Horton Foote Jr. is watching the game from a table in the back of Professor Thom’s, the noted Boston sports bar on 2nd Avenue and 14th Street. It’s barely 5 p.m. on a Tuesday and the bar is getting more crowded by the minute.
“I still get the feeling, when I see a New Yorker with a Yankees hat — even though we’re in New York! — that they’re just doing it to piss me off,” Foote, 60, says with a laugh.
He glances at the television screen. It’s the bottom of the fourth of Game 3 of the ALCS and Foote’s beloved Red Sox are battling to take the lead in the series against Detroit.
“But you kinda feel sorry for them now,” he adds. “They suck so bad.”
It isn’t just David Ortiz’s Game 2 grand slam — a moment that almost literally brought down the house at Professor Thom’s on Sunday night — that has Boston fans in New York riding high.
In the days before the Sox finally broke their notorious curse by winning the 2004 World Series, the fierce old rivalry combined with a gnawing sense of inferiority to make things decidedly unpleasant for Boston loyalists brave or perverse enough to make their home here.
But with two championships in the last 10 years, a strong team still in the running in October and their arch-nemesis failing to even make the playoffs — life in enemy territory is not just better, it’s positively grand.
Seated across from Foote is Rhonda Zapatka, 40, who grew up in Boylston, Mass., but has lived in Manhattan for 15 years. She’s currently working on a book about her experience. One title she briefly considered and then discarded as “too chick-lit” was “Sox and the City.”
“It’s much easier to be Sox fan in New York now,” she says. “But still, I almost feel like I live a double life. It’s amazing how much being a Sox fan affects every aspect of your life.”
Zapatka and Foote were once regulars at the Boston-friendly Riviera Café and Sports Bar, but they and a couple of dozen other people switched their allegiance to Professor Thom’s when it opened just a year after the breakthrough World Series win. (“Professor Thom’s,” the bar’s Twitter account says. “Behind enemy lines since 2005!”
The reason for their mass exodus is behind the bar, pulling drinks and greeting regulars loudly and by name. Jim McGuire was always a favorite at the Riviera, and when he left the bar over a much-publicized disagreement with the owner, his regulars never looked back.
Red Sox license plates, Patriots bobbleheads, Bruins banners and all manner of Boston and New England memorabilia festoons the wall behind the bar. Even the bartenders wear shirts with “Professor Thom’s” emblazoned across the front in the distinctive Red Sox font.
“It’s great,” the genial McGuire says, gesturing to the packed house. “When the Sox are in the playoffs, it’s like a Friday, Saturday night during the week.”
Wearing its Boston-loving heart on its sleeve hasn’t always been great for business, however. Pete Levin, who co-owns the bar with McGuire, says they sometimes find negative reviews on Yelp from customers who are satisfied with everything about the establishment except its décor.
Complex Magazine even named Professor Thom’s one of New York City’s “25 Douchiest Bars. “Type of douche: Red Sox douches,” the bar’s entry read.
But Levin is used to taking heat — and after all, that sort of persecution is why he does this.
“I grew up in NYC as a Red Sox fan,” he says, “so it’s really fitting that I provide a space for other Red Sox fans.”