Soccer is called the people’s game for a reason. Teams representing 203 countries began the road to the World Cup finals three years ago, playing 820 matches in pursuit of the other 31 berths available (Brazil qualified automatically as host). For the next five weeks – beginning Thursday and culminating with the final on July 13 – the planet’s gaze will be fixated upon every kick. In a multicultural city such as Toronto, that global appeal translates well. In Canada’s continued absence, Torontonians will unite under the flag of their birth, parentage or choice at venues across the city. Paul Attfield finds rallying points for the fans of each squad, and picks 10 places where you should start lining up now.
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As if the name wasn’t enough, a poster depicting the canary yellow-shirted members of the 2014 Brazilian World Cup team leaves you in no doubt as to where this establishment’s loyalties lie as you walk through the door, and wall-mounted images of Pele, the original Ronaldo and late Formula One driver Ayrton Senna form a veritable who’s who of the country’s sports stars once inside. The owner, Marcia Neves, who hails from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, has brought a taste of home with herwith numerous items depicting the region’s biggest soccer clubs, Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro, but as one of the popular teams in the world and the host of this year’s World Cup, the Brazilian bandwagon is open for business.
If it’s atmosphere that you’re after, then this popular Mexican hangout can provide it in spades. Though lacking in soccer-themed décor – it’s not a sports bar, don’t forget – for the World Cup, Toronto radio station Voces Latinas will be broadcasting from the restaurant for the first two Mexican games, against Cameroon and Brazil, ensuring that authentic mix of frenzied Spanish voices combined with some award-winning Mexican food. In its 10th year of business, El Rincon is acquiring a reputation as a hotspot for Mexican sporting action. “We’re not as big as any other latin countries like Colombia and Argentina,” says manager and Mexican native Sheyla Hassanille, “but I think after a number of years the Mexican community has grown and this is one of the spots known for that .”
While other establishments along the Danforth may offer a more authentically Greek dining experience, at Café Frappe the only thing liable to break are supporters’ hearts if Greece fails to make it out of one of the World Cup tournament’s easier groups. With what it lacks in soccer paraphernalia on the walls – a small club crest of PAOK FC of Thessaloniki in Northern Greece is the lone nod to tangible fanaticism – it more than makes up for with a passionate crowd of hard-core Greek fans. “Everybody comes here every Sunday to watch [soccer] in the [Greek] domestic league,” says Toronto native Bill Petru, who has been visiting the establishment for the last 12 years. “It’s just a good atmosphere, good coffee, good food.”
Opening in 2007, the Football Factory has rapidly become one of the go-to spots on the city’s soccer scene, showing games from all across the globe at all times of day. That the place would show the World Cup was a no-brainer but while fans of all colours and creeds will flock there during the five-week tournament, it has unwittingly become the destination of choice for Japanese fans. “When the national team plays they come out in droves,” says owner Patrick Penman. “We literally have between 80 and 90 Japanese young men and women cheering on their nation and having a great time of it and they seem to understand their football which is something you don’t normally see.”
A framed Manchester United shirt bearing the name of Welshman Ryan Giggs and photos of late Northern Irish legend George Best notwithstanding, this is very much an English enclave in the heart of Toronto. More intimate lounge than bar, the leather sofas and relaxed feel are exactly what co-owner Jamieson Kerr, an Essex-born Englishman and Manchester United supporter, was going for when he opened the establishment in 2009. “I always wanted to open a proper English pub – I felt Toronto was lacking in authenticity when it came it pubs – but I’m not going to lie, when I opened I thought immediately about football,” he says. From old footie board games to soccer-themed urinals – you’ll have to go to really understand – there might be livelier soccer spots in Toronto, but likely none match the sophistication of this British institution.
Italian supporters’ prayers were answered in 2006 when the soccer team captured the country’s fourth World Cup title, but if you need to add a little insurance that a fifth could be on the way in 2014, Puma and Café Diplomatico have teamed up to help out. Thanks to Puma’s #StartBelieving social media campaign, a mannequin in an Italian soccer jersey will be mounted in a shrine, complete with prayer bench and candles, outside Café Dip for the first weekend of the tournament as part of the Taste of Italy. For those whose idea of religion focuses more on a round ball, this Little Italy mainstay well be the most atmospheric place to take in the games in the whole city. “The first weekend of the World Cup is the weekend of the Taste of Little Italy so basically we have a five-day patio extension,” says general manager Rocco Mastrangelo Jr. “So we’ll be showing a game on a big video wall on the street with about a 250-seat capacity.”
Having opened not long before Argentina last reached the World Cup final in 1990 – “I cried that day,” owner Fabio Barenbaum recalls of his team’s 1-0 loss to then West Germany – Sky Ranch has seen a dramatic change in its clientele in the intervening 24 years, with the restaurant no longer simply the privy of displaced Argentines. “It used to be, now it’s a mixture of everyone,” says Mr. Barenbaum, who was born in Toronto of Argentine parents. Led by world superstar Lionel Messi, Argentine is tipped to go on a long run through the tournament, but the owner is hoping that his restaurant stays calm through the insanity. “The reason I don’t really advertise is because I don’t want that rowdy crowd,” he says. “I still want you to be able to come with your kids and watch a nice game and not hear the bad words, because Argentinians can get very mouthy.”
Beer and healthy German soccer debate are definitely on tap at the Musket. “These two idiots here, they cheer for [Borussia] Dortmund,” says Bayern Munich fan Gerhard Wembacher jokingly while introducing a couple of his friends at the bar. Come next week, when Germany kicks off its World Cup campaign, Mr. Webacher will be in Brazil to take in his 10th World Cup, but the trio will be united in their support of their fatherland. The Musket – named for the late owner’s love of muskets, many of which are on show on the walls – will be full to the brim with fans eager to sample traditional German fare and debate the merits of Bavarian beer while fervently cheering on the three-time world champions.
Canada may have failed to qualify for the World Cup finals once again – it’s been 28 long years for those still keeping count at home – but Toronto soccer fans can still root for one of their own at this downtown drinking hole, albeit one who will suit up in the colours of the United States in Brazil. “I have a friend who works for Toronto FC and he’s an avid Michael Bradley fan,” says general manager San Yoges, referring to the star midfielder who joined Toronto FC back in January. “He talked to me and said he has a [200 or so] friends who go to the TFC games and who also like Bradley, so when the USA is playing we’re going to make this the home bar for them.”
Formerly known as Carlo’s Sports Bar, new owner Antonio Santos changed the name 18 months ago as part of an ongoing bid to refurbish what has long been one of Toronto’s most famous haunts for Portugal fans. But while the name has changed, the atmosphere inside is unblemished, with walls covered in posters of Portugal’s current most famous son, Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as Mr. Santos’s favourite team, Lisbon’s famed Benfica club. Having previously run afoul of regulations for venue capacity during previous international soccer tournaments, Mr. Santos is expecting a similar rush of patriotism to take over his establishment when the madness officially begins on Thursday. “The Olympics are a big event,” he says matter-of-factly, “but World Cup soccer? That’s bigger, a lot bigger.”
Not cheering for one of the ten teams above? Check below for bars and restaurants hosting your teams' games this World Cup.
Fox and the Fiddle
La Rosa Chilena
Sports Centre Café
The Harlem Underground
Zazou Lounge/Le Saint Tropez
The Suya Spot
Panafest Sports Bar
Troika Vodka Boutique
South Korean Canadian Cultural Association
Interactive by Tom Cardoso. Photos by Fred Lum, Paul Attfield and Darren Calabrese.
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