You don’t have to travel more than 3,000 miles from Pitt’s campus for authentic British Isles eats accompanied by a warm atmosphere. In fact, it’s just a bus ride away on Port Authority’s 54 line.
Piper’s Pub on East Carson Street in South Side serves cuisine of the British Isles while providing a game-day sanctuary for Pittsburgh soccer fans.
Piper’s Pub, which started out as an English-style pub in 1999, did not originally broadcast English Premier League soccer games. A customer suggested showing the matches, according to manager Hart Johnathan.
“We looked into [showing soccer matches], and no one else in the city was doing it at the time,” Johnathan said. “It was the age of satellites, so we just put a huge satellite dish on the roof and started showing as much soccer as we could.”
The decision paid off: Piper’s Pub is the most popular soccer bar in Pittsburgh today. Johnathan said the growing popularity of European soccer in the United States contributed to the establishment’s success, and the almost year-round international soccer schedule brings consistent traffic to the pub.
“Four or five years ago, we could only show a couple of games a day — now it’s NBC showing every Premier League game every weekend, so we get crowds for every game,” Johnathan said.
With both bar and booth seating, soccer fans can get rowdy, while less soccer-inclined diners can enjoy a casual meal.
The gatherings of fans, though, can keep their interest in the sport alive.
“The best way to watch sports is with someone who loves it, too — it’s kind of like how there are Steelers bars across the country,” Johnathan said. “People flock to the soccer bars to be a part of the team.”
Piper’s recent growth has mirrored that of the U.S. soccer fandom in recent years. Roger Bennett, a New York-based soccer pundit for The New York Times and ESPN: The Magazine and an Everton F.C. fan, said the sport’s growth in the United States is no coincidence.
“Soccer is the perfect sport for the Internet era,” he said. “American fans can follow games and instantaneously track information from global leagues.”
Still, he added, the ability to go to a bar early in the morning and root for their team helps fans stay invested.
At Piper’s, some teams have a consistent group of devotees of five to 10 people. For larger matchups, as many as three dozen people file into Piper’s to have a beer and cheer on their favorite teams.
“We’ve seen it grow because we can consistently show [fans’ favorite] matches every week. So you know these people feel like they have a home to watch soccer,” Johnathan said.
Johnathan and Courtney Leavitt, a server at Piper’s Pub, agree that there are five distinct categories of their patrons: the soccer crowd, who arrive whenever the Premier League is on; the brunch crowd on the weekends; the local crowd, residents of South Side who come on weekdays for dinner; the whiskey crowd enthused by the pub’s vast selection; and finally those from around the city who recognize Piper’s Pub for its good food and great beer.
One patron who falls under the category of the “soccer crowd” is fourth-year Spanish major Sam Bender, who watched an important Tottenham-Arsenal matchup at Piper’s a few years ago. Bender, a soccer enthusiast, was relieved to find an environment of like-minded fans.
“[I really liked] the sense of community there,” Bender said of the pub’s atmosphere on game day. “It definitely beats watching it on a computer at home by yourself.”
According to Bender, the restaurant’s atmosphere can become intense once the matches begin.
“It got loud there,” Bender said. “It was pretty raucous.”
For the customers less interested in sports, Piper’s still scores points with its cuisine.
According to Leavitt, the most popular dish is fish and chips, but the shepherd’s pie is a close second. When it comes to beer, Piper’s hosts brews that range from old faithfuls to new friends.
“The beer tap changes nearly every other day,” Leavitt said. “We always have new stuff on tap, good craft beers. We keep classics on tap as well — Guinness, Murphy’s and Belhaven.”
Piper’s Pub has more than 35 selections on tap as well as 25 bottled options. The beer menu is geographically diverse with choices from local Pennsylvanian breweries such as East End, classic American beers such as Miller and 24 international brews.
Bennett said the atmosphere of watching early games with authentic beer helps create a real soccer fandom.
“If you’re in a bar at 7 in the morning with a pint of Guinness, you have a social problem,” Bennett said. “If you’re in a bar at 7 in the morning with that same pint of Guinness and Chelsea is on TV, you’re a football fan.”