PHILADELPHIA – A Super Bowl matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles should be a landmark day for Big Charlie’s Saloon, the neighborhood dive that has garnered fame for its Chiefs-obsessed patrons and is equally proud of the city its regulars call home.
For owner Paul Staico, it has become the worst-case scenario. A week before the big game, Staico made the call to close for Super Bowl Sunday.
His reasoning was twofold. For marquee events such as this one, Big Charlie’s sets up television screens, grills and seating outside. With the Chiefs playing the Eagles, the hometown team whose Lincoln Financial Field is less than two miles from the bar, Staico wanted to keep everybody inside.
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But reservations for Super Bowl Sunday were in the hundreds – far above the indoor capacity – and Big Charlie’s was turning away regulars. That didn’t sit right with Staico.
“People (who have) been supporting us for 40 years, we’re going to tell them no because they’re a day late?” Staico told USA TODAY Sports. “That wasn’t happening. Can’t do it. So what do you do? It was a brutal decision, but we’re going to be closed.”
Staico also realized he’d have no way to ensure the safety of his customers – not that anybody from the neighborhood would take issue with Chiefs fans. But with Big Charlie’s making appearances in media outlets, local and national, ahead of Super Bowl 57, Staico couldn’t guarantee that bad actors from elsewhere wouldn’t look to cause trouble.
Although Staico felt the Chiefs and Eagles were the league’s top two teams and envisioned the matchup on a collision course months ago, the choice is one of the toughest he’s made in his life, he said.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Staico said.
He added: “I just don’t want nonsense.”
Big Charlie’s utility player Laura Sessa – the manager who bartends, bookkeeps and body-guards occasionally – never thought the Eagles and Chiefs would actually meet in the Super Bowl. When the Eagles won Super Bowl 52, a mass of humanity running toward Broad Street could be seen from the bar’s back doorway.
“I’m so sad about Sunday’s decision,” Sessa told USA TODAY Sports. “I really am. But whatever is best.”
Michael “Lucky” Puggi, an employee whose main responsibility is to lead morale on game days, said his friends from the area who are Eagles fans have told him they’re unhappy Big Charlie’s won’t be open.
“It’s going to be pretty big,” said Puggi, who has been working at the bar for 31 years. “We’re going to take it like every other game, even though it’s the Super Bowl.”
In its 50 years of existence, Big Charlie’s has turned customers into family. Staico and his closest friends will watch in the back room of the bar, which has enough Chiefs memorabilia to fill multiple museum exhibits. Sessa may host a soirée at home with her children – also Chiefs fans – and their friends.
Nothing can replicate the feeling of a packed Big Charlie’s, where it takes Sessa 20 minutes to return to her perch behind the bar after a smoke break because everybody is standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
“Big Charlie’s, I think, holds a special place for everyone who walks in here – whether it’s one time or a thousand times, because they feel like they’ve been here forever,” Sessa said. “We make people feel that comfortable and they all say it’s an experience.”
Plus, Big Charlie’s has had lots to celebrate – with tough times mixed in – during recent years. Five straight AFC championship games have meant there is an expectation of excitement. Kansas City’s Super Bowl 54 victory was the most joyous day in the bar’s history.
“There was grown men that I respect and they’re crying next to me, that was like, ‘Wow.’ It’s a big deal,” Staico said. “Then I said, ‘You better start crying, because everyone else is crying around you.’”
Weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic forced business to slow down.
“Everything changed, to be honest,” Staico said.
The bar typically closes around 7 p.m. now for this “shot and a beer crowd,” as Sessa put it. What has not dwindled is the bar’s passion for the Chiefs. And that’s how Staico found himself “in the middle of chaos.”
“I never wanted that to be the case,” Staico said. “This was never supposed to be that, where it’s us against the world, us against the city. Because we’re south Phillians, No. 1. I’m born and raised here.
“This is an Eagle city. We get it. There’s no argument about that. But this is a Chief corner. This is our corner. This is our home.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
Story Credit: usatoday.com