From the outside, the Atlantic Bar and Grill looks like most any bar on an early Saturday morning. The sidewalk is empty, signs in the windows are switched off and the shades are firmly drawn. Looks closed .. except the front door has been left open.
Peek inside, though, and see that the Lincoln Square bar is packed with 80 or so people, all of them there to watch their favorite soccer team, Tottenham Hotspur.
These fans must get to the bar early if they want to watch their team play because Tottenham, or Spurs as they’re commonly called, play in the Premier League, the top soccer league in England and, arguably, all of Europe. The distance doesn’t make these fans any less passionate. They have created a community at the Atlantic in the form of Chicago Spurs, the official support group of Tottenham Hotspur in Chicago.
“It’s just the atmosphere here,” says Matt, a software developer from Lincoln Park and longtime member of Chicago Spurs. “Everyone’s excited together; everyone’s upset together. It’s like a family.”
Matt is somewhat of a senior member of Chicago Spurs, meaning he’s so reliably at every game that he has a barstool saved for him on match days. Other than that, there’s not much of a hierarchy to it. This is a group of people with a shared love that prefer to partake in their passion with like-minded individuals. A big family, like he says. If this family were to have a patriarch, it would be Cathal Lynch, the Atlantic’s owner.
Standing behind the bar on every match day, Lynch deftly orchestrates the action, making sure glasses are filled and energies remain high. He’s assisted by his son, 21-year-old Christopher, who darts through fans serving breakfast and collecting empties. Cathal picks me out among the throng, and I order a coffee. “Irish?” he asks. “Regular,” I respond. He groans with disappointment but serves me nonetheless.
Originally from County Clare in southwest Ireland, Lynch first got an American green card for the 1994 World Cup and decided to stay in the States. After about 10 years of bartending in downtown hotels, Lynch saw the property at 5062 N. Lincoln Ave. go on the market, and he scooped it up without hesitating. The Atlantic Bar and Grill opened in 2006.
Chicago Spurs moved in six years later in 2012 after a few members decided they wanted their own space away from the Globe, the popular soccer bar in North Center that hosts viewings for several Premier League teams.
“It started small, and then it just built up into kind of a family here, where they bring cookies, they take care of welcoming people, all the stuff,” Lynch said. “They’re a good group and they’re good fans and they’re good supporters and they’re good support to me. They’re good to have.”
Everyone in Chicago Spurs has their own reasons for waking up at “unsociable hours” to watch their favorite team, as Joe Leslie from Edgewater puts it. Joe is originally from Manchester, England, and grew up supporting Spurs. When he moved here to be with his wife, a native Chicagoan he met while teaching English in Korea, coming to the Atlantic for games was a no-brainer. He expected bandwagon fans, he said, but was happy to find a group of supporters that took this team as seriously as he did.
One supporter, Ann, who works as a paralegal for several beverage companies, became a fan in the 1990s when she was living in France and dating an Englishman who supported Spurs. A historically unfortunate team, Spurs reminded Ann of the Cubs. She now shows for almost every match day with a carton of baked goods to hand out to bar-goers, be they newcomers or longtime members.
“It’s how I deal with stress,” Ann said. “Being a Spurs fan, you become intimately aware of stressful situations, so baking is how I deal with stress, and it’s also just a fun way to bring everyone together.”
Nathan, a board member of Chicago Spurs, maybe sums it up best: “It’s almost like once you get hooked, it just works for you. I really love Tottenham, and I probably wouldn’t be as big of a fan if this wasn’t here.”