When in doubt, ask the experts. With a taste for Guinness but only a minor predilection for English football and a deadline coming down the pike, I registered with the Seattle Sounders message board (www.soundercentral.com) under the screen name George Best, legendary forward with Manchester United, the first rock star of the sport, and, yeah, namesake of a record by English indie band the Wedding Present. My screen name choice results in a few pixilated snickers from fans, perhaps, of United's chief rival, Liverpool, but who cares; it gets me what I'm after. When the Northeast England Sunderland AFC (Association Football Club) is 1-0, smoke emanates from the small crowd at Fremont's George & Dragon (206 N. 36th St., 206-545-6864, www.georgeanddragon.com), the chief recommendation from the SounderCentral crew.
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At the G&D, satellite games are sometimes shown live, which means fans show up before 10 a.m. and coffee is the preferred tonic. It may only be 2 in the afternoon, but the bar is dark and smoky enough to pass for dusk. Much of the gang's been here for hours, so coffee mugs are being passed between rounds of stiffer stuff. The bar sits in the center of the room with two small pens on either side, separated by rails, each containing a large flat-screen television broadcasting a different match.
My Guinness and I have joined John, Mark, and Josh, all dressed in Manchester United's bright red. They've made the Dragon their second home. "We leave here occasionally and go back to our mailing addresses," Mark says. They find the bar's home-style decor appealing because "we're not there," John adds with a strong East London accent, nodding at the screen. As the Football Association's official rules of the game were drawn up in a pub— Oct. 26, 1863, in London's Freemason's Tavern—it seems appropriate to toast: "George Best, George Best, a drink to George Best!" John sings, and I clink my ale with their whiskeys, never mind Best's infamous alcoholism. "There's more singing and chanting in the U.K.," John adds, highlighting another cultural difference.
That evening at Qwest Field, the Sounders became the United Soccer Leagues' Division 1 champions, barely rippling the local press.
The Pickled Onion Pub (1314 Union Ave. N.E., Renton, 425-271-3629, www.pickledonionpub.com) prides itself on being the Eastside's only authentic English soccer pub; gaggles of regulars regularly pile in to watch English Premier League (EPL) matches and more, taking advantage of the pub's Setanta Sports subscription, which enables it to show sporting events from around the world. You can catch rugby, soccer, and football matches seven nights a week from England, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and beyond—all while tucked around the corner bar inside a Renton strip mall.
The day I visit, the only revelers are painted on the Pickled Onion's windows, but it's still worth the three-bus schlep. A patron samples a traditional English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and kidney beans. My Guinness is served pale and ice cold. A nearby customer, surprised at my hearty choice of ale, suggests the bartender bring me the lighter Boddingtons. After a taste, my full pint arrives with froth rising from the bottom of the glass. Someone asks if I'm drinking milk, and the more I look around, the rec-room comfort of the Pickled Onion—pull-tabs, billiards, Kiss and Beatles collectibles lining the ceiling—makes me crave the stuff, along with pub standards like fish and chips or bangers and mash, and maybe H.R. PufnStuf.
Speaking of fantasy, and Setanta, Fadó (801 First Ave., 206-264-2700, www.fadoirishpub.com) runs a fantasy soccer league based on the EPL with monthly prizes culminating in a $2,000 grand prize, and they're serious, uh, athletic supporters, too. The Seattle Fado Celtic Supporters Club meets at the bar to watch Celtic games and jeer their rivals, the Glasgow "Huns."
Owned by Jack Geary (who also owns Owl 'n Thistle in Post Alley) and located on a less-trafficked end of University, the Galway Arms (5257 University Way, 206-527-0404, www.owlnthistle.com/galhome.swf) is the ideal immigrant pub: the kind of place you hope to stumble upon as well as out of, whether or not there's a game on. Here, football and politics both start their share of arguments, but bartender Jason Clark shakes my hand, and almost immediately, Hette, seated to my left, strikes up a conversation about Midwestern punk rock. Following my usual Guinness, Hette suggests I try a Black Velvet, a mixture of Guinness and Strongbow Cider, which has a beautiful ombré effect.
The Galway stocks pub favorites like Stella Artois and Boddingtons to complement hearty, traditional fare like Guinness stew and shepherd's pie. I convince a patron to try the latter, which arrives resembling a family-size portion of mashed potatoes, along with two thickly-cut slices of homemade wheat bread. Come next week, when United pummels Arsenal, I just might be wearing red.