Féile Bar Formula 1 Watch Party
Gregory Leporati

Formula 1

At New York’s Only Formula 1 Bar, Business Is Booming

It’s standing room only at Féile, an Irish pub in midtown Manhattan.

by Gregory Leporati

It’s 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday, and a line is already forming outside Féile, an Irish pub in midtown Manhattan. The bar is only about a block away from Madison Square Garden, but there are no Knicks or Rangers fans waiting to get in this early — instead, everyone is decked out in McLaren caps, Ferrari red, or oversized Lewis Hamilton T-shirts, all trying to snatch a coveted seat at the bar for the start of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

“At first glance, you’d think this is the hottest club in New York City,” says Chadron Edwards, a longtime Formula 1 fan and one of Féile’s regulars, who can’t help but laugh when he looks at the line forming. “Nope, it’s just a bunch of crazy F1 fans.”

For Féile, Formula 1’s popularity surge has been an unexpected boon. The bar began hosting watch parties about 12 years ago, carving out a niche for itself as the city’s only dedicated spot to catch all the races. But back then, the sport was relatively obscure in the United States, and these watch parties — often held early in the morning or very late at night — were far more subdued.

“We call it B.N. and A.N.: before Netflix and after Netflix,” jokes Kevin Ryan, one of Féile’s managers, referring to the smash hit Formula 1 docuseries Drive to Survive, which fueled the sport’s recent rise in the States. Between seating customers and sorting out reservations (which booked up months ago), Ryan can barely find time to chat, but he considers that a good problem to have. After all, he still remembers how things were 12 years ago during the early days.

“I’d open the bar with about eight folks, maybe 10, here to watch a race,” he says. “Now, we sometimes have a line wrapped around Sixth Avenue, as if it’s a new sneaker going on sale. We have to send overflow to our sister bar next door.”

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The most pronounced change, he says, has been the huge influx of female fans who have flocked to the sport. He notes that the packed crowds they’ve been drawing over the past couple of years have been just about evenly split between men and women, a fact that some patrons find quite surprising.

“Honestly, I kind of expected it to be a lot of sweaty dudes, more of a video-game vibe,” says Malcolm Matt, who’s attending his first watch party with a few friends. “But there’s a lot of cute girls here with their boyfriends, and they’re all wearing merch… Definitely a lot more fun than watching at home.”

There are plenty of women not with boyfriends, too, and many were not shy to admit that they were initially drawn to Formula 1 by its fashionable, attractive drivers. “I was intrigued by the boys but stayed for the sport,” says Val Antonio Cardozo, who arrived at Féile three hours before the race to claim a prime seat at the bar. Originally from Colombia, she’s decked out in Ferrari gear while chatting with her friend, Miquella Swart, a South African who moved to New York about a year ago for work.

“We call it B.N. and A.N.: before Netflix and after Netflix.”

“I wasn’t expecting much coming here for the first time, but it was packed,” says Swart, who is a devout Max Verstappen fangirl. “It’s so nice to walk into a place where you immediately feel like you’re part of a family.”

Seated next to them was Victoria Nastri, another newcomer to Formula 1, who echoed Féile’s “family” vibe that has provided her with a community of new friends. “When you literally Google where to watch F1 in New York City, Féile is all that pops up,” she says. “I came here by myself and felt immediately welcome. Everybody is just here to enjoy the race — and how often do you see this many women in a bar watching sports?”

Inside, the decor matches the occasion: Colorful Formula 1 team banners are hanging on the walls, and all of its televisions are showing the Sky Sports broadcast. As the formation lap begins, the crowd erupts in cheers as if they’re sitting in the grandstands themselves. The race itself proves to be fun, if predictable. Verstappen coasts to an easy victory, but there are some interesting moments along the way: The bar groans when fan-favorite Alpine driver Pierre Gasly retires with a gearbox issue on the opening lap; there are a handful of snickers as Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll bumps into a wall, ending his race early; and there’s an intriguing mix of cheers and gasps as Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez overtakes Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for second place.

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While some are laughing and kicking back drinks, others are taking things a bit more seriously. Edwards, for example, has his laptop and tablet wedged between his friends’ beers to watch alternate camera angles and track data. “It’s a great year if you love Max,” he laughs, while others peer over his shoulder.

As the race wraps up, people are slow to leave, lingering around a while to enjoy some final drinks and polish off their food. Some are already making plans to attend future watch parties, especially the American races: At last year’s U.S. Grand Prix, Red Bull brought two simulators to the bar for people to race each other, and for the Las Vegas Grand Prix, Féile hired a DJ to give the evening a pseudo dance-party vibe.

“I was here for Vegas last year at 3:30 a.m., half asleep, thinking ‘What am I doing?” Nastri laughs.

Ryan expects a similar — if not even more packed — crowd March 23 for the next race, the Australian Grand Prix that starts at midnight, featuring a DJ and giveaways. “We’ve really gone all in on this as much as we could,” he says, looking around at the packed crowd. “I just can’t believe what it’s turned into.”