There are plenty of spots in New York City to watch soccer on TV. But on the Lower East Side, at the newly opened the Ground, you can play the game, too, with one small, enclosed soccer field built inside the bar and another atop it.
Melvin Lopez, 25, a doorman on the Upper East Side, visited to enjoy a beer and the Football Association (FA) Cup final broadcast on the patio’s big-screen TVs, but by halftime, he was sweating through a pickup game on the roof.
“It’s the ultimate stop for a soccer guy,” Lopez told The Post.
Clad in matching Chelsea jerseys, Giuliano Oliveira, 35, and his toddler son, Lionel, traveled from Long Island City to see the game, too.
“We came down today to watch and play soccer and be around like-minded people.”
The Ground is the brainchild of Paul Sierros, 45, a Queens native who owns Mediterranean restaurants Kiki’s, Kiki’s Grill and Rotisserie and Forgtmenot, all on Division Street. After his father died in 2019, Sierros thought about closing one restaurant but had a revelation otherwise.
“I thought, ‘Wait, I don’t wanna give this up! I wanna build a f – – kin’ soccer place!’ ”
Sierros has years of experience as a contractor — he constructed a half-pipe in his Astoria backyard when he was a 14-year-old skateboarder — so he immediately built a small soccer field inside a bar he rented on Monroe Street. But through his window, Sierros could see an abandoned two-story building on Madison Street, shuttered after a previous life as a nightclub.
“I conceived the Ground right through my window,” Sierros said.
Sierros bought the building and quickly converted it into a soccer mecca. Between January and March 2020, he gutted the building down to the brick walls, added new support beams and painted everything white. On the ground floor he built a 2,500-square-foot field-turf soccer pitch behind Plexiglas windows, while on the roof a second 2,100-square-foot concrete field opened to the Manhattan Bridge and the sky.
COVID-19 slowed the bar’s launch, but it officially opened in March, and today it sells beer and wine to patrons watching international games on TV or playing on the fields.
Miri Gotz, 34, loves soccer and her gig as manager of the Ground.
“If I could make up a job, I couldn’t come up with a better one than this. The Ground is very down-to-Earth, not a fancy, stuck-up place. The games can be intense, but when they’re over, they’re over.”
The Ground’s men’s soccer league plays on Monday evenings, while kids’ clinics are offered Saturdays and Mondays. “Just Play” events are scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays, where strangers sign up online and come together to play — “It’s like Tinder for soccer,” Gotz explained — while pickup games are Wednesdays and Fridays. The league and clinics require official registration and money, but anyone with $20 and a love of the game can drop in to play pickup.
The children’s clinics are especially welcomed by local couple Samson Oshunrinde and Leigh Atwell, who watched the FA Cup broadcast on the bar’s patio while their kids played inside.
“This place probably saved my marriage,” Oshunrinde, 55, an architect, laughed. “It’s a place to go for the boys to run around.”
“It’s perfect,” Atwell, 39, agreed. “We don’t worry what the kids are up to here.”
The Ground’s reputation is already well established, with world superstar Samuel Eto’o having visited and retired US national team goalkeeper Tim Howard stopping in to “talk to the kids,” said Marius Bugge, Sierros’ friend and a partner at the Ground. There are big matches on the horizon — the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League final on Saturday and the UEFA Euro and Copa América tournaments starting in June. Beyond that, what does the Ground have planned?
Bugge, 47, said that while he can’t provide specifics, big things are in the bar’s future.
“It’s been a strange year with COVID, but now it’s all happening, so keep an eye out!”
As a soccer true believer, Sierros hopes so.
“I don’t care about the money, but the experience. And it makes me so happy when kids come here and learn the real heart of soccer instead of sitting home and playing PlayStation.”
The Ground, 130 Madison St.; 646-596-7768, GroundNYC.com