MIDTOWN — Bars serving Madison Square Garden fans are counting down the days to the Knicks' return — but most won't be open to celebrate their homecoming day.
For months, bartenders and local owners have been eagerly awaiting the end of the NBA lockout, which had pitted players against owners and threatened to jeopardize the entire basketball season. And now that the truncated season is about to start, there's just one air ball deflating the celebration plans: The NBA has scheduled the Knicks first official home game for Sunday, Dec. 25th at noon, when a majority of local bars will be closed.
"Obviously it’s going to mean more business for us," said James Donovan, a long-time bartender at the Blarney Rock Pub on West 33rd Street, across from the Garden, who said the bar couldn’t wait to see players back on court, especially as the team adds new all-stars to its roster.
But, he added, “We’re going to miss the first day." Christmas is the one and only day of the year that the bar shuts its doors.
Paul Hurley, president of the United Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association, had said ahead of the deal that his members had seen sales plunge across the city, with game-day sales down between 30 and 40 percent during what was supposed to be their peak season.
Liam Curly, a bartender at Mustang Sally’s, on Seventh Avenue for nearly 16 years, said he thought the scheduling was a bad play, considering the significance of the day.
"I can't understand why they couldn't have opened a couple of days earlier or a day or two later," he said.
The opening game could have been a slam dunk for business after months of slower sales, he said, but his bar also plans to close Christmas Day.
Still, he said he’s glad the team is back.
“It certainly helps with business. It was a long summer when it was closed,” he said.
But at least one bar in the area will be celebrating the opening, along with St. Nick and the Knicks.
Triple Crown, an Irish pub next to Mustang Sally’s, will be open on Christmas, according to owner Martin O'Shea, who has run the bar for the past 17 years. He said many of his staff are Greek Orthodox, so they celebrate Christmas at a later date.
While O'Shea admitted that the holiday can be “pretty dead,” he said he’s hoping to attract tourists and game-day fans who, it seems, will have few other places to go.
"It's about time!" he said of the Knicks’ return, adding that the acquisition of Tyson Chandler will only improve fan moral.
Fans like Brian Kelly, 25, a police officer from Brooklyn and regular season ticket-holder who said he’s been a die-hard fan “since I could dribble," had no complaints about the date.
While he’ll be home for Christmas with his family, he said, "It’s perfect timing. It’s my Christmas gift from them.”