It’s not yet noon, but upstairs at Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill, the Guinness is already flowing. After all, it’s five o’clock somewhere, including London, where all the soccer fans focus their attention.
The English Premier League club Arsenal is playing, and as they do every time the team takes to the pitch, its Baltimore supporters are gathered at Abbey. Today’s match kicked off at 11 a.m., but some start as early as at 7 a.m., which doesn’t dissuade the Charm City Gooners, a play on the team’s nickname, The Gunners, from cheering on their team.
Ten years ago, owner Russ Miller opened the bar one morning for a friend who wanted to watch an Arsenal match. “He asked me if he could bring in an Arsenal scarf and hang it up,” Miller says. “Somebody else saw the scarf.” That somebody was Mike Kavanagh, who founded the Gooners in 2009.
There are four locations of Abbey, but this one on Marshall Street is the club’s home. Early game days start with donuts or breakfast sandwiches. Beer—especially European brews—and whiskey are popular any time soccer is on TV. Most fans congregate upstairs, giving the atmosphere a clubhouse feel. Miller even had one wall painted red with the Charm City Gooners crab and cannon logo and the names and jersey numbers of notable players.
For a late-morning start like this one, Abbey’s entire menu is available, and that can mean burgers made from any kind of meat. A slider trio with wild boar, red deer, and camel—yes, camel—called out to adventurous eaters. Simon Torres, the club’s co-branch manager since 2014, is superstitious, so he always orders bison with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mushrooms. Although the fans are intensely engaged in the game—exalting when Arsenal takes a 1-0 lead, dropping an occasional F-bomb when Wolverhampton scores the equalizer—they’re not rowdy.
A fun, family atmosphere permeates the bar. (Kids are welcome.) “I tell people the wonderful thing about the Premier League is you can get up on a Saturday morning, you can hang out with your friends and family, go to a bar like the Abbey, watch soccer, eat, drink, and shout at the TV, and two hours later you’re done and can go about your day,” says Kavanaugh.
The match ends in a draw, an unsatisfactory result to many Gooners. In the EPL, not all ties are created equal. But if the smiles on the faces of the fans are any indication, it seems not all Baltimore Saturday mornings are either.