Dutch Pubs

You are, after all, in the pub for one overriding reason, to drink. Heavily.


As I sat down to write this month's rant, I thought well, what next? I mean there's plenty to sound off about; one could take, for an example, the appalling manners shown to me by ladies above the age of fifty in supermarkets. Why don't they smile, acquiesce, and get out of my bloody way? I then realized that dissecting and discussing that subject could take too long, both for you to read, and for me to write. No, this month had to be something positive, and have some (however trivial), connection with music, for I am writing in a music journal, am I not? Alright, I'll get on with it. The subject I picked is Dutch pubs, and my utter and blind devotion to them. It has a tenuous musical connection that shall be explained later.


However this subject cannot be approached lightly. I can't just open it by saying I like traditional Dutch pubs. It's not good enough really; not reverent enough for a start. Not stentorian enough, either. So, as an alternative opening gambit, I'm going to set up an imaginary (though far from fanciful or unrepresentative) scenario. Then, if you are the type of reader who will empathise with this sort of thing, you will read on. If not, you can piss off elsewhere. Here goes...


You push the creaking, grimy careworn door open. You are confronted with a homely scene, just the right side of squalid. The first thing you will notice will be the colour that surrounds you. That colour is brown. Whether it's predominantly sepia, or mahogany, or leaning towards a rich chestnut, it will always be brown. Even when there are red rugs placed on the tables (these can be found in the superior pubs), they will be of a brownish hue. The brown, whether represented on walls, tables or floor, will lend an atmosphere of damp fog, of musty decay, of slipped expectation. It is, however, far from being an uncomfortable sensation. Rather, you will begin to experience a comforting ennui enveloping you. You will feel at home. No standing on ceremony here. No ghastly showing off about your job, house, or education. That will be frowned upon. You are, after all, in the pub for one overriding reason, to drink. Heavily.


You go to the bar. Normally the bar will have the stainless steel sink where the water constantly runs, and the three black plastic scourers set below the water level. On the bar will be the glasses, arranged according to their various sizes, and various intended content, on show to aid the drinker in their choice of drink. The liqueurs are, as usual elsewhere in the world, displayed behind the counter. Normally they will be accompanied on the shelf with various assorted knick-knacks usually of appalling taste. In their sheer badness, however, they bring a welcome, homely nature. After all they are not that much different to the clutter that adorns your own mantle-piece. You order a drink and sit down on the particularly unsuitable chair, moving the grimy playing cards to one side. You then drink. Nothing much will happen now. Maybe you experience the whiff of a cigar, maybe you overhear snippets of the incredibly banal conversation that is being conducted between the proprietor and the regulars. (An interesting aside; one of these two characters will be wearing a shirt that can only be described as hapless). Maybe you order an unsatisfactory toastie. It really doesn't matter. You drink some more, and get as drunk as possible on the cheap-ish beer before you prepare to go to the gig you have to review. 


It is only as you enter the portals of the club that you realize that you have left behind a veritable Arcadia. A place where no one is at all interested in you, or in competition with you. A place where the aspirations you (and doubtless everyone else) deem "important" are revealed as a tawdry, meaningless exercise in just getting by. In the venue with its attendant crowd of shark eyed hipsters, there is no sympathy to be had, no acceptance that many have gone before (and failed); no awareness that the place they are in is just another club. Rather, to suggest to them that they are in anything other than the most important place on this earth will be met with a laughing incomprehension, and sarcastic whispered asides. Fools! Little do they know. Their future, quite rightly, is on a stool at the end of the bar in their local bruin cafe, drinking small beers, morosely recounting the time they met Interpol. And long may it continue.   


Rant : Richard Foster

Illustration : Richard Foster