For American soccer fans who had to wake up early for a month to watch the World Cup, the climax — an Argentina shootout win over France after tying 2-2 in regulation and 3-3 after overtime — was an instant classic. World Cup play began on Nov. 20 and ran for 16 days straight without a break, including seven 5 a.m. ET kickoffs and 11 four-game days.
For West Coasters, those 2 a.m. local time games were brutal — a hard sell for a casual to wake up and watch at home, let alone venture into the winter night and find a bar that’s open and showing the game.
But at the Richmond Republic Draught House, the only bar in San Francisco that showed every World Cup game, you could always find both.
“I’d wake up at midnight, stop by a few of my local watering holes and tell people, ‘Hey, I’m going over to watch the World Cup, if anyone wants to come with me,’” says Suket Mahal, the soccer addict first, bar manager second whose idea it was to open the Republic for all of the games.
Bars in San Francisco typically close at 2 a.m. because city law forbids the sale of alcohol from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. — but there isn’t any law that says a bar has to close.
Juiced up from the night before, friends and strangers in kind showed up to The Republic, a high-ceilinged, 5,000 square-foot bar located in the Inner Richmond a few blocks from Golden Gate Park. They maybe even sobered up a little.
“I think one reason people came is just because it was a place that was open,” says Mahal. “I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest, usually around 10 people came in for the 2 a.m. games. I watched maybe one game by myself. But those 2 AMers — I was pretty much collecting them off of the street.”
Sunday's final was the 64th game of the tournament and the 23rd time Mahal (photo, left) opened his doors before sunrise to anyone who wanted to watch the World Cup. He only fell asleep once: The tournament was well into the group stage and he was in the depths of a quasi-ridiculous schedule he had set for himself — “I figured if I went to bed at 5 p.m. and got up at 12 a.m. I’d be good” — was catching up to him.
He told one of his regulars, "Hey, if I do nod off, just wake me up if somebody comes in, OK?"
The 5 a.m. crowd was a little different. The first hour — remember, no booze — was coffee, water and breakfast burritos off a hot-skillet at the bar. But within a few minutes into halftime, 6 a.m. would hit to a chorus of hoots and Mahal busted out the Bloody Marys and mimosas.
By the time those 11 a.m. games rolled around featuring the sports’ heavyweights, the bar was packed and Mahal had been up for over 11 hours.
When the Republic was at its busiest he was at his most sleep-deprived.
During the quarterfinal between Argentina and the Netherlands, a friend pointed out Suket, who, in a trance-like state, was bussing tables, taking orders, hosting guests, making drinks, and maybe, if he was lucky, glancing at a screen and finding the ball in play.
His disheveled look made a lot more sense to me after our interview, where I learned that, unsurprisingly, sleeping like a vampire and working like a zombie for a few weeks comes at a cost. When I texted him for an interview, Mahal finally responded 48 hours later: “Sorry, I’ve been asleep for two days.” (Those were the two days between the quarterfinals and semifinals).
The Republic, owned by David Heft, wasn’t always a soccer bar, says Mahal, who was sold on soccer when, one time, his friend pulled him out of class in high school to watch a Champions League final.
“I had been to a lot of soccer bars,” says Mahal. “But one time, at a place that claimed to be a big soccer bar which I will not name, I got not only the worst service I’ve ever gotten in my life, but they couldn’t even get the game on — the only game on.
Mahal thought, "This is ridiculous. I work at a bar. I’ll just go open up my bar and watch games there. Anyone who wants to join me, can.’
That was five years ago. For the games since — whether they’re LaLiga, EPL, Concacaf Champions League, women’s Euros or men’s World Cup — the Richmond Republic has fostered a rich, tight-knit community of soccer-lovers.
“It’s about consistency and the community," he says. "For the love of the sport, that’s always why we opened early. And luckily for the owner, I’m on salary.”