On Long Island, soccer's World Cup means a world class good time
If the Italian national soccer team makes it to the World Cup final next month, Bruno Pepe said his neighborhood in Franklin Square will look like a parade, with flags waving in the street and flying from car windows.
"You won't recognize the neighborhood," said Pepe, a member of the Frosinone Soccer Club. "We breathe world championship, and we breathe soccer."
Like thousands of soccer fans across Long Island, where the games hold a special place in many local bars, restaurants and living rooms, Pepe will tune in starting Thursday as the World Cup begins in Brazil.
For Ken Beecher, who was having a drink Wednesday afternoon at the Prost Grill and Garten in Garden City, the games are marked by friendly banter and ethnic and national pride.
"My German pride and my Irish pride bubbles up," said Beecher of Garden City, who has already picked out his game-watching bar for the World Cup. "It's all friendly."
Like the playoff beards grown by some hockey players and fans leading up to the Stanley Cup, some soccer fans have traditions of their own meant to improve their team's luck.
"Some people don't say they hope their team will do well," said Mario Celso, manager of Shackletons Bar and Grill, also in Franklin Square. "They don't want to jinx the team. They wear the same clothes they were wearing when their team did well and watch it with the same people."
But for others, the World Cup is about making new acquaintances and introducing friends to the sport.
"I invite friends who maybe don't know that much about soccer and they have a good time and they walk away knowing a few names and being more interested in the sport for the future," said Greg Maloney of Garden City, a bartender at Prost Grill -- a self-proclaimed soccer bar and a meeting place on game days for fans of the New York Cosmos.
For Plattduetsche Park Restaurant in Franklin Square, a German restaurant that shares property with a local Bavarian soccer club, the games are also about meeting new people and sharing in the excitement with fellow and opposing fans.
The atmosphere isn't crazy, it's fun, said Derrick Bradley, who works at the restaurant.
"The whole bar gets packed and people pass around these huge boots of beer. There's people for every team sitting next to each other, just having fun. It's the universal language of beer and shots."