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Joe's Neighborhood

A Dutch bar — in three games

7/2/2014

The high gloss on the wood shines as the rag wipes the first spill of beer to the side. The movement of the rag continues over the wood, back and forth, polishing, as the young bartender patiently waits. He is almost indolent at this early stage of the evening. Why rush? The beer taps are perched and ready to deliver. Glasses are clean and within reach. Coasters are strewn over the top of the bar. And the shot bottle is upside down, ready to perform. Waiting is all that remains.

Game 1 — Spain against Holland

joes1The Sien bar in The Hague is bursting. Orange is in every nook and leaking out the door. A big screen TV is placed so that the dozens of fans who cannot fit into the bar can watch from outside on the street — an alternative drive-in theater. Five bartenders are pouring beers and shots for the customers who are standing in a space the size of a large American living room. Raucousness is the scent in the air. Spain scores. No matter. Everyone expects it. Spain is a mighty team from the past. Aging but powerful. They shamed Holland last time around. An ugly defeat. Beer flows regardless of the score.

On the bar stool next to me is a slight man hidden among the Dutch giants. A Spaniard. Identified immediately by the bartenders. The bartenders’ response after the Spanish goal? An orange T-shirt, orange sunglasses and a big orange hat are placed on the counter next to the Spaniard. An offering from the Dutch. And a free beer. A sacrifice on the altar of good will.

It works. A flying header by Dutch striker, Robin van Persie, starts the rout. Two, three, four, five more beers and a shot for good luck arrive in front of the Spaniard. Holland 5, Spain 1. The lone Spaniard smiles and dons the orange shirt. The crowd cheers. There will be another day.

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Game 2 — Australia against Holland

Admittedly, it was a mistake to come in costume. The bartender almost immediately sidles over to me as I try to blend into the masses.

“You know that shirt you’re wearing is not orange, don’t you?” he said.

joes2Well, apparently not. I am a red cherry floating in a sea of orange sherbet.

Jaap, the bartender, is young, mischievously handsome and focused. He tells me there are around 120-130 people in the bar. They’ll sell around 2,000 beers this evening. Not bad. Tonight they’ve brought in seven bartenders, their entire staff, because they’re going to try to move some food also. Packed like sardines, without an inch of elbow room, my guess is that a few fries will go missing as they are passed hand to hand to the poor customer who actually ordered them.

Australia, one of the lowest ranked teams at this World Cup, is dominating. Tim Cahill of Australia line-drives a shot so hard into the Dutch goal that my teeth hurt as I sit thousands of miles away on my barstool. Unfairly, it almost seems, the Dutch team hangs on.

Jaap tells me these evenings are a little nerve-wracking.

“It is nervous because it is busy, nervous because of the game and nervous because you want a good result,” he says. “It is worth it. But, handling this crowd should not be every month. Not good for your health.”

He laughs and runs to pour beer from the tap where he unerringly fills four glasses before he throttles the handle back.

The Dutch team has regained its balance. A quick score moves them ahead. The crowd erupts.

And, like after every Dutch goal, the room breaks into song for several minutes. Sung at the tops of their voices. With stomping involved. And some swinging of the lights. It is infectious.

What are they singing after each goal?

Jaap, drinking his traditional shot after a goal, takes a breath, and says: “It’s called ‘I Will Survive.’ A song we stole that was popular in the clubs.”

Of course. The Dutch don’t sing “We Are the Champions,” or “Another One Bites the Dust.” They are a people where one-third of the land is below the ocean. Another third is at sea level. They are survivors, fighting for every inch of the ground they stand on. This is not about winning. It’s about not dying.

Holland 3, Australia 2.

Game 3 — Chile against Holland

The bar has a different tone this evening. The Dutch can lose and still advance. Everyone is relaxed. There is even a sense that it might be too greedy, too impolite, for the Dutch to win a third time. Moderation in all things, please.

Although, that feeling doesn’t stop a little money from being placed. Why not?

Sjoerd, a soft-spoken bartender working my corner, explains in perfect English how the betting works. He might as well have been speaking Dutch, however, as I drink my beer and am lost in the vagaries of the explanation.

“So, what number do you want, Joe?” he asks.

In my early days as a prosecutor, I was enlisted to review charges and assist in investigations dealing with a type of gambling that rocked upstanding Iowans. Yes, mothers of River City, I’m talking bingo. Played in church halls and social clubs. Dens of vice. In these days of Prairie Meadows, where Grandma is playing the slots while hooked up to her breathing machine, someone shouting out “O-3” seems a bit less of a gateway to organized crime. But the old days haven’t disappeared for me.

So I hesitate, as Sjoerd patiently waits for me to choose. I turn to my barstool neighbor, Aeisso, for advice. Why do I turn to Aeisso? Because I had earlier made a determination that Aeisso was a trustworthy and knowledgeable legal advisor based on his selfless act of sharing his french fries with me.

“Is this legal?” I ask.

joes3With a loud laugh and a clap on my back, Aeisso leans in: “A question like that would not occur to a Dutchman.”

And that’s all the tolerant Dutch have to say on the subject.

“Five euro on No. 2, please.”

Amazingly, the late game subs, Leroy Fer and Memphis Depay, come out of the shadows of the massive stadium and win the game.

Holland 2, Chile 0.

Jaap, with blurry eyes and a mischievous grin, drags his rag one more time over the wood. The luster is returned to the high gloss. Patiently and slowly. His movements are almost indolent at this late stage of the day. Why rush? Closing time beckons.

So there you go. A Dutch bar — in three games. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com. Joe can be reached by email at josephpweeg@gmail.com.

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