What’s the best soccer bar in New York City? In all of America? Well, I’ve only found trouble when I bestow such honors, like the best soccer shop in New York City. Besides, such subjective classifications can prove difficult to support, like the greatest player of all time.
Here in New York City, I’m partial to the Kinsale Tavern, which is stumbling distance from Total Footblog’s world headquarters. And I’ve enjoyed breakfast at McCormack’s Pub more often than any diner I can think of. Also, I was quite impressed when I visited Woodwork out in Brooklyn (and not just for the “they’re coming out of the woodwork” jokes). But if anyone has earned the title, possibly even at the national level, it’s the Football Factory at Legend’s.
The Football Factory at Legend’s
Legend’s is located at 6 West 33rd Street in Manhattan, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, in the shadow of the Empire State Building. It looks, smells, and feels like your typical Irish sports bar, though just classy enough that you might be able to pull off a dinner there as a bona fide date.
Legend’s main floor and mezzanine are a classic sports bar, though more spacious and cleaner than most. Soccer reigns supreme, but you will also find lesser sports being broadcast as the pub sits only a few blocks from Madison Square Garden. The Football Factory is the downstairs lounge, and this space is dedicated entirely to the beautiful game.
The pub shows more than 100 live games per week from leagues all around the world. If it’s broadcast, they’ll probably be showing it. And when the big games are on, the entire establishment becomes the Football Factory. The upstairs is a little less intense, kind of like the nice seats at the stadium, whereas downstairs is where the supporters clubs gather.
And speaking of supporters clubs, the Football Factory has become the home away from home for the New York City chapters of nearly every side. Their “Stand Your Ground” motto has been embraced by more than 20 supporters clubs, including Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Borussia Dortmund, Bristol City, Chelsea, Fulham, Hamburg SV, Leicester City, Manchester United, Napoli, Newcastle United, New York Red Bulls, Norwich City, Paris Saint-Germain, Portland Timbers, Sheffield Wednesday, SK Brann, Watford, and West Ham United along with supporters clubs for the Scottish and US national teams. The place hosted 650 fans for a recent Red Bulls away game, setting a new Major League Soccer (MLS) record for a viewing party.
However, the real beauty of the Football Factory is that no matter who you support, you will feel welcome – even embraced – by the other supporters. And there’s a good chance you will run into a fellow fan, no matter how obscure your team may be. But it’s not just for fans; I’ve even spotted US national team players there on two occasions.
The New Soccer Museum
Already a crossroads of the game in New York City, Legend’s moved towards establishing itself as a true soccer mecca by becoming a living, drinking museum of soccer memorabilia. Apparently it all started with the donation of a signed Red Bulls jersey from Thierry Henry. Now the walls boast more than 100 signed jersey’s and classic photos (additional photos of the collection can be found on Total Footblog’s Facebook page), with balls and boots waiting to be put out on display as well. And given that the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta is now a piece of memorabilia itself, Legend’s may very well be onto something here.
Icons, the UK-based sports memorabilia company, has partnered with Legend’s to provide many of the jerseys and photos on display. The pub functions as a showroom for Icons, which has a multitude of similar items available for sale. In addition to the items on the walls, Legend’s will also host all US-based memorabilia signings for Icons, which is quite significant when you realize that the company has exclusive arrangements with players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
In addition to the generous Icons collection, Legend’s is also acquiring donations directly from clubs and their supporters. The plan is to continue to grow the collection (200 items will put them in the Guinness Book of World Records) and make the mezzanine area a showcase for American soccer, from MLS clubs to the national teams. The pub is working with the league and the New York Red Bulls to have a jersey signed and donated by every club that comes to play at Red Bull Arena. And the Colorado Rapids, who the Red Bulls recently crushed in their home opener, were kind enough to oblige.
Beyond the museum and memorabilia, Legend’s and its Football Factory are often the first choice for soccer-related events in the city. And the pub is actively looking to tie the two together, including plans to host dinners for the Welsh and Mexican national teams – and quite possibly secure some sort of signed memorabilia – when they visit for a friendly at Giants Stadium in May. The following month will see Argentina play Brazil at Giants Stadium. And given that Messi is an Icons athlete, well, I don’t want to start any rumors, but I bet he orders the fish and chips.
The last argument I’ll make for Legend’s claim as the best soccer bar in New York City (and quite possibly the United States) is from the historical perspective. Although it was founded in 2008, its roots go far deeper. The man behind the Football Factory is Jack Keane, the man behind the city’s first soccer bar, the now defunct Nevada Smith’s. So there’s clearly a historical precedent, though Nevada Smith’s was more like the old terraces whereas Legend’s is more indicative of the modern age of football.
But title’s aside (didn’t Klinsmann, of all people, claim that results don’t matter?), Legend’s and the Football Factory is something every New York City soccer fan should experience. And fans visiting from out of town - whether for an MLS match, international friendly, or just in the city on vacation – can find the beautiful people watching the beautiful game at this convenient soccer pub and (now) museum.
There’s no charge to see the collection, which is open during regular business hours (11 AM – 4 AM, seven days a week), and a good starting point is the “Walls of Fame” plaque immediately to the right of the door when you enter. Though I have serious objections about a photo of Maradona’s “Hand of Satan” goal being on display there. It’s even more sickening to think that he signed it with pride – worse still that he was surely compensated for it. It’s like having a signed portrait of Oswald with his rifle on display in a museum dedicated to President Kennedy.
That bit of unpleasantness aside, I can only hope this pub/museum hybrid thing catches on. Imagine being able to wander the Whitney with a pint in hand? It gives a whole new meaning to the appreciation of art.