X marks the spot for World Cup

For the first time in its history, the FIFA World Cup was held in December - a measure to ensure players could get as much respite from the host country Qatar’s harsh heat. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the cold would reduce the amount of people going to watch parties in Winnipeg. However, the timing of the event only seemed to make it more accessible for people to meet up with their friends at a cultural center or bar.

In the West End, the X-Cues Bar and Lounge became the community's favorite place to go and watch World Cup games for many in the surrounding community. Owner Sal Infantino says he’s only seen that many people coming through X-Cues when Italy plays - however, Italy didn’t qualify this year.

“With Italy not being in it, I'd have to say that I was expecting it a little bit less [people showing up to watch],” says Infantino. “But always for the last couple games, we've been full every time with or without Italy in it.”

According to Infantino, the final on December 20th was the second most popular he’s ever seen X-Cues. He and his staff were forced to turn away people at the door to keep their max limit of people in the space. Even though he’s Italian himself, Infantino was somewhat grateful Italy weren’t in the finals this year as at that point X-Cues gets too chaotic.

A large majority of the people who came to watch the World Cup at X-Cues are newer Canadians. For Infantino, many are regular customers who only come through regularly when there’s a major soccer tournament on show at X-Cues, which Infantino tries to make as welcoming a place as possible.

“We go all the way for our new Canadians,” says Infantino. “I spend time talking to them. I try to explain a couple things and make 'em feel welcome… you know, introduce them to other people. So once they come in here and get a taste of that, they know they're welcome to come here and it's just wide open for them.”

“If there isn't 15 different nations and religions and colors and everything else [at X-Cues] I'm understating it,” says Infantino about game days. “You know, it really is a melting pot when it comes to these kinds of games. It’s really nice to see everybody getting together and you see them cheering and you don't know who's cheering for who cuz there is no real line.”

One particular reason X-Cues got a lot of publicity this world cup is that it became one of the main places Moroccan fans would go to watch their team’s historic run in the competition. While by far the highest turnout was for the final on December 20th, all the Moroccan games were accompanied by chanting, drumming, and a sea of red shirts and Moroccan paraphernalia.

The Moroccan team didn’t disappoint their fans, becoming the first ever African nation to make it to the Semi Finals of a World Cup and ultimately losing to the 2018 World Cup runners-up, Croatia.

X-Cues has been a staple in the West End for over 50 years and has seen and served through all the different eras the neighborhood has seen. Having seen the bad and the good of the area, Infantino is hopeful the West End is moving on an upward trajectory.

“About 20 years ago, maybe more than 20 years ago now, values started to go up, says Infantino. “The area started getting really good and then about 10 years ago it started going the other way again. But people are working hard to try to get things going.”

Daniel McIntyre-Ridd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf