One day last summer in New York City the Australian was closed. But inside, bar workers were busy doing some set ups. Turns out, they were awaiting the arrival of the Australian Prime Minster.
The Prime Minister was in New York City and hosting an event to thank donors to flood victims.
You see if you’re Australian, a rugby league player, or even a fan of international rugby, the place to go in New York City is The Australian. Owned by Matt Astill, a native of Sydney, Australia, the bar is home to a wide range of friends and is the home bar of the New York Knights, AMNRL. Matt played in the Knights first Championship winning team and represented the USA Tomahawks in a dozen internationals. He is currently on the AMNRL Executive Board helping guide the game in the USA.
“We represent everything that is Australian,” Astill said. “Rugby is just a part of it. We would never classify ourselves as a rugby bar, but we encompass everything that is Australian.”
Maybe it’s the old ads for Toohey’s beers on the wall, or the Australian meat pies on the menu or it could be the kangaroo filets on the dinner menu, but as the ad goes, “How do you speak Australian?” Well just head to the Australian. The bar is located on West 38th Street. It’s a few blocks from Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. In addition to a full menu featuring Aussie favorites, they have a wine list that showcases some of the best of Australian vineyards.
Astill got to New York City to help start the Knights. Back home, Astill was a prop for Manly Sea Eagles when he was recruited by the AMNRL to come to the US and play league rugby. He also played for the Newtown Jets, the oldest league team in Australia.
Asking him to compare rugby league to rugby union, Astill said he can’t do it. He started playing rugby league at nine years old. He played two games of rugby union when he came to New York and took the field for Old Blue, a top New York City club. He said he felt a bit like a fish out of water. Luckily, he got the Knights going quickly.
“I grew up with rugby league, that’s what I know,” he said. “A lot of people are natural at both, but not me. Rugby league is more one on one tackling and taking hits.” The lifelong forward added, “Backs can go back and forth a whole lot easier.”
The New York team name comes from the Newcastle Knights, a popular Australian team. Astill says the Knights helped supply the New York Knights with balls and jerseys and sort of adopted the upstarts.
One of the first players with the Knights was Glen Treacher, a converted union player from the New York Rugby Club. Treacher eventually hired Astill at his bar, Ship of Fools, which at the time was the home of the New York Club. Together they eventually opened the Australian. Plans are in the works for another midtown Manhattan bar.
Astill says his playing days are behind him now and he has retired to be a, “purely fat bar owner.” A ruptured bicep left his arm in a sling for a good part of last summer. He says even if he is not done, his wife, Nicole says he is. So now his attention is back to the bar.
While they are the host bar for the New York Knights, they also host other teams. They host the New York Rugby Club’s annual awards banquet. They are the home of the University of California Berkeley football supporters in New York. But they also get crowds for games from alumni from Villanova, Kansas State and Illinois.
They show a lot of live sports action. For the recent Rugby World Cup they were packed no matter what the hour was. They show live cricket and almost always have on a rugby league match.
“Always helps to have an association with a sporting team,” Astill said. “They bring in other players.”
If you ask Astill he will tell you that rugby league is growing in popularity. Being in America for over 10 years now he sees league as a closer cousin of American football. He points to the kicking game in both sports as being similar. “Rugby league is a great TV product,” he says.
But mostly, Astill provides a great product and it’s called The Australian. Part sports bar, part rugby league home in New York and part Australian refuge. Just make sure you get there early, if you want a good seat for an international match.
David Martin, a former contributor to Rugby Magazine, writes about rugby and is the author of “The Hooligan’s Table, The Rugby Player’s Cookbook”www.therugbycookbook.com
The Hooligan's Table, The Rugby Player's Cookbook collects recipes from around the world of rugby. Dishes come from players, fans and pubs rugby teams call home. Chapter headings include: Hands in the Ruck - Burgers and sandwiches and In the Scrum - Soups and Stews. Pick up a copy and create your own table fit for a rugby hooligan.