Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

H&J Sports bar (in Makati): An Orange Crush

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H&J: An Oranje Crush
by rick olivares

Nigel De Jong played an excellent forward pass to Arjen Robben from their defensive third. Despite a long Bundesliga season where he played a total of 3,124 minutes (tenth most on Bayern Munich), Robben, the 30-year old midfielder with wheels for feet, motored downfield and outraced Chilean defender, Gonzalo Jara who is two years his junior.

Robben sent a sure-footed cross from the left side of the box not knowing if any teammate had raced up ahead to join the attack. Second half substitute Memphis Depay linked up. When he saw that Robben had gotten into perfect position for a cross, he put on a burst of speed to beat defender Eugenio Meña and midfielder Marcelo Diaz to bundle in a second goal to ensure that the Netherlands topped Group B with an immaculate record, 3-0-0, while Chile, finished second with a 2-0-1 slate, but also advanced to the second round.

The Dutch crowd that gathered at H&J Sports Restobar erupted in wild celebration. “Top of the group!” yelled one expatriate who slapped high fives with everyone in the vicinity.

“All the way,” crowed another while clinking beer bottles with another.

H&J is and has been home field for the Dutch community in Manila. For the past 15 years, first at the corner of Jupiter and Polaris Streets in the Bel-Air area of Makati and now is in its new and permanent home along Felipe Street (about four street corners from the old venue), it has been one of the top sports bars. Its staple of viewing has been football from the Premier League to La Liga to the Bundesliga to Dutch Eredivisie and to the always crowd-drawing Euros to the World Cup. Rugby matches are popular as well.

With 20 television screens (including three massive screens) spread across homey lounges, couches and viewing areas and a pair of billiard tables to go with its well-stocked bar and an impressive menu that provides, Western, Asian, Filipino, and Indian fare, H&J has become a popular hangout for both expats and locals. “You don’t have to be Dutch to come over and have a good time,” cleared Musters. “We get people from different nationalities. The other day, we got a good Argentinean crowd. During the Spain-Netherlands match, there were quite a few Spanish nationals in the crowd.”

While the ouster of Spain and England may be good from the standpoint of teams with everything to gain, at H&J, it is considered a huge hit. Especially for the English and British crowds.

“There are a lot of English or British expats here in Manila,” pointed out Musters with a wink. “And they drink a lot too. So that helps.”

Outside the tournaments that feature national teams, the most watched matches are those that involve English clubs Manchester United and Liverpool. “Any time those two teams play separately or against each other we get large crowds,” said former Nomads FC captain Randy Musters who manages H&J for his uncle, Jerry Echter. “There are fans from other clubs but not in the same number as United or LFC.”

“We get some Eredivisie matches but among the Dutch expats, it is only when the big games – the rivalries – that we get a good attendance,” added Musters.

CJ, a Dutch expat, has lived in the Philippines for as long as H&J has been in existence. It was his connection to game that saw him look to the sports bar for a semblance of home.

“If you’re Dutch and during the Euros or World Cup time, this is the place to be,” explained CJ. “The owners are Dutch (with Indonesian roots) and that adds to the ‘home field’ feel. There are other sports bars in the area but this is ours.”

The first matches of the Oranje – the 5-1 thrashing of Spain and the 3-2 win over Australia – drew massive crowds. “There is no space to walk around,” described CJ. “You have to get in early or risk not having any place to sit or stand or anywhere where you can squeeze yourself.”

“Now that the team is through to the next round, we might not see as many Dutch people come out,” added CJ. “In the next round, the knockouts, the Dutch crowds will be back.”

When the Wilhelmus, the Dutch national anthem is played before kickoff, several bar patrons join in the singing. And they sing loud and proud. “Netherlands!!!!” screamed one man while raising his beer.

“Yes, H&J is for the Dutch while Handlebar is for the German community,” added Sebastian, CJ’s best friend in Manila, who is German.

Knowing the two countries have a rivalry stemming from the Second World War, I ask how it ever gets heated between the different nationalities.

“Sometimes there are arguments,” admitted CJ who also roots for his hometown Ajax Amsterdam team. “But it’s all talk. Not like back sometimes gets a little more physical. Not in Manila. We’re well behaved.”

When the stakes are higher, the matches get more intense. And at sports bars, where the alcohol flows, sometimes there’s a tendency to get a little rowdier. But it’s all just talk.

So how does one avoid “arguments?”

“Don’t drink,” deadpanned CJ while Sebastian and other friends laughed out loud. “But I don’t think Jerry or Randy will be happy about that (not drinking).”

Watching the replay of the US-Portugal match

CJ and Sebastian who I interviewed for this story.
With Randy Musters!

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