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A Heaven for Barça Fans in New York City

Imagine you are a rabid F.C. Barcelona fan, stranded in (almost) soccer-free, baseball-dominated New York City and you need to watch a Barça game. Not only that, you want a place with like-minded peers, with some special atmosphere, in other words, you want a place crowded with Barcelona fans. Where do you go? Is there any hope for you? Well, actually, yes. There is a shiny, catalan-flavored oasis where you can go and feel like you're back home, in sunny Barcelona.

Its name is "El Mercat" and it's a catalan tapas bar just north of Little Italy. Founded in 2007, it became the official host for New York's F.C. Barcelona Fan Club almost a year ago, just a week before the historical 5-0. Previously, the "Penya (that's catalan for fan club) Blaugrana" of New York was based at "Nevada Smith's", an unassuming English-themed soccer pub in the East Village. After almost a decade there, the founders of the Penya felt they needed a place that would immerse the fans in a real Catalan atmosphere, a place where they could feel like they were back home, in Barcelona. That's how they met Jaime Reixach, who owns El Mercat, and decided to move the Fan Club to his tapas bar.

"It's great to bring all these people together and create a place in New York where all Catalan people and Barcelona fans alike can just come and celebrate", says the owner, Reixach. The place couldn't be more welcoming for Barcelona fans and Catalan people in general. The bar's walls are all covered with old first pages of "La Vanguardia", Barcelona's leading newspaper; you can also order an Estrella Damm or even a Moritz, the signature catalan beers, while you taste real "Pa' amb tomaquet" (bread and tomato) paired with the unmistakable Spanish ham, "jamon serrano".

The place attracts huge crowds every game day and the fans, mostly wearing Barça jerseys, roar and cheer like they were at Camp Nou. At the beginning of the game, the crowd diligently sings the hymn. During the match, chants of "Barça! Barça! Barça!" erupt spontaneously. Thousands of miles away, yet when you leave the bar you almost expect to see the Ramblas, not Broadway.

Even though at the bar you hear people speak mostly Catalan or Spanish, there are some real american fans here as well.

Quinn, who was born in Philadelphia and came to New York for his undergrad, is one of them. He became a Barça fan when he first visited the city back in 1999. During the game, he yells at the referee and rejoices at every goal as much as any native Barcelona fans. How does it feel being surrounded by so many local fans? "It's fantastic. It's the best atmosphere I've ever seen in the States for a Barça match. I don't think you can find anything like it anywhere else".

Catalan fans love it too. "Being here is being a little closer to my country, my city, and my life, my real life in Barcelona", explains Bernat, who moved to New York in early 2010 for graduate school and has been a loyal patron at the Fan Club ever since. Being able to be at "El Mercat" for him is the only way to survive being so far away from Barcelona, where he used to watch them at Camp Nou. "When I came here, that was the hardest thing for me".

Fortunately for him and countless other Barcelona fans, there's a perfect place for all "Cules" in the very heart of Manhattan.

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