World Cup 2014 is here. Time for the world to become engulfed in its greatest sporting spectacle. Canada hasn't participated in the tournament since 1986, but T.O.'s wildly diverse soccer fans know how to party in style.
NOW has scoured the city for the best places to watch some of the lesser-known teams and enjoy lesser-known tipples. In most nations, watching sports in bars on 20-plus big screen TVs is all wrong. Here, find hole-in-the-wall hangouts where the drama of the game unfolds for fans on one solitary screen or venues that transport you to the old country along with others looking to do the same.
Look for tons of streets events, too. For example, on June 21, Panafest takes over the intersection of Jane and Sheppard, where back-to-back games featuring Ghana and Nigeria are on display. Snack on traditional fried yam ($12) and knock back a domestic beer ($5).
Grab your kit (uniform), keep an eye on the pitch (field) and spend a month soaking up the passion and revelry of teams of 11 men playing with the weight of their countries on their shoulders.
It's common practice for those without an allegiance in the World Cup to hop on the Brazilian bandwagon - and with good reason: they have a rhythmic style of play and the swagger of rock stars. There's no shortage of excitement in this year's host nation about its team, even though it's a youthful and untested squad.
And there are lots of spots to grab a glass of Brazil's national cocktail, the Caipirinha, featuring cachaça, distilled sugar cane liquor.
NOVO HORIZONTE, 1430 Dundas West, 416-534-5355. No reservations.
This sports bar has a boisterous, soccer-mad vibe and unique, imported brands of cachaça (Caiprinha cocktail $6). The party spills out onto the patio, where there is another TV. If Neymar, Brazil's shining star, starts potting goal after goal, the celebration may spill out onto the street.
BRAZILIAN STAR, 1242 Dundas West, 416-588-2967, facebook.com/brazilianstarrestaurant. Reservations.
If you're looking for something a little more intimate but no less enthusiastic, try the Star. It's got a larger food menu featuring Brazilian classics like feijoada ($25) and a comfortable back patio adorned in flags of competing nations. The barbecue's fired up during game time.
BANU IRANIAN KABOB AND VODKA BAR, 777 Queen West, 416-777-2268, banu.ca. Reservations.
The Iranians - Team Melli, as they are affectionately known - may only be participating in their fourth World Cup, but they're the top-ranked squad in Asia. Their June 21 match against heavyweight Argentina will be a heated battle, and this is the place to celebrate with Iranians.
Banu features a classic, clean interior with tiled tables and more than enough shisha to go around. Their house-blend vodka ($12/glass), not for sale at the LCBO, is the star amongst dozens of other cocktails, so you'll have no trouble either drowning your sorrows or sweetening the thrill of victory.
THE SUYA SPOT, 10-12 Bradstock, 416-742-7892, thesuyaspot.ca. Reservations.
The Nigerians first qualified for the World Cup in 1994 and have been mainstays at the tournament ever since, favouring a dramatic and relentless style of play. In light of recent political events, the eyes of the world will be on the Green Eagles. Nigerians in Toronto head to Suya Spot, which features a convivial atmosphere, authentic Nigerian food and a well-stocked bar.
PALDO GANGSAN, 694 Bloor West, 416-536-7517. Reservations.
Renowned for their speed, the Red Devils might not get the respect they always deserve, even though a fourth-place finish in 2002 did show the soccer world this team's strengths. Likewise, South Korean drinking culture deserves a fair shake. Cram into the tiny, sectioned-off booths at Paldo Gangsan, buy a few bottles of soju ($14.99/bottle) for the table and watch in awe on the TV above the bar. It's an authentic slice of South Korea, and with any luck you'll be shouting "Gun bae!" in no time.
OUZERI, 500A Danforth, 416-778-0500, ouzeri.com. Reservations.
Many remember the party on the Danforth 10 years ago after Greece pulled off one of the greatest upsets in soccer history by winning the Euro 2004 tournament. No one is giving the Piratiko much of a chance this year, but the atmosphere on the Danforth will still be electric. Don't get distracted by Ouzeri's funky decor or wall of wine. It's got some of the best imported ouzo on the strip ($7.25/glass of Ouzo 12) and promises a new TV in the sight lines of everyone in the resto.
COCINA DE DOÑA JULIA, 1545 Dupont, 416-536-4577. No reservations.
Ecuador may be another relative newcomer on the World Cup stage, but the nation's passion for soccer is deeply entrenched. Join Toronto's Ecuadorian community at this pretention-free restaurant. Take a seat at one of the rustic tables, grab a perfectly fried empanada and wash it down with a cheap bottle of beer. Don't get too comfortable, though: the June 20 match against Honduras will be intense.
AHENFIE PALACE BANQUET HALL, 4120 Steeles West, 416-709-8416, palacebanquet.com. No reservations.
In the Group of Death with Germany, Portugal and the United States, Ghana is in tough to advance past the group stage. That won't dampen the spirit here. The hall serves traditional Ghanaian food and has a standard stocked bar, and many patrons wear traditional dress. The Black Stars came within one penalty kick of qualifying for the semi-finals in 2010 so, as is always the case in the World Cup, you never know what can happen.
THE MUSKET, 40 Advance, 416-231-6488, musketrestaurant.com. No reservations.
The German team is a model of efficiency and always a reliable title contender. The youthful squad that finished third in 2010 is primed for another deep run. There's no more reliable bet for a jovial watching experience than the Musket, with its long, wooden tables and warm, cottage-like interior. German fans swig steins of imported German beer ($7/pint of Warsteiner or Dunkel) and keep an eye on talented players like goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and defender Philipp Lahm - if they play. Both are injured.