My hometown of Palo Alto, California is a melting pot of cultures, and as international community as you are likely to find anywhere in the world. Home to Stanford University, Palo Alto is an upscale mecca for students, entrepreneurs, and regular folks alike. When the World Cup takes center stage every four years, Palo Altans and our neighbors from around the world gather to celebrate our national allegiances, and commiserate our losses to soccer powerhouses like Germany, Brazil and...Ghana?
This time around, I was determined to find a way to celebrate the event with other people, so I investigated where there were gatherings to watch the games being held in South Africa. Although the HD TV in my house is just fine for viewing, it's more fun to watch with a group.
Here are some of the places I've watched these past few weeks, in case you're looking to watch the elimination games in Palo Alto or Stanford:
Pasta? Palo Alto: Pasta? as the name suggests is an Italian Restaurant in downtown Palo Alto on University Avenue. The food is good, but the mood was somewhat subdued on the day I dragged my co-workers out for lunch to see the game. It was not nearly as exciting as some of the other venues, because I think the crowd was a mixture of soccer fans and people who just wandered in for lunch. Pasta? is located at 326 University Avenue, Palo Alto, and is normally open from 10 am - 10 pm.
Tresidder Student Union & Coffee House (CoHo): The Stanford Coffee House or CoHo as it's known on campus has two large HD TVs set up for game-viewing. The day I was there, a group of Dutch students were lined up in front of one of the TVs like big orange birds on a wire wearing soccer ball hats, cheering on their team. CoHo has not only coffee drinks, but also a great selection of salads and sandwiches. It gets crowded at lunch time, so plan those 11:30 am games ahead of time. I was also told that there are TVs set up in the lounges in Tresidder for viewing, but I didn't see where these were located. CoHo is located at 459 Lagunita in the Tresidder Student Union, and is open 7 am - midnight weekdays and 9 am - midnight on weekends.
The Old Pro: The venerable Old Pro Bar is a more traditional sports bar, which was packed to the rafters the day I visited. There seem to be a long list of rules to follow, like "No saving seats" "$10 minimum" and "Share your table" and "Give up your credit card when you sit down." The food is greasy, typical bar food, so if you want a nice, healthy lunch, go elsewhere. This is probably the most exciting place in town to watch the games, however, with an enthusiastic, beer-fueled crowd that hangs on every move. Go early, or you might end up sitting with some inebriated know-it-all who will ruin the experience for you. Maybe that is part of the charm of a sports bar. I don't know. I don't get out to bars much anymore.
South Beach Cafe, San Francisco : We ventured out of the 'hood and headed to the Big City for the US-Ghana showdown on Saturday. We met up with our friends Matthew & Amanda in their neighborhood haunt, The South Beach Cafe. Matthew & Amanda are soccer, er, FOOTBALL fanatics who had a soccer-themed wedding, complete with a green wedding cake decorated to look like a soccer field with little men playing on it. They were able to answer questions that I had about the nuances of the game that I haven't yet learned by being a soccer mom.
Located on the corner of Embarcadero and Townsend, South Beach Cafe is a small self-service cafe offering thin crust pizza, sandwiches, and breakfast for a reasonable price. We arrived about an hour before game time, and there was no one in the place, but within ten minutes, it filled up and soon the standing-room-only crowd flowed out the door. The owner could not seem to find the HD channel, which made viewing a little fuzzy, but after two or three mimosas with freshly-squeezed orange juice, it didn't matter anyway.
Most of the crowd was cheering for US, and at one point the crowd broke into a U-S-A! U-S-A! chant. There were a few Ghana supporters in the mix, and they cheered loudly when their team scored, and were roundly congratulated at the end.
In 2002, we were traveling in Japan and Korea a week before the World Cup was held in those two countries. The excitement in the air was palpable; everywhere we went, there were banners welcoming World Cup visitors. In Korea, cab drivers had special phones to dial into translators for nearly every language on earth. Shops and kiosks were selling World Cup memorabilia on every corner. We came home to deafening silence about the games, but stayed up all night watching as Korea, a Cinderella team if ever there was one, made it all the way to the semi-finals. After that, I was hooked.
Unfortunately, both of my home teams (US and South Korea) have been knocked out in the Round of 16, but I am looking forward to the final games. If it means more mimosas and good company, I'm in all the way.
For a list of places to view the World Cup in San Francisco, check out The SF Weekly's fantastic directory of neighborhood bars showing the games. If you're interested in finding out how the rest of the world is celebrating the 2010 World Cup, check out my fellow Lonely Planet Blogsherpas posts on the World Cup.