NEW YORK — It’s a Friday night and the New York Islanders are trying to fend off a 3-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That means at the Offside Tavern in Manhattan that every TV is tuned to the game and nearly every customer seated outside the bar is wearing some sort of Islanders paraphernalia.
In the heart of New York Rangers country that might seem like an odd sight, but it’s the norm at the Islanders-themed bar, which has become a staple among Islanders fans. And it’s why the news was so heartbreaking to many when they announced on Sept. 3 that they would be closing their doors for good once the Islanders playoff run came to an end.
“Yeah, it’s hard,” Offside Tavern manager Thomas Fischetti told NYI Hockey Now. “Last Game 7 channel 2 news came by and I was just pausing and stuff. I don’t want to cry on the news. … It’s hard. The only reason we’re open now is it’s a labor of love and keeping it going for that.
“It’s emotional because you know no matter what it’s the end of our era for now.”
— Christian Arnold (@C_Arnold01) September 12, 2020
Like many other restaurants and bars in New York and around the country, Offside Tavern took a hit financially when the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown non-essential businesses earlier this year. The timing couldn’t have been worse as the 3-year-old bar started to hit its stride.
Fischetti described the bar as a “mom and pop shop.” He said it had been a group of friends that dropped what they were doing to join Offside Tavern owner Nick Costa to open up the bar in 2017.
“We didn’t just go without a fight,” Fischetti said. “We didn’t take it sitting down. We tried everything we can (to keep Offside Tavern open). The tables you see outside, the barrier, the rink, the partitions between those people, we built those by hand. Everything we’ve done has been hard work and labor. I’m glad we did so we get to have this at least.”
For the fans that have called Offside Tavern home, the news was saddening. While the Islanders don’t have the biggest fan base, they do have one of the more passionate ones in the National Hockey League.
And Offside became one of the few places where the Islanders community felt at home.
“It really became a huge refuge for Islanders fans,” Will Stevens, 32, said as he watched Game 3 with a group of friends. “It wasn’t just the once every three months you’d run into somebody with an Islanders hat on the subway. You actually get to see and talk with people. And remember Tommy Salo and Brian Strait and just random stuff. … Have these very niche sports conversations that only other Islanders fans really understand.”
Jack Herter, a 29-year-old who became a fan of the Islanders by the threat of disownment by his grandmother, echoed a similar sentiment on Friday night.
“It’s been really special to have a place that’s really embraced Islanders culture, Islanders fans,” Herter said. “The energy, the vibe, the camaraderie. Having drinks named after Islanders players and jokes and food. It really, really embraced everybody. That was really special. It is really special. It’s sad to see it going away.”
He added: “It really fostered a lot of really, really strong relationships and friendships. It brought people who were part of the same community, but maybe didn’t know it, together. That’s really special, especially for Islanders fans.”
That has come to light even more so than before since the announcement earlier this month. The outdoor seating area was filled at Offside Tavern on Friday night for Game 3 as the Islanders defeated Tampa Bay 5-3.
On Saturday, the bar announced on social media that they had been booked up for the remainder of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Offside Tavern will ride out the highs and lows of the Islanders postseason run with them with an even deeper meaning behind it. The bar made the decision to remain open through the playoffs so that everyone could have one more happy memory at Offside and as a way to say goodbye to the customers who have turned the bar into a home.
“(The Islanders) run is now our run and that’s the best way for it to be,” Fischetti said. “It’s a way for us to see people we may not see again. It’s a way for us to just give people a home. The people out there, those are our family. … It’s more just celebrating the place than anything else.”