San Francisco’s soccer bars gamely deal with the 2022 World Cup

World Cup Fever comes for everyone. Finnegans Wake, a Cole Valley dive bar that no one would confuse for a European ultras’ clubhouse, has been opening at 6:45 am during the tournament — approximately 23 minutes before Sunrise and a little under five hours before it normally opens on weekends. Even two patrons engaged in the quintessentially American argument about whether soccer is fundamentally boring were buzzing off the US men’s team win over Iran, which they had just watched minutes before at Finnegans.

At San Francisco’s true soccer bars, early-morning viewing parties are already the norm.

For McTeague’s Saloon, which nearby hotels often recommend to foreign travelers looking to watch their favorite club over a beer, opening at 6 am for soccer games is standard practice, whether there’s a World Cup on or not. But Qatar is three additional hours ahead of Europe, meaning group stage games were being played at 2 and 5 am Pacific time. Bartenders at the Lower Nob Hill staple are used to working early on Saturdays and Sundays, and a World Cup means those shifts are now every day that ends in a “y” for a couple of weeks.

What helps is that the true fans who show up really early, sometimes before even the bar opens up, are not a handful.

“Lots of people will start drinking at 6, but they’ll drink an Irish coffee for like an hour,” Jason Thiel, who has worked at McTeague’s for four years, told SFGATE. “But it’s just juices and sodas until then. They’re not big drinkers at 6 am, I don’t think. It’s like a beer or two for being out, plus they’re probably tired from the night before.”

Kezar Pub, located just outside its namesake stadium, is another establishment that’s been tackling the early starts rather cleanly thanks to its propensity to open early for Liverpool FC matches during the Premier League season. (A first-time visitor of the bar might notice the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” banner before they notice the actual bar sign.)

A couple of hours before the games start, the furniture is already moved to leave a little obstructing the sightlines of people wanting to watch games and to keep the counter to the Sole utilitarian purpose of ordering drinks and food. By the time the matches with teams with huge local followings come on, it’s nearly impossible to find a seat inside or go more than a few seconds without hearing some sort of exclamation from a fan. The high energy indoors is only matched by the hardworking bar and kitchen staff who have been around since before the crack of dawn.



You can’t make a wrong choice going to either bar for World Cup matches because each establishment is fully prepared to give anyone arriving the true Soccer Bar Experience no matter what hour of the day the games are on. This is even the case when, as bartenders from both places noted, things get a bit rowdier when the United States plays.

Thiel estimates that at the US vs. England game the Friday after Thanksgiving, there were anywhere from 300 to 400 people flowing through the bar, requiring a full bar staff, bar backs and a server.

Mary Lemos, who has worked at Kezar Pub for eight years, says opening for Liverpool matches and most World Cup games are one thing, but doing so for USMNT games is an entirely different animal. The bar has to prepare for more energetic, and Occasionally sloppier, crowds, meaning famous sawdust that regulars might recognize as only reserved for big-time Giants, Warriors and 49ers games is out in full effect to limit the damage from spilled drinks.

It’ll certainly be a tough day at work, and perhaps the respective staff at each bar was thankful when the USMNT was eliminated Saturday, but if there are any places that can handle such raucous supporters, it’s them.

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