By Dr. L.A. Gabay
When Paul Sierros invited his friends down to watch the English Premier League at his Lower East Side bar, Forgtmenot, he never imagined that his hospitality would morph into a three-level, multi-purpose event space—with two soccer pitches—under the Manhattan Bridge. The volume of friends and soccer fans showing up at Forgtmenot overflowed to such a degree that the restaurant could no longer contain patrons’ enormous interest and enthusiasm gathering outside onto Division Street.
Wanting to serve the people’s need to watch the world’s most popular game in a festive and communal environment, Sierros has come up with a solution in his new sports/dining/drinking mecca, The Ground. It’s located in Chinatown’s back streets and is home to the first indoor soccer pitch in Manhattan.
Sierros, in partnership with fellow soccer aficionado and Forgtmenot regular Jeremy Bolger, found and purchased an unlikely, yet ideal, spot on 130 Madison Street. In the 1990s, the unique, low-rise building was home to the after-hours club called Fun. Post-Fun, the space lay dormant for years before eventually retiring into a storage facility. Sierros and Bolger saw the unrealized potential of the property. They created an oasis on a compact Madison Street that highlights the open alleys on either side and offers a distinct restorative quality of fresh air and sunlight.
A GLOBAL GAMUT
Sierros and Bolger recruited two other Forgtmenot regulars, Marius Bugge and Miri Gotz, and they have turned their labor of love into a fully-immersive soccer experience. Their burgeoning patronage runs the geographical and generational gamut. It takes advantage of expansive kids programing (after-school and Saturdays), adult leagues, private parties, corporate events, birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and the like. Most evenings, groups of Europeans, South Americans, and local New Yorkers with various soccer skill levels show up for “open play.”
The Ground’s open rooftop and airy indoor pitch invite a quick, fun, and fast soccer style. Like kids freely playing in the streets overseas or pickup basketball in New York City, the 3 on 3 or 4 on 4 is exhilarating to play and electric to witness. The practical logistics to play traditional 11 v 11 in soccer in Manhattan is difficult to achieve. “To get six to eight people together to play a game makes competitive sense in terms of fun, exercise, and the camaraderie of being on the pitch,” effuses Sierros.
While providing a healthy and safe outlet to wellness and movement during the colder winter months, the venue is taking every available COVID-19 precaution, including temperature checks at the door, waivers to be signed, sanitizing stations throughout the venue, regular deep cleanings of the pitch, and open windows for flowing ventilation.
A SAFE PLACE
For those who prefer to sit rather than sweat, The Grounds’ 1,700 square foot patio with picnic benches feels like an upscale family reunion at a park with heat lamps and plenty of room for social distancing. People are spaced safely apart but are close enough to cheer, boo, and booze. Lovers of the sport can safely eat, drink, play, watch, and cheer for (or complain about) teams in several leagues worldwide.
The 55-inch TV is ideal for collective viewing but, conversely, just the right size as not to bombard everyone’s dining experience with the screen. Adding to the authentic NYC ambiance is the B, D, N, or Q trains’ frequent sonorous sounds passing over the bridge above.
The Ground offers full menu items from Forgtmenot as well as from Kiki’s, the Division Street restaurant, which Sierros also owns. Featuring traditional Greek and fusion Mexican-Mediterranean dishes, such as Kiki’s signature oven-roasted chicken with oregano-sprinkled, hand-cut fries, and Forgtmenot’s unforgettable breakfast burrito, customers place orders through a kiosk system. Within minutes, porters arrive with generously-portioned plates of high-end gastronomy.
To add further artfulness to the beautiful game, The Ground commissioned NYC street artist BX FOXX to paint one of her signature photorealistic murals. This stunning curbside Mt. Rushmore of soccer greats has become a destination unto itself. Passersby (often wearing soccer jerseys) enjoy getting their pictures taken next to the murals to pose with the likes of Diego Maradona, George Best, Sir Alex Ferguson, and legendary Italian defender Franco Baresi.
The Ground’s aesthetic transcends its soccer event space and forms a stunning landscape that even the non-fanatic can enjoy. However, nobody is more passionate than a soccer fan, and The Ground team is driven to purvey the sport and its surrounding culture. Sierros offers, “This is a place to teach and embrace the world’s most popular game in one of the more diverse parts of the city.” Sierros’ crew want to share their joy of the game and ensure that all generations of soccer devotees in New York City feel at home. This has always been their goal.
For more information on The Ground, visit groundnyc.com.