Florida’s Best Soccer Pubs
By Bill Ward
The half-light of early morning is slowly revealing the patio at MacDinton’s Irish Pub & Restaurant in Tampa. Jarvis Davis is darting between the outside bar and the inside kitchen, checking his inventory of fish and chips, bangers and mash, black and white pudding, and Guinness Stout.
It’s 7 a.m. in Florida – Tampa is barely awake – but it’s noon in England. Time for football, aka soccer.
In moments, MacDinton’s will be a cheerful cacophony of several dozen men and women, white, black, Indian, and Asian, sorted by team colors (today it’s blood red) and team chants (from playful rhymes to pointed insults), but sharing a love for the world’s game.
Fans like these have been showing up around dawn for more than a decade to watch soccer – from the World Cup to the English Premier League to Spain’s La Liga.
Today’s early match is a big one: Liverpool vs. Manchester United, two of the venerable giants of English football and regular hopefuls for national and European championships.
“Good morning, everybody,” Davis said to the 20 or so early risers, most of them wearing some version of a Man U jersey and shorts (mid-70s and climbing in Tampa, mid-60s and falling in the UK). “We’ll have the kitchen open in a few minutes, but our bartenders are ready now to take your drink orders. Y’all enjoy yourselves.”
MacDinton’s, in both Tampa and St. Petersburg, is one of Florida’s “Best Soccer Pubs.” They have made a commitment to soccer fans to show the biggest matches from around the world – even if that promise requires opening the doors with the sunrise.
And that crack-of-dawn reliability is the first of several qualities that are common among the 13 pubs listed at the end of this story.
What else makes a great soccer pub in the Sunshine State, where American football is king?
Here are the requirements:
- Soccer takes priority on all pub televisions – even on college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays – and management must stick by that decision.
- Pub staff must know which soccer games they can and cannot access through their network, cable and online television feeds.
- A good pub networks with the local soccer community, capitalizing on a passionate and growing audience.
MacDinton’s made these commitments more than a decade ago and is now the Tampa Bay area’s undisputed top soccer pub. During the 2010 World Cup, they even placed a Jumbotron television and a mini soccer pitch in their parking lot.
“Our owners (Barry O’Connor, Sean James and Marcus Winters) are Irish, so obviously they understand the passion behind soccer and great pub food,’’ said MacDinton’s General Manager Randy Esponda. “The way we found success was slowly building relationships with a variety of local soccer clubs – like the Manchester United Supporters Club of Tampa, the Gulf Coast Gooners (Arsenal), and the American Outlaws’ Tampa chapter for the U.S. national soccer teams. Those are people who are now regulars at our pub and promote us on their Facebook pages, by texting one another or just by word of mouth.”
Chris Borzell, a local lawyer, has been watching soccer here for seven years. This day, he is a solitary Liverpool man in a sea of Man U fans, but no one dishes out more good-natured gibes. He could go to another pub friendlier to his side, but contrary to the Liverpool anthem (You’ll Never Walk Alone), Borzell has a taste for being outnumbered. He “likes to talk a lot of trash” and he likes MacDinton’s.
“I think we are really fortunate to have a bar in our area that is totally dedicated to soccer,” Borzell said. “For the Premier League, the El Clásico (Real Madrid vs. Barcelona), the World Cup – and big soccer games – this is the spot, and everyone in our area knows it.”
Paul MacLeod, originally from Withington, England, but now living in Tampa Bay, said that – besides the sunshine, of course – what he likes about soccer pubs in Florida is how friendly and knowledgeable the fans have become.
“Over here, there’s a lot of friendly banter and in England, well, it can get a bit unpleasant at times, especially if you find yourself in the wrong pub,” said MacLeod, 25, a Manchester United supporter. “It’s just a great atmosphere here. You’re going to be welcomed for sure no matter who you support. And most people here really do know the game and the history of the clubs. They just don’t wear the strip (jersey) and cheer for the club.”
MacDinton’s bartender Chris Payne, 29, was born in the Merseyside town of Huyton, England, and moved to Ohio when he was 4. His parents were devout Liverpool fans and, naturally, so is he.
“I’m a little tired sometimes, especially for the 7:30 kickoffs, but I love working the weekend morning shifts for the matches,” Payne said as he carefully poured a pint of Guinness at the patio bar. “I mean what more could I ask for? I’m pouring beers and the Liverpool game is on.”
A short walk from the popular Church Street Station area in downtown Orlando, the Harp and Celt recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
“Early on, there was many a weekend I was sitting here in the bar by myself with the football on,” said the Harp and Celt’s co-owner, Kathy Day. “We opened in 2007 and a year later, the big economic crash hit, and that didn’t help. It was a rough for a few years but the U.S. (men’s national soccer team) qualifying for the last two World Cups helped, and so did the arrival of Orlando City (a Major League Soccer franchise that began play in 2015), whose games are walking distance from here.”
The Harp and Celt is a fixture now and it counts among its visitors former President Barack Obama and Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird, whose photos hang on the walls.
Most of Fado’s rooms were constructed in Dublin, then shipped piecemeal to South Florida for re-assembly. Overstuffed couches and lots and lots of wood are common, but each room at Fado also has a distinctive theme.
The “Victorian Long Hall” is an homage to the Long Hall at Trinity College and features cherry wood and red leather, shelving, a fireplace and stained glass, with high-top tables running the spine of the room.
Most important: Each room shows soccer. Cheers.
Here’s the list then. Most of these pubs’ websites and social media pages list upcoming soccer games to be shown, kickoff times, and what time the pub opens. Pub managers strongly suggest calling ahead to confirm the games to be shown and opening times.
FLORIDA’S BEST SOCCER PUBS
MacDinton’s Irish Pub, Tampa and St. Petersburg
Address: 405 S Howard Ave, Tampa, 33606; 242 1st Ave. N, St. Petersburg, 33701
Telephone: Tampa -- (813) 251-8999; St. Petersburg -- (727) 201-9783
The Horse & Jockey, South Pasadena
Address: 1155 Pasadena Ave. S, South Pasadena, 33707
Telephone: (727) 345-4995
Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg
Address: 123 4th St. S, St Petersburg, 33701
Telephone: (727) 898-3333
Address: 2257 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, 34237
Telephone: (941) 952-1730
Harp & Celt Authentic Pub and Restaurant, Orlando
Address: 25 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando, 32801
Telephone: (407) 481-2928
Lion’s Pride Orlando Soccer Pub & Grill
Address: 23 W Church St., Orlando, 32801
Telephone: (407) 203-4099
Fado Irish Pub
Address: 900 S Miami Ave., Miami, 33130
Telephone: (786) 924-0972
Fritz & Franz Bierhaus
Address: 60 Merrick Way, Coral Gables, 33134
Telephone: (305) 774-1883
Lion & Eagle English Pub
Address: 2401 N Federal Highway, Boca Raton, 33431
Telephone: (561) 447-7707
Culhane’s Irish Pub
Address: 967 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach, 32233
Telephone: (904) 249-9595
Lynch’s Irish Pub
Address: 514 1st Street N , Jacksonville Beach, 32250
Telephone: (904) 249-5181
NOTE TO READERS
Have we overlooked your pub for our list? Contact Bill Ward at email@example.com.