When Williamsburg is mentioned, change is almost often the word that follows. Nestled at the top of Brooklyn between Bed-Stuy and Greenpoint, young people from all over the country flock to Williamsburg’s 2 square miles to become themselves personally, professionally, socially, and creatively. But it’s also home to mainstays that include a largely Puerto Rican and Jewish population who are immensely proud of their home along Bedford Avenue and its surrounding streets. Another neighborhood mainstay is Banter Bar, which has become a staple for soccer viewing in Brooklyn. We caught up with Chris Keller, one of the co-owners of Banter who has been in the area since 2009. Chris talks fondly about some of his favorite soccer memories, and how the game is his lifeblood.
Tommie Battle: Tell me how Banter got its start.
Chris Keller: I got together in 2009 and was working at Iona Bar, another great soccer bar in this neighborhood. I was working and opening up early for the Premier League games there, working a few nights a week, and got together with another bartender, who is my partner here, Connor. One of the owners at Iona and another partner were living out in San Francisco and we saw the space in the neighborhood open up and we thought we just needed to open up this gorgeous brick building. We were already talking about getting a spot together and then it's just snowballed from there.
TB: So how long had you been in the restaurant and the bar business prior to that?
CK: In and out my whole life. But I think at certain points, probably in the 90s I said never again. And then life has a funny way of changing things for you. In 2008 when I was working in high end art framing, I got into bartending for fun on the side opening up for Premier League games. Yeah, when my son was born then coupled with the [2008 economic] collapse I thought to myself “maybe I’ll turn to bartending.”
TB: So what made you and Connor decide on making this place a soccer bar?
CK: It was our interest. Iona had also been very busy, almost too busy for some of the games. This seemed like the right space since it was a little larger, and we would make a little more effort to bring people in and we became a bit of a destination. Not just for the neighborhood, but for Queens, further deeper in Brooklyn and then even people coming in from Manhattan, which was great for us.
TB: Soccer was still difficult to find on TV at one point back then, who were you showing first and what supporters were coming out?
CK: By that time, Fox had been showing games and I mean we were very lucky to live in the United States. If you talk to anyone from the UK who watched around that time, you’d know that it was difficult to catch all of the matches. We also had a pay-per-view that you could get into. So few spots would actually open up early and get a swath of expats who would search you out to try and watch the games and we can show almost everything.
TB: And then we get into New York City Football Club, how's your experience been with NYCFC supporters and the club itself making you a pub partner?
CK: When you have the likes of Patrick Vieira, Maxime Chanot, and other players coming in to meet everybody, those are great little moments and we definitely enjoyed that. I think if NYCFC and Banter hadn't partnered up, we wouldn't have gotten some of these initial supporters groups who came out. We have super nice, new people coming to the bar from different neighborhoods. That helps through other other things that we do, knowing that we show all these other games. So it really was definitely positive.
TB: That positivity was probably needed last year. How were you able to push through the pandemic and quarantine?
CK: It was definitely tough and heartbreaking to have to close. We understood there's nothing you can do. Mentally, we just tried to get through it and hope that everything turns out alright. Honestly, the people reached out. Our regulars, some of our most ardent football supporters came out and raised money for staff to help. We opened up just just to say “hi” to people in June of 2020, and that was great. We opened three hours a day, and when we're allowed to put seats outside, we've got some televisions, and it was great. People were coming out to watch every game outside just to bring a little bit of normalcy back. I think that was important. And it'd be tough to still be open if we didn't have that support. Because at a certain point, you think, “We're just we're just losing too much money. What are we going to do? It can't stay like this?” Well, we found a way.
Banter Bar is located at 132 Havemeyer St in Brooklyn, New York. Visit them on line at www.banterbrooklyn.com for more information.