Game On: New York City Bars Get into Summer Spirit With Sports Teams

DNAinfo New York
By Jeanmarie Evelly

NEW YORK CITY — Who says you can't have a workout with your wheat beer?

Several city watering holes are giving regulars a chance to ditch the bar stool and get out on the field, sponsoring sports teams that let customers and staff bond through a cocktail of athletic competition — and a few cold ones after the game.

The leagues range from informal, liquor-lubed laugh-fests to organized, competitive teams that have hundreds of members and the deep pockets to match.

Hell Gate Social, at 12-21 Astoria Blvd. in Queens, hosts regular kickball games every other Sunday in Astoria Park, where the emphasis is more about fun than athletic ability.

"It's very Hell Gate-style. It's more like a crazy field pickup game, full of people who are hung over or drunk," said bartender Sal Milazzo.

In fact, games don't start until 2 p.m., to the benefit of any players who might still be recovering from the night before.

Matchups are casual and different teams are picked each week. Random walk-ons are welcome, too.

"We just made it really goofy and silly and anybody can walk in and play no matter how bad you are," Milazzo said. "After, everyone goes to Hell Gate and we eat and we watch a stupid movie on the projector outside."

While Hell Gate Social opts for a casual game, other bar teams have a more professional vibe, like East Village Bavarian beer garden Zum Schneider, which runs a co-ed soccer club with five separate teams, 200 players and a $70,000 yearly budget.

"The whole thing snowballed, and it became very popular," said Alexander Berscheid, a Zum Schneider regular who helped found the soccer club a decade ago and has since turned it into an incorporated and fully insured non-profit.

Berscheid, a soccer fan and recreational player originally from Germany, used to hang out at Zum Schneider after games back in 2003. His reputation as a soccer aficionado spurred the bar's owner, Sylvester Schneider, to ask him to help organize a team.

"In Germany, that happens a lot — there's a lot of privately organized teams among bars and bars that have their own teams," Berscheid said, adding that he rented a field on East 6th Street near the East River a few blocks from the bar and started asking players to sign up.

"I put a sign up on the men's room door, literally," he said, adding that the first two teams were small and made up of "a bunch of friends and a bunch of not so great soccer players."

But the popularity of the program grew over the years and drew more skilled players. Members, who pay $20 a month or $240 a year in dues, sport official uniforms and compete against teams all over the city.

Games take place all season, and interested players can sign up by filling out a membership form online.

Each fall, Zum Schneider organizes the Schneider Cup, a competition against other bar-run soccer teams, including French SoHo restaurant Jean Claude and East Village pub Phebes.

"This became a really competitive cup within the bar scene of New York," Berscheid said, adding that the winning team gets to take home a large glass trophy.

Despite the competition, Berscheid said one of the best parts of the club is the social aspect — members regularly get together for drinks, plus more organized group outings like camping and fishing trips.

"Our most important night is Tuesday night. It's our regular night, and afterwards we all head to the Zum Schneider and we have our 'stammtisch' — that’s a German word for a 'regular table,'" he said.

In Queens, several traditional Irish pubs participate in a borough-based Irish American softball league, which starts in June and runs until August.

"Part of the rules included having at least one passport-carrying Irish American on each of the teams," said Christopher Smith, who heads the team at Astoria pub The Irish Rover, at 37-18 28th Ave.

The league — which includes teams from Astoria pub The Quays and Bar 43 in Sunnyside — plays on Sundays at John Golden Park in Bayside.

It's free to play for the Irish Rover. People looking to join can talk to any of the bartenders or put their name on a sign-up sheet that is posted at the bar in May before the start of the season.

"It's a lot of fun," Smith said. "Some teams take it seriously, certain teams don't."

Some Brooklyn bars have their own softball league, too. For years, a number of watering holes have participated in Williamsburg Softball, a slow-pitch league that meets every Sunday for games in McCarren Park.

Organizer Holland Cowger says 14 of the league's 16 teams are sponsored by a neighborhood bar, among them R Bar, The Gibson, Pete's Candy Store and the Turkey's Nest.

"A lot of [players] are regulars that hang out at the bar, or knew someone who works at the bar," Cowger said. "The bars will sponsor opening day parties or get-togethers and things like that."

The league, which started in 1999, now has about 320 participants. Membership fees vary from team to team — some bars cover the costs, while other teams pay to play.

New members are brought in by either knowing someone on a team with an open spot, or by showing up to a scrimmage game the league hosts at the beginning of the season that serves as an informal try-out.

"It's close-knit. The teams are very close, like little fraternities. We have a Facebook page, we have a website, and it really allows for a lot of interaction," Cowger said.

"People get along great, and then we all hang out at the bars afterwards."