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Lansdowne on the Hudson

Surrounded by the enemy, Sox fans in New York have found a little slice of Fenway

NEW YORK -- The bar is packed, and the shouting starts long before the real shouting starts. Most of the crowd's chants are what you'd expect from Sox fans gathered to watch the games on TV this week. Derek Jeter surfaces? "Overrated!" A glimpse of Clemens? "Raaah-gerrr!" And of course there's that inevitable and mildly vulgar anti-Yankees slam, even when Jeter and George Steinbrenner pop up in a Visa commercial. The color scheme -- provided by the fans' clothes and a frat party's worth of Sox caps -- is a predictable glare of red and navy blue.

Welcome to New York.

More precisely, welcome to the Riviera Cafe and Sports Bar, where the plot will change this afternoon but the scene will play out again. And if the faithful who assemble here could give fans in New York three words of advice as the American League Championship Series continues today at Fenway, they might say: "Go somewhere else."

On Wednesday and Thursday night, signs are taped on the doors, as they were for four out of the five Boston-Oakland games in the AL Division Series, alerting would-be patrons that the bar is full to capacity. With the Sox in the Bronx, the signs went up an hour before anyone threw a pitch. Diehards stand on the sidewalk outside the West Village bar and watch the game through the windows. "It's uglier against the Yanks, because Yankee fans show up," says Alex Sherwin, 34, a transplant from Belmont who has watched games here for five years.

"It's like an embassy in a foreign country," says Tanya Laplante, 28, a native of Derry, N.H., who has lived in New York for three years and first came to the Riviera in July. "It's great -- you're surrounded by your countrymen." John Hendrickson, 31, who's originally from Beverly, says, "It's like the Cask 'N Flagon South, without as many meatheads. . . . Watching the game anywhere else would be like cheating on your girlfriend."

"Thank God for the Riviera," says Rhonda Zapatka, 30, who's watched Sox games here for two years. She grew up in Boylston and describes being a Sox fan in this city as "a long and constant character-building experience." Her friend Alan Burnce, a 31-year-old Woburn native, says cheering for the Sox "is more intense here. . . . The regular season is great, but nothing like this," he adds, with a wave of his hand toward his Riviera compatriots. "This is crazy."

General manager Steve Sertell says the bar is a raucous place when the Sox win. "There's pandemonium. So maybe they knock over a dozen glasses -- so what? I can't remember having to throw somebody out." As a Yankees fan, what does he think about the Riviera's reputation as a "Sox bar"? "That's what it has become when the Red Sox are playing," Sertell explains. "It's a very friendly Red Sox bar. . . . And of all the sports teams that have had fan bases in this place, there are no better supportive fans. They are the most enthusiastic. You'll be downstairs and hear the place go wild, and you come upstairs -- and somebody got a walk."

The Riviera opened under its present ownership in 1969, but only in recent years has it become such a magnet for expatriates and visitors from New England. Sertell estimates that when the Red Sox and Yankees play, 95 percent of the clients are pulling for Boston. "For Sox fans in New York, [during the regular season] you have to either have pay-per-view at home or find a bar that's going to put your games on religiously," he says. "Enter the Riviera. When the Sox and Mets are on at the same time, the Sox game gets the bigger television." On occasion, all 28 sets in the Riviera's two rooms are tuned to the Boston game.

Many fans mention a beloved bartender when they rave about the Riviera. Although Jim McGuire, 40, grew up a Reds fan in New Jersey, he's a Sox convert. "Without realizing it, I've become a fan," he says. As for this New York chapter of Red Sox Nation, he says, "They're real fans. They stay for the whole game, and they're knowledgeable. They're passionate, and they're nice. I think if the Sox win [the World Series], they'd be more in shock -- they wouldn't know what to do."

And though this may be one of the whitest crowds you'll see in Manhattan, there's no one type of Red Sox fan here. Adam Reichmann, 37, says with modest pride, "I'm one of the originals. . . . I used to come in and make them put the [Sox] game on four, five years ago." He grew up in Manhattan and Truro, and he watches intently while lobbing a stream of statistics and quips. "Doesn't [Yankees catcher Jorge] Posada look like Fievel the mouse in `An American Tail'?" And: "I just want to go to Fenway and chant `1908' against the Cubs." And: "Jesus doesn't love [pitcher Andy] Pettitte anymore -- he likes Trot."

Jesenia Santana, 22, was raised a Mets fan in Washington Heights -- the neighborhood Manny Ramirez once called home -- but five years ago she got behind the Sox "because they have all the [expletive] Dominicans and I'm Dominican." She comes to the Riviera because "it's filled with true hard-core fans. Even in New York you will find them. Did you see [the homers by] David Ortiz and Ramirez? Come on."

Another Riviera denizen is W. Vernon Trotter, 64, whose father, Bill Trotter, pitched in 1944 for the St. Louis Cardinals. "When you live in Boston" -- which he did for about 20 years, until 2000 -- "it's like being bit by Dracula." And there's Bronx native Dirk Gorman, 35, who played minor league ball as an outfielder for Florida's Vero Beach Dodgers in the early '90s. "All my friends are hard-core Yankees fans," he says, and they're "mystified" that he cheers for the Sox. Similarly, Brynne Levy, 23, who grew up a Yankees fan in Berkeley Heights, N.J., started rooting for the Sox when she attended Boston University. "My dad hates me. The whole family wants to disown me. But you grow up and you're not born with a taste in music -- you should be able to choose your team."

Yankees fans cope with being a minority in this place. "I'm on my dirt," says Jim Marshall, 33, who was born and raised in New York. "This might be a Boston bar, and my best friend in the world is a Boston fan, but I deal with it." Tara McEnroe, 28, isn't quite so sanguine: "I didn't know I was coming into this mess. I walked in here and I thought I was going to throw up. I'm like, where the hell did all these people come from? Am I in a bar in New York City?"

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