Just for Kicks

Just for KicksJust for KicksJust for Kicks

A couple descends the staircase inside Anna Liffey’s on Whitney Avenue. Carl has a hankering for a pint of Smithwick’s; Gabbie just wants Irish food, like when she and Carl studied in Limerick a few years back.

The pub is crowded with soccer fans watching a trio of matches. Carl and Gabbie manage to locate an available table in the middle of the room and give their drink orders to a waitress who, despite the mayhem of two giant screens, one at each end of the room, and throngs of cheering fans surrounding her, seems unflappable.

As the pair looks over the menu, Ian, a fan dressed in Arsenal red returns to his table next to theirs. “What’s your team?” Ian asks them. He seems pleased when he hears they don’t have a favorite—this means he can recruit them. Meanwhile, Ian’s buddy, Joel, decked out in West Ham maroon (which he explains is really called “claret”), isn’t having any of it.  He wants Carl and Gabbie on his team.

The waitress hears Ian touting Arsenal’s three Premier League titles (comparable to a World Series pennant in North America) as she brings over some pints. “It’s no matter,” she says. “Manchester United has won ten more titles than Arsenal, of course.” Ian and Joel look at each other. “Man U. fans always have to bring that up.”

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The pub itself plays no favorites, with lots of colors hung around the place:  red, claret, Newcastle black-and-white, Chelsea blue. It’s a Euro version of a man-cave with banners, flags, posters, and TV screens positioned around the wood-paneled walls and ceilings in the main bar area. The English Premier League is the main draw here (at least until the EPL season ends on May 11), but European Cup team fans fear not.  Champions League matches air here as well, as does virtually any match televised during business hours.

Anna Liffey’s menu is mostly traditional Irish fare, with a touch of imagination here and there. Gabbie goes classic with the Fish & Chips; Carl splurges on the Liffey Garbage Plate—a massive amount of food including eggs, bacon, steak, onions, jalapeños, cheddar cheese, mushrooms, red peppers and potatoes—and somehow finishes every bite.

Armed with input from their new acquaintances at Anna Liffey’s, Gabbie and Carl continue their crawl to O’Tooles, another Irish bar a few blocks away on Orange Street that markets itself as “the official home to watch soccer and rugby.” One of the earlier matches is playing on a large screen at O’Tooles’s and, sure enough, as soon as the couple pulls up at the bar to order, a man to Carl’s left asks, “What’s your team?”

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Gabbie is prepared this time; she names Real Madrid—mainly because Joel told her Real has won the most European Cups, but also because she likes the club’s solid white uniform. Carl goes with Everton, just because he likes the name. The bartender, upon hearing this, whirls around and outstretches his hand. “I’m an Everton man, myself. Liverpool-born and -raised!”

Gabbie and Carl snag their pints and walk to the other side of the bar, where a row of sturdy wooden booths line a wall away from the gameplay. O’Tooles, with its greater floor space, boasts enough space to take a break from the mania if desired. Likewise, there appear to be more non-fans here than at Liffey’s today; about half of the roughly 80 bar-goers aren’t here specifically to watch the matches.

The food menu at O’Tooles is extensive and eclectic. Besides traditional fare like Shepherd’s Pie and the Irish Breakfast, there are some twists to be found—for example, the Reuben Sliders. Full from Anna Liffey’s, Gabbie and Carl still opt for dessert—Bread Pudding and Crème Brulee—to help them stay sober for the ride home.

They realize that the booth at O’Tooles was what they had in mind when they first went to Anna Liffey’s. They weren’t soccer fans heading in; they simply wanted to throw back a few pints and enjoy some grub like they used to have in Limerick, with the feeling of being in an Irish pub. But they’re glad they went to Anna Liffey’s first. Now armed with some team alliances and rudimentary knowledge of the game and its culture, the only hesitation when asked “What’s your team?” in the future will be whether to answer “O’Tooles” or “Anna Liffey’s.”

Anna Liffey’s
17 Whitney Ave, New Haven (map)
Sun-Thurs 11am-12:30am, Fri-Sat 11am-1:30am
(203) 773-1776
157 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Sun-Thurs 11am-1am, Fri-Sat 11am-2 am
(203) 562-7468

Written by Will Gardner. Photo #1 by Dan Mims. Photos #2 and #3 by Will Gardner.

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Will Gardner is a writer and instructor who has written for The Portland Mercury, The Stranger and the Dallas Observer. He relocated to New Haven two years ago and has already visited 53 of Connecticut's State Parks, and refuses to move until he sees them all. He also has an unhealthy obsession with the Bee Gees.

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