Changes at Pub Divide Soccer Fans

NevSmith 1Grace Maalouf Manchester United fans Leigh Mazzagetti and Marc McDermott watch a game at Nevada Smiths. The fallout from the departures of three longtime staffers caused several major soccer-team supporters’ clubs to leave the pub, which is something of an institution for local soccer fans.
Mercat 2Grace Maalouf FC Barcelona fans watch their team play at Village restaurant Mercat. The Barcelona fan club moved their headquarters to the Catalan dinner spot after several staffers left Nevada Smiths.

For a bar whose motto is “Where football is religion,” Nevada Smiths could be said to have suffered something of a Great Schism last year. As some sports fans (and East Village residents) may already be aware, two longtime staff members were fired in the spring and a third left in September.

In addition, Thomas McCarthy, a co-owner of the bar, sold his shares to his partner and uncle and left the business. Although none of the people who parted as a result of the disputes would offer details, the fallout was serious enough to cause several major soccer-team supporters’ clubs to leave Nevada’s.

Patrick McCarthy, now the sole proprietor of the bar, said the flight of some fans hurt but added that business now is good — and he’s looking to make changes at the Third Avenue mainstay.

A colorful renovation may be in store for the trademark black awning, more rugby will be included in the viewing schedules and new food and drink offerings are in the works. Mr. McCarthy said he plans to innovate by adding coffee and shepherd’s pie to the beer-heavy menu.

As for evergreen rumors about the bar changing locations, Mr. McCarthy said he knows “for a fact” that won’t happen.

“There will always be a Nevada Smiths as long as I’m in New York City,” he said, adding that he’s even hoping to open one on the West Side. After experiencing controversy over the recent firings (it was, he said, like being “kicked in the head”) Mr. McCarthy said he is finished with drama.

“I’ve moved on,” he said.

So have his erstwhile Nevada’s colleagues. Former bartender Jack Keane now holds court at Midtown bar and restaurant Legends, where many members of clubs that support English teams have migrated in support of him and the newly-instated Football Factory.

The Factory takes up the basement of a spacious split-level building on 33rd Street, its polished wood paneling a far cry from the worn-in charm of Mr. Keane’s former East Village haunt. There, Mr. Keane is keeping up relationships he developed with the clubs — many of which he helped form — during his 16 years at Nevada’s. His loyal regulars now include fans of Chelsea, Aston Villa, and Paris-St. Germain, among others.

The Local spoke to Mr. Keane in December, during a rare break from his new job. His iPad in hand, checking kickoff times “almost hourly” to ensure an accurate Web site, he said he has established relationships with major television networks, often working with them to negotiate live game feeds, and is hoping to coordinate visits from soccer luminaries.

Steve Neat, a member of the large Chelsea supporters’ club that followed Mr. Keane from Nevada’s, praised Mr. Keane’s willing to do things like open at 7 a.m. to show for a game played at noon in England. Mr. Neat said his club “had a good 12 years” at Nevada’s, but called the expansive Legends a good place for the group to grow.

Mr. Keane declined to discuss the details of his departure from Nevada’s

“It’s in the past. And I never dwell in the past,” he said.

His former pint-pouring partner, Kieron Slattery, followed Nevada’s co-founder Thomas McCarthy to the East Village restaurant Lunasa, which Mr. McCarthy has co-owned for the last eight years. Mr. Slattery, who worked at Nevada Smiths for nine years, said that a smattering of fans from his old place of employ wander in to say hello and watch games.

NevSmith 2Grace Maalouf Soccer fans watch multiple live games on Saturday morning at Village institution Nevada Smiths. Nevada’s owner Patrick McCarthy said he wants to expand, possibly opening a similar bar on the West Side.

But Lunasa isn’t known as a sports bar, so Thomas McCarthy said he is looking for another space, “hopefully something twice the size of Nevada’s, to open up a football Mecca where all the supporters’ clubs would be welcome.”

Nevada’s, at its apex, found a rare groove where “all the stars aligned” between management, staff, clubs and fans, Mr. Slattery said. He and Thomas McCarthy hope to recreate a similar atmosphere where the stars will re-align.

“It’s like the tribes are scattered to the winds at this stage, and we’re trying to get them back together,” Mr. Slattery said.

Not all the scattered tribes have migrated west, however. Some still in the East Village include supporters of Spanish giants FC Barcelona, who have moved to Catalan restaurant Mercat, at 45 Bond Street. Club president Jordi Esteve knew the owner, who was “willing to do the investments necessary” to accommodate the club; a few flat-screen televisions and satellite feeds later, the cozy dinner joint now works as an afternoon game-viewing locale. Mercat offers the Barcelona fans drinks and a limited menu, with tapas and sandwiches.

Recently, Mr. Esteve said, his club packed the small restaurant for Barcelona’s 5-0 smashing of archrival Real Madrid on Nov. 29, 2010.

Other Village soccer headquarters include The Blind Pig, on 14 Street between Second and Third Avenues, which serves as headquarters for a group of Arsenal fans, and 11th Street Bar, where many Liverpool fans watch their games.

Then there are the fans and clubs that have chosen to remain at Nevada’s. One of the largest is for the French team Olympique de Marseille, or OM.

“At the moment we have no reason to move,” said Thierry Julliard, a spokesman for the group.

Business at Nevada’s appeared to be brisk during a recent weekend.

Its name continues to bring in fans of every nationality and loyalty, Patrick McCarthy said. Asked what he would say to those hoping to set up competing soccer bars, he didn’t hesitate.

“I’d say the best of luck,” he said.