On the Road

On the Road: 2002

The Worst Pint
11 October 2002

There's a little pub in the Den Haag Centraal Station. Appropriately, it's simply called Central Station Pub. It's an old-timers kind of pub, the place where the real drunks go. It's heavy on oak and red carpet and it's merely yards from my current hotel room. It's best experienced during the brief Dutch summer, when you can sit outside and watch all the seedy elements roam outside Centraal Station and avoid the more dangerous chain-smoking, chain drinking die-hards inside the pub.

They serve Guinness on tap there. And it's truly the Worst Pint. They pour it with all the finnesse required to pour a pint of Heineken. It's such a crap pour, even the creamy head doesn't reach the top of the glass. They're consistent, though. They never fail to disappoint.

I watched as one guy disputed the Imperfect Pint he received, but to no avail. The gray-haired bartender would have nothing of it.

So the line is drawn in the sand. When they pour me the Perfect Pint, they'll get a tip.

Like I said, it's a place where the real drunks go. Kinduva Dutch version of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, it's a hodgepodge of nationalities. Depending on your point of view - and frame of mind - it's either incredibly depressing or full of character.

One Irishman sits next to me at the bar and tries to pass off "Irish euros" to a bartender named Rob. The euro coins are stamped with individual nations, like the U.S. is now doing by state with its quarters. The paper notes are all the same, though. Rob tries to be nice about the distinction.

Around the corner from the Irishman is a Dutch guy. Naturally, he speaks some English, too. When the Irish guy walks away, he asks if I'm British.

No, I'm American.

He was OK with that. Americans are easy to understand, the British are a little more difficult, but the Irish guy speaks so fast, he only understands about half of what the guy says, the bespectacled Dutchman tells me.

Then he mutters stuff about Bush and Iraq.

Next to him, another Dutch guy, middle-aged, a little chubby, with the face of Rembrandt and longer-than-average hair, proudly holds up a couple DVDs and shows them around for everybody's approval. At first, while he was talking to the bartender about them, I was certain they were porno videos. When he finally flashed them my way, though, they turned out to be none other than Marnie and Vertigo, two Hitchcock flicks. Vertigo, the by-far-superior of the two, was unfortunately being held upside down (kind of ironic, I suppose).

When he flashes them my way, I say the only word I know he'll understand: "Hitchcock!" (Very clever of me, I know.) He replies back, with pride, "Hitchcock!"

Finally, nine o'clock rolls around. Yeah. Nine o'clock, closing time. An opportunity for the geezers behind the bar to crank up some really crappy music. It's Lawrence Welk polka meets Dutch pop meets Irish traditional. A nightmare by any standard. And it's definitely enough to clear out this American.

I down the second of my poorly poured pints for the evening and move into the station for some snacks at the Albert Heijn grocery store (Hot & Spicy Pringles and salted peanuts... Mmm mmm good.) They just "cleaned" the coffee machine, so I had to go over to the Kiosk for a cup of coffee. After those errands, I walked by the pub, looked in the window.

Everybody else was still there. Lights up, shite music blaring, and the geezers behind the bar dancing.

Welcome to Dutch Hell.

A pint of Guinness at Central Station Pub costs 3.50 euros. At Fiddler, down in the Centrum, it's 4.30 euros, but the difference in atmosphere is priceless. In exchange for the price difference, you trade in a staff of Dutch geezers who speak some English for a troupe of young, interesting British/Irish kids who speak some Dutch. The crowd is more lively and less psychotic, and the place itself, while much larger, is more cozy. They even have good food.

More compelling, though, is that they know how to pour Guinness. Some pours feature a well-done clover or a swirl in the creamy head. OK. Been there, done that.

But one pour featured a box with an arrow pointing up. Yes. An elevator. The goal, people, will always be el-e-va-tion!

It's the little things like that that bring a smile to this face and set the imagination off again.

Cheers to Fiddler - Den Haag. Visit their micro-brew online: www.haagsebierbrouwerij.nl. (Yeah, they brew their own stuff, but they also sell the popular brands.)

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