It’s uncommon for fans of fierce rivals to select the same gathering point, but Lucky Bar has been a soccer hotspot since 1998. For many, the Connecticut Avenue venue, two blocks south of Dupont Circle, is a second home.
“There’s no threat of a brawl,” laughed Scott Brokaw, vice chairman of Capital City Blues, the official D.C. supporters’ club for Manchester City. “It’s all good fun.”
The bar has been there for them, and now, amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, adversaries have joined forces in raising money for their beloved tavern. They are selling gray T-shirts, stamped with the bar’s distinct green awning and a message: “DC’s Original Soccer Destination.”
Profits go to owner Paul Lusty to help offset losses and support his regular staff, which has dwindled from about 20 to three. On a good day, he said, business is 10 percent of what it once was.
“Arsenal, Manchester United and Man City do not usually work together,” said Lusty, a native of Wales who has lived in the D.C. area since 1990.
“It’s like we’ve succeeded where Woodrow Wilson failed and we’ve achieved world peace,” his manager, Kat Spears, said. “All right here in this little ol’ neighborhood bar.”
Preorders raised more than $4,000, Brokaw said, with additional shirts available for purchase at the bar and another production run ready, if necessary.
“There was friction in the past because new groups start up and someone says they were here first, but we all recognize what a special place Lucky Bar is and we don’t want to lose it,” said Josh Vaughan, who in 2009 founded D.C. Armoury for Arsenal supporters. “We want to get together and help. We want to help Paul and help the staff any way we can.”
Every dollar will help, Lusty said, but, “we are desperately hurting.”
“It’s the thought that counts,” he said. “It’s going to take tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands.”
Lusty, 59, said he is taking it day by day, hoping the health crisis improves so his business will survive. “We’re just trying to hang in there,” he said. As government loans dry up, he added, “I think we are going to see an avalanche of bars and restaurants closing.”
Lusty owns the property and has operated in the space since 1994, first as Planet Fred, a dance club, for two years, then Lucky Bar, which features three big screens and 22 other TVs for match-viewing inside and on the front patio.
It’s a destination not just for the Premier League; Lucky Bar is packed for international matches, such as the World Cup and Champions League. It shows other sports as well and, before the pandemic, it catered to the happy-hour crowd spilling out of office buildings between Dupont Circle and K Street.
At its heart, though, it is a soccer pub. “There is really no other place like it,” said Vaughn, who began visiting 20 years ago.
During the pandemic, it’s been a much quieter place. Not many members of the supporters’ groups have visited the bar.
When interest rises, such as for the FA Cup final last month between Arsenal and Chelsea, safety guidelines hold back occupancy to about 50. Under normal circumstances, fans would pack shoulder to shoulder and only the early arrivals would secure a coveted seat at the bar.
During the week, Lucky Bar is open just five hours. The time difference with England requires early openings on the weekends. Still, “there is barely anybody showing up for the games — four or five, maybe 10,” Lusty said. “Who wants to go to a bar where it’s dangerous?”
Without formal get-togethers, supporters’ groups have had Zoom watch parties; from home, members watch the match and exchange cheers and jeers.
Capital City Blues number 214 dues-paying members, making it Manchester City’s largest sanctioned supporters’ group in the United States and Canada, Brokaw said. DC Armoury counts about 50 and Red Devils DC, Manchester United’s local chapter, has at least 80.
Lusty hopes business picks up, but not too much “because you don’t want to be in a situation where it’s dangerous.”
Red Devils DC member Kevin Potocki, 23, hatched the T-shirt idea. He connected with representatives from the other groups. A vendor and graphic artist were lined up. The groups’ social media accounts spread the word.
Lusty is grateful for their efforts and hopeful for better days.
“Every day going down there, just trying to do it so we can keep a couple of guys we have in work and also for the public to see we are still here,” he said. “And when they can return, hopefully we will be there for them.”