PlayBeautiful at Openhouse Gallery, New York

New Yorkers enjoyed authentic "fan fest" experience

NEW YORK — From the standpoint of American public and corporate interest, the 2010 World Cup was a tournament like no other. The number of people watching, the amount of corporate tie-ins and the rate at which soccer-themed commercials frequented the airwaves was without precedent.

GALLERY: PlayBeautiful in New York City

There was also a large uptick in viewing parties and World Cup-themed events nationwide. In short, soccer became fashionable from Main St. to Wall St.

So perhaps it’s more than appropriate that one of the most unique of New York’s multitude of World Cup viewing spaces was found in the heart of SoHo, the city’s bastion of all things fashionable and forward-thinking.

Behind a stark, white storefront at 201 Mulberry St. resided PlayBeautiful, a unique pop-up store-cum-World Cup viewing HQ for downtown Manhattan.

The brainchild of Doug Gatanis, owner of Upper West Side soccer shop Upper 90 Soccer + Sport, PlayBeautiful was conceived as a way to marry the atmosphere and excitement of the “fan fests” commonly associated with World Cup host cities with a retail outlet.

“The inspiration for this was that we wanted to find a way to bring the World Cup to New Yorkers,” Gatanis said while making a stop at the space before heading out to play in a pick up game. “We thought that the best way to do that was to create our own mini-festival.

“We found this space down in SoHo, brought in retail merchandise from Upper 90, brought in the idea of having food and drink, a mini-playing field and stands for people to watch the games in.”

The PlayBeautiful space itself was startling to look at. Stark white from floor to ceiling, it seemed sprawling at a glance. Upstairs featured the shop area, which was immediately off the street and boasted a robust selection of apparel and accessories from every national team that mattered—and them some.

Toward the back of the clothing racks, the room opened up into a set of stairs leading down to a larger room with a concession stand, a faux-grass floor, a massive wall for projecting matches and stadium seating for over 70. This room was known as “The Stadium.”

Beyond the steel risers of the stadium seating was a third, multipurpose room with roughly four separate areas: a faux-grass “Training Ground,” complete with 3-foot mini-goals; the “Cantina,” which served a selection of food and drink from around the world; the “Game Zone, “ which featured a pair of slick video game kiosks running EA Sports’ latest FIFA title ad infinitum; and a makeshift art gallery with soccer-themed works born of water color, pencil and crushed paper.

There were also appearances by members of Red Bull New York and Sky Blue FC of the WPS.

But it was the games that fans came for, and it was the games that provided the special moments.

“One of the high points here was the Ghana-Urugauy game,” Gatanis recalled. “That was a pretty intense game. We had a huge 50-50 crowd here, and the game was great. The people that were here brought the celebration of their nationality here.”

Sunday’s Spain vs. Holland final served as the space’s curtain call.

“It was a little tough with the games being in the morning to get people out of work and in here, but we pretty much filled the stand practically every game we’ve had,” Gatanis said.