The line formed at noon. In front of me was a guy in a Brett Favre jersey. In front of him was a guy in a Aaron Rodgers jersey. Looking through the window, I could see a man at the bar wearing a Bart Starr jersey.
This was a typical Sunday at Kettle of Fish, where, during fall, for a few hours every week, this little corner of Greenwich Village shines Green & Gold, the colors of the Green Bay Packers. Fourteen dollars at the door gets you access to the any of the dark bar’s six televisions, and two tickets, which can be exchanged for beer or bratwurst, the only hot food the bar serves.
Each of those screens shows the Packers. This isn’t one of those sports bars where you have to share the oxygen with the odious fans of other teams—it’s wall-to-wall Packer backers. Though, during the recent contest against the Buffalo Bills, I did locate a lone Bills fan. He looked nervous, like a cornered rat. When quizzed, he walked back his loyalties. “I’m not really that big a Bills fan,” he said. Sensing that wasn’t enough, he added, “They stink.” (They did stink that day: The Packers beat them 22 to 0.)
The Buffalo fan has been brought by a guy named Ryan, a Kettle stalwart. A native of Green Bay, he’s been coming on game day for 14 years. “The Packers had something on their website that said where you could watch games outside of Wisconsin,” he said while smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk during halftime. “It led me here.” Ryan guessed he had missed maybe two games over the years. He pulled out a yellow card, which is punched every time you attend a game. If you have enough holes at the end of the season, you can buy entry to the playoff games, which typically sell out.
Ryan’s constancy has endeared him to the bar’s owners, who now reserve a few stools for him at the front of the bar every week. (Forget about nabbing any of the bar stools; they’re mainly reserved.) “I think I might go fly-fishing with Patrick one of these days,” he said.
Patrick is Patrick Daley, the owner of Kettle of Fish. Daley is from the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. He moved to New York in 1980 and began bartending at Kettle of Fish the next year. Back then, the historic bar was still at 114 MacDougal Street, where it opened in 1950, first attracting Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso and, later, folkies like Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk. In 1986, when the bar moved to 130 West 3rd Street, Daley followed. In 1998, he bought the rights to the bar’s name and moved it to its current location, 59 Christopher Street, previously the low-ceilinged home of The Lion’s Head, which was once the haunt of Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin and Frank McCourt. All this history lends the Packers bar a curious literary patina.
There are other Packer bars in New York, including Mad River, The Three Monkeys, Angry Wade’s and Tom & Jerry. (At the latter two, you can also get bratwurst, which seems to be a required service.) But, according to Daley, they’re all copycats. “We were the first,” said Daley, who still speaks with the long, flat vowels of his native state. “Before us, there was nothing.”
At first, Daley watched games alone with his wife, Adriane, and the bartender. In 1999, a guy named Josh noticed a Packers sticker in the window and asked if Kettle aired games. Josh began bringing in friends, who would all gather at the round table in the back room. Soon, word spread on the Internet.
Josh was at that round table on a recent Sunday. He was joined by a couple pals from Eau Claire and his young son, Lou, who is a Rodgers fan. They all picked at paper plates piled with cheddar cheese and summer sausage. “It feels like you’re watching a game at home in your friend’s basement,” said Josh as he drew out his iPhone to show me a picture of Jerry Kramer, the Packer great from the Lombardi years, sitting at the very same table. Kramer paid a visit in 2014. “He asked my son to hold his Super Bowl ring for him,” Josh recalled. “He said it was too heavy.”
Step Inside Kettle of Fish
Not everyone at Kettle on Sundays is a regular. Each game attracts a few first-timers. Two young women carrying a pizza box came in halfway through the first quarter of the recent Packers-Redskins game. Bewildered at the lack of seats, they finally set the pie down on top of a pinball machine. “Is it always this busy?” they asked me.
Another Wisconsinite told me she was in town on business. “I was in my hotel working when I said, ‘The hell with this!'” She Googled “Packers” and up popped the Kettle. She was excited about the brats until I tell her they were from Usinger’s, the famous Milwaukee butcher. “It’s gotta be Johnsonville,” she insisted, “with lots of sauerkraut.”
Because these are Wisconsinites, who are cripplingly polite, you don’t see much of the boorish behavior associated with sports bars. They worry that they’re blocking your view of the television, and every time I found myself stuck with an empty pint glass, some concerned Cheesehead offered to take it back to the bar for me. When Clay Matthews, in what looked like a legit sack, was penalized for roughing the passer, one man jumped out of his chair in frustration. That was about as heated as it got.
Such setbacks are easily mollified by a round of “I Love My Green Bay Packers,” a tinny polka that is played several times each game. If that doesn’t work, nothing beats the blues back like “The Bears Still Suck,” a favorite Packer anthem. Its memorable chorus runs:
The Bears still suck,
The Bears still suck,
The Bears still suck,
The Bears still suck,
They really, really, really, really, really, really suck,
The Bears still suck.
The Green Bay Packers caught wind of Kettle of Fish early on and have shown their appreciation. Pepper Burruss, a longtime trainer with the franchise, feels the New York connection strongly. He was born in Wappinger Falls, New York, and worked for the New York Jets before moving to Green Bay in 1993. He wanted to send Daley something special, and finally settled on one of the six Gatorade coolers that sat on the sidelines during Super Bowl XLV. It’s signed by Burruss, his fellow trainers and Aaron Rodgers. “You keep the NYC Packer fans hydrated,” reads a message in marker on the bottom. “We’ll keep the Packers full.”
The other six days of the week, Kettle of Fish resembles an ordinary, old Greenwich Village bar, filled with ordinary, old Greenwich Villagers. The countless banners and helmets and figurines and knick-knacks that adorn the place every game day are nowhere to be seen. They are brought out before each contest and hauled away after the final play. I watched as a single server collected them all in a cardboard box.
During the game, she’d handled the entire barroom with ease, delivering countless pitchers and cheese plates while never breaking a sweat. I noticed, however, that she never glanced at the screens. Was she a Packer fan, I asked.
“I don’t like football,” she told me. “Which is a good thing. Otherwise, how would they all get their stuff?”