11 June 2010

Friday flicks: scenes from a pirate bar in Amsterdam

Man, some weird stuff happened in Amsterdam.

I know I am not the first person to utter those words, but I'm guessing I'm the rare individual for whom the "weird stuff" does NOT involve, say, being chased down the street by demonic giant squid or having a profound conversation with a fire hydrant--that is to say, the ingestion of substances not legal back home. We did none of that (no wink wink, nudge nudge here; it's the truth).

But we did spend several days chasing and being chased by creepily dapper secret-society initiates:

[You thought I was kidding?]

... And we did inadvertently start a massive party in a pirate bar.

Before I tell you the story of the pirate bar, I need to remind you that ours is something of an Odd Couple pairing, that Lee is a freelance writer whose beats include nightlife and the singles scene; that I recruited him for this trip in part because Frommer says that "Amsterdam is a swinging town," and Lee is the swingingest guy I know; and that I am, as the Dutch say,

Let us also have a quick by-the-numbers establishing of some key facts about yours truly:

Total number of bars I had entered during the trip before Lee arrived:

Times in my life, ever, that I had been bar-hopping (as in, you know, patronizing multiple bars in a single evening): not a one

Lee and I had joked that it was his job to get me into trouble, and now, as we wander the streets of Amsterdam that first night together, in search of our--count 'em*--
fourth bar of the evening, I am both congratulating and cursing myself for the fact that this "joke" is apparently becoming reality.

It's sometime well after dark, and we've found ourselves in a bustling commercial entertainment district, all neon signs and blaring music and restaurant hosts imploring passersby to try come in and try their drink specials. I'm standing on the sidewalk, taking it all in, when Lee says, quietly, "There."

As I'm about to ask "What? Where?," he cuts me off with a decree, firm and authoritative but tinged with worrying mischievousness. "Pirate bar."

"Pirate ... what?" I don't like where this is going.

"Pirate bar," he repeats. He points toward the forest of neon. My eye follows his gesture, and defying my brain's instructions to feign ignorance, settles on a flashing yellow sign that says, sure enough, "Pirate bar."

"That's where we're going," Lee says, striding forward.

"Um," I say. I compose a mental inventory of reasons why this is a bad idea, but there are so many that I don't even know where to start listing them out loud. So I follow him.

As we get closer, I notice that it looks surprisingly non-kitschy, not much follow-through on the pirate thing. What it looks is totally frickin' sketchy, the Amsterdam equivalent of the candy-offering strangers your mom always warned you about. Come here, little backpacker, it seems to say. Come inside, have a drink, pay no attention to the fact that the weird skeleton out front looks nothing like a pirate and everything like that British college student who went missing here last year ...

I've got it: that's my out. "I disapprove of the lackluster theming," I say as we examine said skeleton outside. "Where are the palm trees and parrots and Jolly Rogers?"

But Lee can't be dissuaded, not by the lack of kitsch, not by my mumblings about roofies and canals and that friend-of-a-friend who woke up without a kidney, not by the fact that we appear to be the only patrons but for two young women dressed Amsterdam-appropriate attire, if you see what I mean. As we sip our Heinekens, we look around the room and note that (a) there really, seriously is no pirate theme whatsover, and it really is just a sketchy dive bar, (b) there is a weird riser-stage thing that is too small for a band but would be just about the right size to serve as an operating table for kidney-removal, and (c) the two women have disappeared through the swinging saloon doors leading to a dimly-lit back room.

As I whimper to myself, two more young women enter through the front door. Thank God. Strength in numbers. They're dressed as if for clubbing. They speak with English accents. They order beers and Jag bombs. A couple of minutes later, few more women enter, same attire, same accent, same order. And then they start coming in waves, clones or sorority sisters or something, dozens of English twenty-somethings, nearly all female.

Within ten minutes, the place is jammed beyond the fire marshal's worst nightmare. The force of the crowd is slowly pushing us off our bar stools. The music starts up, then the fog machine and the strobe light. The party has frickin' started.

I look at Lee, my jaw agape. I want to ask him if he ordered up this party, if he can just snap his fingers and conjure a crowd, if it's going to be like this every night. It's too loud for conversation, though, so I just mouth, "What the hell just happened?" He grins and shrugs, "Who cares?"

We order another round, sit back, and watch the spectacle. Trays of shots pass through the crowd. Several of the Brits crowd the stage-slash-operating-table, dancing to the latest pop hits to reach these shores (meaning, of course, the songs that were popular in the US ten years ago, and whose performers have long since dropped out of the pages of People and Billboard back home).

Very late at night, as the crowd's energy peaks, we're finally treated to a bit of pirate-ness here at the pirate bar. The music and the strobe lights turn off, the bartenders light torches, one of them puts on a tri-corner pirate hat ... and then this happens. (The camera cuts away at the crucial moment, but you can probably deduce what's going on.)

[Yes, it's just six seconds long. I'm running really low on videos!]


* Lee, my friend, allow me to preempt any quibbles that this is exaggeration for effect. In case you have forgotten, the others were: 

  1. The bar on the little pedestrian street by the hotel, with the enormous wooden kegs and the one tiny booth in back 
  2. The cafe/bar on the bridge over the canal, where our waiter gave us little porcelain Dutch clogs 
  3. The place in the Jordaan (or thereabouts) where I ordered "nachos"--totally not Frommer-approved; sorry--which turned out to be plain ol' tortilla chips with foul mayo-guac


      1. So, four bars it was. Doug, you order a party, I provide a PARTY. But you forgot to mention the bathrooms! What was behind those dark swinging doors but a sort of dysfunctional dual-sex bathroom arrangement only the dingier inhabitants of a drug-fueled city like Amsterdam could concoct.

        And I love the line about the fire marshal's worst nightmare. A nice piece of foreshadowing, no?

        Lastly, yes, Doug may have began the trip as a neurotic introvert, but did he end it that way? No! Is this slow but distinct transformation going to be detailed in lurid detail in his book?

        You bet it will!

      2. As one of the people working in the pirates bar, I have to comment on this, as I see it, funny post. It sounds like you entered pirates at about 10.30 pm, if at that time it was your fourth bar, you just started too early, mostly all parties start after 11 pm. I think you witnessed a pub-crawl comming every night around 10.45 pm, after that, the night starts. Yeah, there are a lot of english people on the pub-crawl, but you should have been there after 12.30, when most dutch people come to town...
        Still hope you enjoyed our bar, and maybe see you another time...

      3. Thanks, Anonymous Dutch Pirate! Your comments about the timing make sense and solve a big mystery for me. I'm about to publish a new post building on your comments. If you're ever in Minneapolis, Minnesota, get in touch with me and I'll take you to what passes for a pirate bar here.


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