Buffalo has been sorely lacking a bar dedicated solely to soccer a place where brightly colored shirts are worn, chants are bellowed, and the biggest matches are shown.
Luckily, a new place called Mes Que has stepped in to fill the void just in time for a busy summer soccer season.
National squads have taken the pitch this month for the quadrennial Euro 2012 tournament and will again in July and August for the Olympics. Buffalo's soccer fans are quickly realizing that Mes Que is the place to be for all the action.
Mes Que ("more than" in Catalan) is named after powerhouse FC Barcelona -- the team's motto is "Mes que un club." But supporters of all clubs are welcome. It has even become home base for FC Buffalo, which plays at nearby All-High Stadium.
Mes Que is essentially a big open bar area, flooded in the afternoon by natural light from windows looking out onto the foot and road traffic of Hertel Avenue. But one can see how, with its brick walls, lengthy wood bar and wall art inspired by soccer's corporate logos, it is easily transformed into a chic night spot.
People are predominantly there to watch soccer, but partner and local soccer hooligan Tony Christiano envisions Mes Que, which opened in April, as a place for a before-dinner drink when there isn't a big match on.
There are dining tables on the perimeter, including what Christiano calls a "private club table" in the back corner with its own flatscreen TV. Christiano promises to show whatever obscure match or other programming the reserving party desires.
The bar opened at noon on a recent Saturday for the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. When I met Jess and Kelly there around 2 p.m., the place was already teeming -- mostly with Chelsea supporters in blue shirts, including Kelly.
I maneuvered up to the bar, where my friends had staked out a couple of stools. Jess was leaving soon for work, and she offered me her spot at the bar. I ordered a Flying Bison Rusty Chain ($5.50) once we got the attention of our harried bartender, who was wearing the shirt of Juventus footballer Claudio Marchisio. Kelly stuck with vodka and soda water.
Mes Que had eight beers on draft and a wide array of favorites bottled. Hundreds of full and empty bottles of Harp, Newcastle, Heineken and PBR passed over the bar that day.
When the whole point of going to a bar is to watch TV, picture size and clarity are crucial. Mes Que is up to the task with its three glorious flat-screen TVs; two 60-inch sets are directly behind the bar.
After halftime, with the teams notched at zero, I switched to Smithwick's Irish ale to accompany my pizza concocted from chorizo, arugula pesto, Roma tomatoes and manchego cheese ($8). The staff was cranking out its gameday menu of pizzas from the small, open kitchen next to the bar. During normal hours, it has expanded gastropub offerings of tapas and taste plates.
When Bayern Munich scored in the 83rd minute, the atmosphere mostly deflated. Kelly and her fellow Chelsea supporters were crestfallen at their impending loss. But forward Didier Drogba responded for the Blues five minutes later, and the place erupted.
The match went into extra time tied at one, and the excitement was palpable. Chelsea went on to win in a penalty shoot-out. Kelly and the rest of the Chelsea fans were ecstatic as they screamed, hugged and jumped up and down. I was less enthralled, given that a Chelsea win meant my club -- cross-London rival Tottenham Hotspur -- would lose its spot in next year's Champions League field.
Kelly emerged from the bar into the late-afternoon sunshine in a state of euphoria; I emerged with a slight ringing in my ears.
With its friendly atmosphere and European flair, Mes Que is, indeed, "more than a club."
1420 Hertel Ave. 836-8800
Scene: Modeled on a European-style soccer bar and restaurant, it's the place locally for soccer fans.
Dress: Don your favorite club's shirt.
Hours: 4 to 11 pm. Monday through Saturday; 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Check mesque.com for additional hours for featured soccer games.