- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

Hundreds of sleep-deprived but eager soccer fans crowded into Lucky Bar in Dupont Circle hours before sunrise to watch the Japan-hosted World Cup in 2002.

Four years later, bar owners are sensing even more excitement about the monthlong tournament, not just from die-hard soccer fans. And with the time difference between Germany and Washington only six hours, establishments can open during normal business hours instead of the middle of the night.

That’s why they have prepared to do whatever it takes to capitalize on the tournament, which starts today and runs through July 9. Owners have extended business hours, stocked up on menu items, added drink and food specials to their menus, and are offering their own games to entice fans into their bars.

“We’re stocked up like the Alamo over here — we’ve got a lot of inventory,” owner Paul Lusty said.

Christopher Gibbs, restaurant manager of Ned Devine’s Irish Pub in Herndon, noticed firsthand the demand to show the games.

“My phone has been ringing a lot this year. More people are trying to watch the World Cup,” Mr. Gibbs said. “Fifty people could turn into 200 people watching it. If England was still winning late in the World Cup, we could get a crowd of more than 300.”

Besides having specials on select draft beers, Ned Devine’s has ordered customized soccer uniforms bearing the bar’s name to sell to customers.

The bar will open at least two hours early for the 9 a.m. games. But bar owners prefer these hours over the 2002 World Cup, in which businesses sometimes had to open around 4 a.m. to show the games.

“This year we won’t have that problem,” said Gavin Shawn Nazareth, a shift manager at Summers Grill and Sports Bar in Arlington. “Because of the time difference and better hours, we’re expecting a lot of people to come, especially during the popular games.”

And particular teams make all the difference for business, said Ronan Corbett of Fado’s Irish Pub on Seventh Street Northwest.

“It’s all about the game. Who’s playing who,” Mr. Corbett said, referencing the games the United States, Netherlands and Britain are playing in. Ireland did not win a spot in the tournament.

But Mr. Corbett said bar attendance probably will stay consistent until June 24, when the second round begins. “From there, we expect big crowds all the time,” he said.

Also offering door prizes and giveaways, Fado’s will be selling a food-and-drink special normally worth $22 for $16.50, Mr. Corbett said. Fado’s Web site (www.fadoirishpub.com) also features an online Fantasy League soccer competition in which one person can win a $500 prize.

Bar owners note that soccer, considered almost sacred in parts of Europe, the Middle East and South America, may be catching on in the Washington area, partly because of its large immigrant population and the growth of soccer leagues.

“Here in D.C., the Brazilians are finding a place to drink and start rooting,” said Brazilian-born Alexandra Athayde, 30, who is in the country on a work visa as a lobbyist. She is confident Brazil will repeat as the World Cup’s winner. And she doesn’t plan to watch it at home on cable.

“Especially being Brazilian, the fun part is being with the fans. If you watch it at home, you lose part of the entertainment,” said Ms. Athayde, who expects to spend as much as $100 per game at a bar.

“I’ll probably go bankrupt by the end of the World Cup,” she said, laughing.

The growth of soccer leagues in the United States could be translating into more soccer interest, said Janet Hughs, treasurer of the Washington Area Women’s Soccer League.

“More people are definitely playing soccer. You can see that in the growth of youth leagues, women’s leagues and all the Latino and other ethnic leagues. Even with WAWSL, we’ve grown to over 30 teams in the last six years and are expanding in to over 30 divisions,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“I think that as more kids are playing, they are watching the World Cup more. And, with the surge in adult playing, there is definitely a surge in watching the games,” she said.

Guapos Restaurant in Bethesda also is showing the games for the first time, said General Manager Luis Diaz.

“We had a lot of people that love soccer, and some of them wanted us to show it. And we actually got calls from people asking if we will be showing the games,” Mr. Diaz said.

Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse will show the World Cup for the first time. The movie theater has a 20-foot screen for major sports event, from the World Series to the Super Bowl.

“I think this one’s got a pretty good buzz, especially around this area. Any time an exciting sports game comes up, we’re kind of looked on to show it. So it pushed us to do it,” co-owner Tim Clark said.

The Drafthouse will show morning games Monday through Friday, even though it normally does not open until 6:45 p.m. weekdays.

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