson’s has been a soccer staple in Chicago since the early ’90s. The Lake View bar has been known to draw a large crowd of England supporters but is a go-to spot for fans to watch any and all international soccer matches.

For the World Cup, it will be featuring sponsored cocktails for each team.

”Whether it’s a feature beer, spirit or cocktail, we’re trying to get as close to representing each country as possible,” A.J. Hudson’s bar manager said.

It won’t be showing the 4 a.m. games live, but it will have replays airing when it opens for 7 a.m. matches.

Chicago Fire World Cup watch parties

Fire Pitch, a community sports complex in North Center, is the Chicago Fire’s official hot spot for viewing all of the World Cup matches, except for those that kick off at 4 a.m. Soccer fans can enjoy access to specialty food and drinks, including quiches, pierogi and tacos.

The watch parties at Fire Pitch also include access to the Fire’s exclusive co-branded merchandise for fans of Mexico, Poland and Switzerland.

The Fire also will be hosting a watch party Friday in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier in anticipation of the United States-England match at 1 p.m. Admission to the Navy Pier watch party is free and is on a first-come, first-served basis. Food and beverages will be available for purchase.

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