The Hooligans of Hrvatska

The Match: Cameroon v. Croatia

The Date: Wednesday, June 18

The Venue: Cafe Bar Scorpio in Astoria, Queens

Cafe Bar Scorpio
Cafe Bar Scorpio after Croatia’s 4-0 win over Cameroon

Croatia won yesterday, but you probably heard. At least you did if you live within a few miles of Cafe Bar Scorpio in Astoria.

After Croatia scored their first goal, the DJ jumped on the mic and belted Croatian folk songs. The crowd responded in those booming, bassy bellows that all Eastern European men seem capable of producing from their diaphragms and tobacco-stained lungs.

At 2-0, a goal that ignited the Croatian onslaught, the fans flung Karlovacka in circles around the room.

At 3-0, a guy climbed on top of the bar and started slamming the wooden rafters, which were decorated with 11 full Croatian kits. The guy happened to be beating the space between Rakitic and Modric. More fans tossed beer and Croatian pop music poured from the speakers. Other men were stomping and hammering the bar so hard that the floor literally shook.

At 4-0, there was a thunder storm of Karlovacka and Croatian hymns. Four young checkerboards surged past me to frolic in the mosh pit.

Croatian super fan
A Croatian reveler after goal number 3

By this point, half the people in the bar were openly smoking cigarettes. It’s like a Phish concert but with tobacco, Katie yelled to me.

“You can smoke in here you know!” the guy next to Katie and me proclaimed as he lit up.

No thanks. That same guy wasn’t exactly on my good side. He told me I looked like Luka Modric. But go ahead, buddy: Smoke, drink and be merry for that was a big win and a raucous place to celebrate.

For some reason, the guy in the checkered bucket hat sitting right in front of us refused to join the fun. Even when two other guys climbed onto his table he continued to live and die with every play. When Croatia blew a chance to make it 5-0, Bucket Hat thrust his hands to his face and seemed to weep. He then dramatically snapped his hands off his cheeks and looked around, incredulous. Everyone else was too busy hopping and hugging to notice. Hey, Bucket Hat — RELAX!

Scorpio was definitely the rowdiest spot I have been to during this World Cup. I encountered soccer Ultras a few times in Europe and I think these Croatian-Americans could compete (with the energy and passion, not the fascism). All they needed were fireworks stuffed down their jeans.

I paid $10 for a cover plus one drink ticket. The first guy I talked to, a big hairy bro, told me he got to Scorpio more than two hours before the opening game last week and couldn’t get inside because it was too packed. He said he went to another Croatian place down the street.

Before the national anthems, I chatted with Lydia and Jill, two young non-Croatians at Scorpio to support their friend Andrew, who wore an old-school checkered Dado Pršo jersey. None of us had ever been to Scorpio before, but we could sense the passion immediately. The bar sung much of their national anthem a capella.

Croatian checkerboards and sports memorabilia adorned most of the walls.  There were two clocks with one showing the time in New York City and the other, Zagreb.

A David Diehl Wall of Fame featured prominently behind the bar. Diehl was a former offensive lineman who won two Super Bowls with the G-Men. He has a huge Croatian crest tattooed on his left arm and he got a DUI after he crashed into parked cars while driving away from Scorpio during Euro 2012. A Drazen Petrovic jersey hung next to Diehl’s showcase. Petrovic was a terrific New Jersey Nets guard from Croatia. He died in a car crash in 1993 when he was just 28.

Astoria is experiencing an epidemic of World Cup Fever and I bet Scorpio has the highest temperature in the neighborhood (maybe the most vomiting too). I heard the Croatians singing before I even got inside and the energy continued to intensify as the match went on. The whole second half felt like a house party from Neighbors.

One last note: At halftime, the bar showed a cool ESPN feature contrasting the reactions of the crowd at Scorpio with a crowd at a Brazilian bar during the opening match of the World Cup. They showed how each location handled all the game’s biggest plays including Marcelo’s own goal, the phantom foul on Fred, Neymar’s PK and Oscar’s final goal. ESPN kept showing the same spot where Katie and I were standing, in the back of the bar near the most animated fans. By the end, the Scorpions were somber. I can’t imagine how Bucket Hat was feeling.

I’m glad they got to loosen up during this game.

OVERALL ATMOSPHERE: 8.5/10. It was a raucous, rockin’ group of supporters, though I felt a little alone in the crowd until Katie showed up and we dug deeper into the pack of hooligans. Special shout out to Croatian manager Niko Kovač who inspired a few high-pitched shrieks from the women in the crowd. “He’s sooo hot!” was the only message that punctured the persistent bellowing.

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