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As Sports Bars Close, Transplanted Fans Lose Their Home Away From Home
Between 2010 and 2018, the Major League Baseball World Series trophy visited New York’s Second Avenue five times: twice for Boston Red Sox wins and three times for the San Francisco Giants. For about a decade, Bay Area bar Finnerty’s and Boston bar Professor Thom’s (“Behind enemy lines since 2005”) stood next to each other on Second Avenue and East 14th.
In the middle of a city that somehow still prefers the Yankees, Finnerty’s and Professor Thom’s served as unofficial embassies, defending pockets of Red Sox and Giants turf for diehard fans.
“We loved every minute of it: every late night watching West Coast games and every terrible pickleback shot,” said Ryan Kelly-Reno, an account manager. “We’d get to Finnerty’s four hours before coverage started just to get ‘our’ seats at the bar.”
“I always loved that the [staff] there would play hyphy music during commercials to hype the crowd up,” said marketer and Giants fan Victoria Kwan. “No other bar loved E-40 as much.”
Now, both Finnerty’s and Professor Thom’s are closed.
The pandemic has been hard for many sports bars, which depend on large crowds for their raison d’être. Out-of-towner bars also had a shrinking audience to contend with. “You’re in a city of transplants,” said Finnerty’s owner Dieter Seelig, “and in the pandemic you had a diaspora of people going back where they came from.”
Mostly, though, the demise of Finnerty’s was simple math. “We just didn’t see any financial way to reopen without saddling ourselves with a quarter million to a half million in debt,” Seelig said. Their rent burden was too high; many small landlords didn’t have the wiggle room to cut deals. Professor Thom’s did not respond to requests for comment.
Some of the Finnerty’s bar staff and patrons migrated to Pug Uglies, another bar Seelig owns. It was able to host a few socially-distanced gatherings during March Madness, but during baseball season, Giants fans are out of luck. Social distancing guidelines mean fewer patrons. In addition, even with new midnight hours in effect, nearly half of the team’s games this season will end after bars close. Seelig couldn’t justify the baseball cable package subscription.
Giants fans and Red Sox fans are not the only ones to lose their go-to bars this year. Foley’s, a bar popular with St. Louis Cardinals fans, also went under. Los Angeles Dodgers fans used to meet up to watch games at Taqueria St. Marks Place, which is currently closed.
Of the Major League Baseball teams with active fan groups in New York, the Cleveland Indians may be having the best 2021: their longtime bar The Liberty NYC is still open for watch parties.
Most out-of-towner bars are only incidentally out-of-towner. They hang out flags for teams depending on which fans gravitate their way. Eventually, some build up well-known identities: the Overlook, for example, bills itself as the NYC home for the Chicago Bears, the St. Louis Blues, and Texas A&M. Professor Thom’s was a University of Michigan bar on the side, thanks to the loyalties of one of its co-founders. Finnerty’s was unique: it repped the Bay Area all the time.
“The best part was just being able to come in on a random Tuesday afternoon and know there would always be someone to watch a game with,” said Ryan Neal, a reporter and Giant’s fan who met his former girlfriend at Finnerty’s.
Seelig, a lifelong New Yorker and a lifelong 49ers fan, opened Finnerty’s in 2009. He initially poached Bay Area sports devotees from a bar on 28th Street. He pointed out that he had more space and offered to play the sound on all the Bay Area games.
He suspects that the next few years will bring a similar shuffling of loyalties. This baseball season, though, most out-of-state fans will have to root against the Yankees from home.
Editor’s Note: A line about the number of times the World Series trophy has visited First Avenue was revised to provide more context.
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