The Dutch take the silliness from the stands to the saloon

The Match: Netherlands 2 – 1 Mexico

The Date: Sunday, June 29

The Venue: Hurley’s Saloon in Times Square, Manhattan

Hurley's Saloon near Times Square. Hurley's captured the excess Dutchmen who couldn't get into Tonic, Holland HQ
Hurley’s Saloon near Times Square. Hurley’s captured the excess Dutchmen who couldn’t get into Tonic, Holland HQ

There’s a three-story Euroclub in Times Square called Tonic that bills itself as Dutch Soccer House and really seems to fit the Times Square milieu. Tonic is large, covered in neon, attractive to tourists and infuriatingly PACKED at 11:45 am on a Sunday morning.

Evidently, Tonic is also super posh and exclusive because the bouncers wouldn’t let any more people in to watch the Netherlands round of 16 match against Mexico.

“Does it help that I’m Dutch!” a sweaty young guy named Lennart asked frantically. Lennart was dripping sweat from his face onto his orange polo because he had just run nine blocks while dragging two black suitcases. He shoved his passport in front of the bouncer, who shrugged and told Lennart that the other tardy Dutchmen were assembling at Hurley’s Saloon a few blocks away.

This was Lennart’s first trip to New York City so I heroically stepped up to guide him to Hurley’s. Lennart was here for business and had a 6 pm flight back to Amsterdam from Newark Airport, which provided him the perfect window to watch the Netherlands match before he headed to New Jersey. While we walked, Lennart explained a little bit about his job. He handed me a business card indicating that he is a Trade Lane Development Manager and that his company is a global multimodal provider. I don’t what any of that means. At least we could discuss the match. See this is why soccer is so important!

Euro-style Tonic seems to appeal to the New Jersey clubber who took NJ Transit into the city and is TRYNA GET TURNED UP, BRO. YO, WE GOTTA GET TO IBIZA, BRO (See my post about D’Jais in Belmar). Hurley’s, on the other hand, is a moneyed, wooden British social club where I imagine old WASPs hammered out development deals in private booths as they slobbered on cigars and sexually harassed the waitresses in 1944.

Times have changed. Now Arkansas Razorbacks memorabilia hangs from the ornate wooden molding behind the bar. Next door, the century-old Longacre Theatre is currently showing Of Mice and Men starring James Franco and Chris O’Dowd, the good guy from Bridesmaids.

After Lennart left his bags in a corner among his compatriots and went to the bathroom, I settled into a space amid the Dutch-speaking crowd. Hurley’s was stuffed with Dutchmen and -women who seemed to follow the basic principle “Wear whatever orange shit you own.”

Several people wore orange suspenders, orange sparkly plastic fedoras and/or orange leis. The guy next to me wore a big orange t-shirt emblazoned with the face of Ernie from Sesame Street. Another guy had an orange M&Ms t-shirt on. One woman broke with custom by wearing a Dutch flag cloak instead of dressing like a traffic cone.

A young girl wore an inflatable clog around her neck. She sat with her family in a booth adorned with carved lions and elaborate oak trim. A few photos of celebrities hung on the wall around the bar. Tony Shahlhoub was the only celeb I recognized. He wasn’t wearing orange.

The TV cameras capture several wacky outfits among the fans every game. During group play, for example, they kept showing a group of Dutch fans in orange pilot and flight attendant uniforms. The Dutch at Hurley’s were the only fans I have encountered who took the silliness from the stands into a New York City bar. Their ostentatious outfits worked in Times Square.

During most of the match, I chatted with a guy my age named Omar and a young woman named Matilda who studies at Yale and traveled from New Haven for the weekend. Omar is from Groningen, a city in the northern part of the Netherlands with the country’s highest population of students. Matilda is from a town near the German border. She explained that she once got lost while jogging and ended up in Germany. That’s really funny, I said. It wasn’t so funny when I was lost in another country, she responded.

Matilda said she is confused by New Haven’s lack of bicycles. People outside shopping centers have given her funny looks when she rides through, she said. I suggested she try out a CitiBike to compare NYC’s nascent cycle culture to that of the Netherlands, the Cycling Capital of the World.

Throughout the first half of the match, the crowd seemed low-key. This seems to be the case at many of the places I have visited. The first half is a time to settle in, chat with your neighbors and start working on your buzz. By the second half, everyone is antsier, livelier, louder and drunker.

At the beginning of the second half, I chatted with a bearded giant who held his beer at my head level. ‘Ahoy, Giant,’ I called to the sky. ‘Would you rather play Greece or Costa Rica in the quarterfinals when the Netherlands advances?’

The giant said he would prefer Greece, but moments after he answered, Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos scored the game’s first goal. He was truly a benevolent giant who didn’t blame me for jinxing the Netherlands.

That goal came out of nowhere. The bar fell silent except for one Mexican guy who screeched gleefully and sang part of “Cielito Lindo.” He reminded me of the lone Dutch fan at La Nacional who trolled the Spanish fans by cheering loudly and twirling his orange cap in the air. Little taste of your own medicine, huh Dutch troll?

The crowd rallied, though. As the second half progressed and the Netherlands strengthened their attack, it seemed clear the Dutch would score. Mexico’s fantastic keeper Guillermo Ochoa couldn’t pull Mexico through this match, not with Holland’s devastating pressure. Finally, Wesley Schneijder beamed a laser through the net to tie the game in the 88′. The Dutch kept their foot on the Mexicans’ throats until Rafa Marquez fouled Arjen Robben and Klass-Jan Huntelaar stepped to the penalty spot.

The crowd was giddy. No one around me seemed to consider that Huntelaar, who came on in the 76′ for his very first appearance of the tournament, might miss. I admire their confidence, because God, I would be so pessimistic in that moment.

They were justified, however. Huntelaar scored, the Netherlands survived a tough test against Mexico and Hurley’s rejoiced.

OVERALL ATMOSPHERE: 7.5/10 at Hurley’s, a WASPy bar that captured the runoff from Tonic’s Dutch Soccer House. The fans were friendly and lively, but I wonder how their passion and energy compared to the crowd at Tonic. 

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