Skip to main content

As Chicago gears up for the Summer Olympics, some bars host global sports year-round

ChicagoGlobal by Hope O'Dell
Francois Mori / AP
People sit around a bar, watching soccer on a TV

The Paris Games may be the biggest global sporting event of the summer, but for a few Chicago bars, international athletics are an everyday affair.

Less than a month out from the Summer Olympics’ July 26 kickoff in Paris, nearly 60% of Americans say they plan to watch at least some of the Games. While there are plenty of sports bars scattered across the city for Chicagoans to tune in from, some bars cater to international sports fans year-round.

For example, AJ Hudson’s Public House in Lake View and The Albion Manor in Lincoln Park – both owned by husband-wife duo Jamie Hale and Julia Shell – are home to at least seven clubs that support different international soccer teams. Shell told ChicagoGlobal she expects the Olympics to bring out even more global sports fans. 

Subscribe to ChicagoGlobal

This story first appeared in the ChicagoGlobal newsletter, a joint project of Crain's Chicago Business and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.


“The Summer Olympics always bring out a good crowd of people to cheer on American teams, and we suspect even more will come out to support other countries as well,” Shell said, noting that a similar trend is already underway for viewings of the UEFA European soccer tournament. “Italy, France, Spain, and more all have big followings, and people always love to cheer for their heritage country.”

A growing audience

Global sports like soccer, judo, and cricket have been increasing in popularity in the U.S. in recent years. That’s especially true of soccer, which became the fourth-most popular sport in the U.S. in 2022. 

“The fan base for international sports has most definitely grown larger and larger over the years, and it's been great to see it expand,” Shell said. “Soccer, rugby, cricket, and other games that weren't high on Americans’ radar are now being appreciated more and more.”

Shell and her husband opened The Albion Manor in 2022 after the number of sports fans flocking to AJ Hudson’s got too big for one bar to handle. Hale, who is from southwest England and came to the U.S. in 1988, has owned AJ Hudson’s since 1992, although under the name Ginger’s Ale House for the first 19 years. In 2011, he and Shell renamed the English pub after their children, Hudson and Anais Jillian.

“In between those two establishments, we opened a cocktail-focused neighborhood bar and restaurant in 2019 in River West, The Dandy Crown,” Shell said. “The Albion Manor is a combination of both The Dandy Crown and AJ Hudson's, having both a cocktail parlor and an English pub in one location.”

Business was challenging at The Albion Manor in the early days due to lingering COVID precautions, but Shell said it has improved since. Today, both AJ Hudson’s and The Albion Manor are regularly filled with Chicagoans expressing their love for international sports.  

“It used to be just expats who were interested, but now it's loved by so many Americans and Chicagoans,” she said. “The number of people who get up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday morning to watch a live noon game in England is astonishing and shows real commitment.”

Two people on a yellow mat during a judo match

Athletes competing in judo, an Olympic sport since 1960. (Photo: Vince Tang)

Three athletes competing during a cricket match

A player at bat during a cricket match. (Photo: Damien Walmsley)

Bringing a bit of Ireland to Chicago

Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro, an Irish pub and specialty grocery store in North Center, started opening early for morning Premier League matches when Irish expats and other fans would come in and ask, said James Murphy, who owns the pub with his brother Brian Murphy. 

“We were like, ‘Well, let’s give it a go,’” Murphy said. “And we’ve been increasingly doing it more and more over the years.” 

Last year, Mrs. Murphy & Sons opened for any match starting at 8 a.m. Chicago time or later. Murphy says it’s only in the last two years that the bar started to lean heavily on screening international sports — about two decades after Murphy’s father, Jim, bought the space in 2002.  

Jim already owned a sports bar, Murphy’s Bleachers in Wrigleyville, which he’d bought in 1980. For the space that would become Mrs. Murphy & Sons, he envisioned an “upscale Irish pub” to supplement the more traditional sports venue.

"You want to go out to the pub and watch sports. And the kind of communal aspect of bringing people together, that's what we enjoy about it."

—James Murphy, co-owner of Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro

When Jim passed away in 2003, the pub was just “a hole in the ground with the walls propped up,” Murphy said. So he, his brother, and his stepmother, Beth – who passed away in 2023 – finished it, outfitting the place with memorabilia Jim had collected through the years and a handmade teak bar from Ireland. 

The pub has since made a name for itself as the place to go in North Center for international sports. Murphy said customers often come in asking if the bar will screen matches for leagues that aren’t even on Murphy’s radar, like Australian football. 

“I say that there's a growing demand for it,” he said. “I think that it's kind of a snowball effect as people see that we're showing things, more people start asking whether we’re showing things, and it kind of just expands on its own energy.”

Along with drinks and food to eat while watching a match, Mrs. Murphy & Sons also has a grocery store in the pub filled with Irish goods like candies, cookies, and cheeses. What started with one of the pub’s chefs needing certain ingredients for candy making “exploded” during the pandemic, Murphy said, but sales have yet to diminish for the pub’s Irish goodies. 

“We particularly find that at the end of the match, everybody comes up to the bar with their little basket full of biscuits and sausages and candies and all that kind of stuff,” Murphy said. 

Summers without a World Cup tend to be quieter for Mrs. Murphy & Sons, but Murphy said he expects people to be interested in the upcoming Olympics. Plus, he added, people want the communal experience of watching sports together, regardless of what sports are on.

“You want to go out to the pub and watch sports,” he said. “And the kind of communal aspect of bringing people together, that's what we enjoy about it, because that's what makes it fun for us. When you get a whole bar full of people yelling at the TVs and cheering and screaming and having an experience together, that's something that is maybe going away a little bit in modern life that I think – especially after COVID – people are craving.”

This story first appeared in the ChicagoGlobal newsletter, a joint project of Crain's Chicago Business and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Subscribe today.

About the Author
Real-Time Reporter
Headshot for Hope O'Dell
Hope O'Dell joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2023 as real-time reporter. In this role, they cover global politics and policy daily.
Headshot for Hope O'Dell