On most Saturday mornings, the Cinema Cafe in Fort Lauderdale turns into a pub, where men speaking with British and Irish accents gather to watch rugby and down a hearty meal similar to what they'd find in their homelands: fried eggs, English sausage, Irish bacon, grilled tomatoes, and toast. "They have that and a couple Guinnesses, and that's breakfast," says owner Joe Soto.
A look around the café, which serves as both movie house and restaurant, does in fact reveal black cans of Guinness Stout and frothy glasses of Bass Ale. Rugby matches are broadcast live via satellite from Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, where later time zones correspond with the brunch hour here. Taking in bloodsport and beer at 11 a.m. may seem excessive, but these blokes are true rugby fans, who find football in the United States a wimpy affair. (Pads and helmets are for sissies.) Closeup shots of players driving their heads full-force into opponents' guts and sporting bloody gashes are quite graphic, thanks to the theater's 24-foot-tall screen.
But violence is part of the game of rugby, which is roughly a cross between soccer and American football. End runs, scrums, and kicks draw hoots and groans from the audience, which, today, is made up predominantly of South Africans and a mix of Englishmen, Irishmen, and Australians, according to Dermot Murphy, an Irishman and rugby fan who helps Soto coordinate satellite coverage and promote the matches. Murphy says the few Americans who show up are usually players from amateur rugby clubs.
Otherwise, the café has a sizable European base from which to draw. Murphy claims that a significant South African presence is evident in the Las Olas businesses geared toward people of that nationality: an art gallery, the ZAN(Z)BAR restaurant, and the South Africa Airlines office. And the resident British population in Broward County is estimated at 30,000 to 40,000, according to the British Bureau of South Florida.
Today's match features the national teams from Australia and New Zealand, and for some reason the South Africans are supporting the Aussies. "New Zealand [has] already beaten South Africa," Murphy explains, "so they [are] cheering for the underdog."
"Cheering" is an appropriate description, because this crowd of about 25 men doesn't at all resemble the stadium-trashing hooligans Americans normally associate with European soccer and rugby. A mix of young professionals, yachtsmen, tradesmen, and hospitality workers, they're dressed casually but neatly in shorts, jeans, polo shirts, and Tshirts. The vittles, brew, and on-screen battle simply provide them with a slice of home.
A similar scene is played out in a few other area pubs -- such as the British-owned Trafalgar Arms and Waxy O'Connor's Irish pub -- where patrons eat native grub and watch the matches on TV screens. Murphy once owned a pub of his own, the Laughing Onion, which closed in February because of a lack of business. "The only time I really was making any money was with the rugby," he notes.
But offering rugby alone obviously didn't do the trick. So when Murphy pitched the rugby-breakfast idea to Joe Soto at Cinema Cafe in June, he emphasized what he viewed as a winning combination. "I knew there was interest in the rugby and that the ideal location would be a cinema where the guys could have a beer and a full menu -- and a 24-foot screen," he explains.
Thus far, the crowds have been small -- no more than 25 to 30 people. But Murphy and Soto are optimistic that by October word of mouth will have reached rugby fans of all stripes eager to watch World Cup matches on a big screen. Referring to recent Saturday matches, Murphy says, "These games introduce the Cinema Cafe to the rugby crowd."