Restaurant Open Early For Kicks
On this overcast day the restaurant and bar on Kavanaugh Boulevard in Little Rock is packed to the brim, from its dining room that usually seats around 60, to the large open patio area that has at least 100 people crammed in, with more fans wearing USA Soccer gear filtering in every minute.
Just before 1 p.M., the line to the patio’s bar is 30 people deep.
It will not get much shorter.
Every so often, the crowd erupts, either in bursts of excitement or dismay at the events unfolding on the patio’s 110-inch TV or the other smaller ones throughout the facility.
No, they’re not watching the Arkansas Razorbacks’ regular season finale against the Missouri Tigers. That game wouldn’t start for another 90 minutes and there was little trace of Razorback red in the crowd.
“USA! USA! USA!”
The masses converged on Hill Station, which opened in 2020, in order to watch the United States take on England in the World Cup. A watch party like this wouldn’t have been possible in 2018 when the U.S. Failed to qualify for the tournament.
Out in front of the restaurant, the street has been blocked off. Instead of cars passing by, children are kicking soccer balls on a makeshift soccer pitch, complete with turf and goals.
Anyone walking into the restaurant has to pass a long display of flags representing the nations competing in the International tournament.
All of this was the brainchild of Hill Station’s owner Daniel Bryant.
“Wanted to be able to work and watch the World Cup at the same time,” Bryant said during the first half of the game.
Bryant, along with some volunteers, have been at work since before 4 a.M.
That’s been the case everyday of the week, as the watch party for USA vs England isn’t a one-off. Hill Station is hosting soccer fans for every single game of the World Cup.
“That’s our mantra: every single match without exception,” Bryant said, “I was here at 4 am on Thanksgiving, and we made turkey and dressing and all that.”
And at least for a few more days, the first game starts at 4 a.M.
There’s an incentive for anyone willing to make a pre-dawn trip to a bar.
Soccer fans can buy a “passport” from the restaurant for $15. Each time they watch a new team, they get a stamp for that country.
“More stamps you get, the more kind of access to prizes and things you get,” Bryant said.
If someone manages to see all 32 teams in action, they’ll be put in a drawing to a trip to the 2026 World Cup.
“Locally,” Bryant is quick to add. “We’re not sending anybody to Mexico or Canada. Nashville, Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, somewhere like that.”
It’s not everyday someone is able to shut down a local street in order to install a temporary soccer pitch.
Bryan said he was appreciative of the city manager’s office in making that happen.
“We feel like the World Cup is probably the most, ironically — even though some of the countries participating are not the most diverse — inclusive event in the world because of how many countries are represented,” Bryant said. “And we knew we’d have a lot of people here so we told them it’d be a very inclusive event, I think that appealed to the city.”
“You go in there right now you’re going to see people from everywhere. … You’ve got people from Morocco, Senegal, lots of Asian countries, lots of Canadians, Serbians. English. There were too many English in there right now,” Bryant jokes.
Among the England natives packed into Hill Station was Neil Pedrick.
Originally from Devon, England, Pedrick has lived here for going on 32 years.
Pedrick, who works as a bartender at Samantha’s Tap Room & Wood Grill, arrived five hours before the game started.
“This is huge,” Pedrick said. “Like we only see the American [fans] every four years for this stuff. We’re here all the time. Daniel has done a great job of organizing this. Everybody needs to start coming here and watching the World Cup.”
Pedrick estimated he was one of about 30 England natives attending the party, where they’d see their national team play the U.S. To a 0-0 draw.
Bryant said roughly 20 to 30 fans had been showing up for the 4 a.M. Games with a group of “hardcore” fans who had shown up for every one.
Pedrick made it to one of those.
Among the hardcore, at least until Friday was, Ples Spradley.
“I skipped this morning … But I was here for the 7 a.M. Game,” Spradley said.
Spradley, who works at the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture, had plenty of motivation to get up at 3 a.M. To watch soccer.
The sport runs deep in his family.