REMINISCENCE

1: a story told about a past event remembered by the narrator. 2: a characteristic of one thing that is suggestive of another.

The Red Pubby JC Uys III

In 2015 I was fresh out of University, working in a dinky bar on the outskirts of the Red Light District of Amsterdam, The Red Pub. Quite the historic little bar, having served as the headquarters for a secretive resistance of Dutch, during the German occupation in WWII.

I was quite fond of this place and more than content working for minimum wage, and tips, in a place filled with so much history and personality. 

Mr Dwight de Vries, the owner at the time, an 80-year-old gentleman with impeccable style, always dressed up in his Sunday best, even on Wednesdays. A smile that would light up the room every night he came to check in on his favourite customers and to make sure everything was running smoothly. As soon as he entered the door he would hang up his coat, scarf, and hat and start doing the rounds table by table, telling a joke here and there, always reciprocated with real laughter from the pit of one’s stomach. Our regulars were three very unique characters themselves.

Firstly, there was Jan Uijs, a 35-year-old writer, a superstitious man always waiting by the door at opening time to ensure he gets his booth. It’s the booth in the back, where he could sit facing the mirror, to discretely observe the other customers. The layout of the table would always look the same, his notebook centred to his position, with his three pencils diagonally arranged above it from longest to shortest, and the sharpener and eraser were always to his left placed in line with the coaster. As soon as he sat down I would come to greet him with his favourite beer, Duvel, always served at room temperature, just the way he likes. Throughout the evening I would always keep an eye on him, ready with a fresh new draught the moment he takes his last sip, we had a very good rhythm and he was a generous tipper.

Secondly, we had Miss Anja Maria Schuit, the socialite of Amsterdam, also a very popular tour guide. Miss Schuit was in her 70’s but the 1965 Miss Holland had aged gracefully. Always dressed as if she had a royal banquet to attend. Quite moonstruck with Mr de Vries and The Red Pub, the last stop on her tour was always our little pub, ensuring it was packed and thriving. Talk, talk and talk, she could talk till sunrise. Some nights, I exploited her love for storytelling by roping in some poor schmuck from her tour group to ask her about her pageant days, a topic that could keep her busy for hours, at the same time gifting my own ears some much-needed rest. A Harvey Wallbanger served in a Collins glass, garnished with an orange slice and the Galliano L’Autentico liqueur, triple the amount of the original recipe. Knowing her limits very well, she would usually switch over to water somewhere after drinking number eight.

Mr Hans Van Buren was another regular I came to know during my time at The Red Pub and definitely the most fascinating. At first glance, Mr Van Buren looked like your average grandfather, he was always wearing a pair of dark corduroy trousers with spotless old leather shoes and grey socks. Sporting a grey button-up shirt and jersey, with his favourite old flat cap. The chain-smoker that he was, his packet of Red Lexingtons and golden Zippo lighter always within arms reach, a permanent reservation at the booth in the corner. The wall at his booth was decorated with the annual 23rd of April opening day celebration pictures, taken every year since the pub opened its doors in 1954. You can find him in every picture. At the ripe age of 91 a perfect gentleman, ladies were addressed as my dear and men as sir, no matter the age gap. The epitome of respect according to every person he came across. Untroublesome drink of choice, a pint of whichever beer was cheapest.

I can recall many memorable nights at The Red Pub, one of my most cherished will always be the 7th of July 2015. It started as an average night at the little pub. As always, Mr Uijs was in his booth writing up a storm, whilst enjoying his Duvel. Miss Schuit was entertaining her group of American tourists with a pageant story, or two, or three, and Mr Van Buren, who had just arrived, made himself comfortable in his booth, enjoying his first sip of beer. As the night progressed, eventually Mr de Vries had arrived, done his rounds and went to sit next to Mr Van Buren, where the two could spend hours talking about olden times and current affairs, all at the same time.

The drinks were being finished as quickly as I could pour them. Part of Miss Schuit’s tour group had started a drinking contest and some of the gentlemen were quite inebriated. I could see that Mr Uijs had merely a few sips left and it was time for me to get his next one ready. As per usual, my timing was perfect, as I reached his booth he took his last sip and placed the empty glass on my tray as I placed a fresh one on his coaster with the Duvel logo facing front, of course. A quick smile and he jumped back into his work.

I walked over to the next booth where Mr de Vries and Mr Van Buren were having a laugh at some of the old photos when a sudden commotion came from behind me. Two of the inebriated Americans had decided to have a bit of a wrestling match. I turned around just in time to find one man being thrown onto Mr Uijs’ table. Mr Uijs, who was having the first sip of his new beer was understandably surprised by this and dejected when the rest of his beer ended up drenching the man. The man, visibly upset, found his feet with a bit of a struggle and decided that this was all Mr Uijs’ fault. Grabbing Mr Uijs by the collar, yanking him out of his booth, pulling back his fist ready to launch into a wallop.

Realising I had to intervene, I took a step in their direction when Mr Van Buren pushed me aside, he had seen just about enough of this display of toxic masculinity. Without hesitation, Mr Van Buren, a 91-year-old man, mounted the American as if he was offered a piggyback ride and put the man in a chokehold. Making sure not to injure the man, he dismounted the moment the man let go of Mr Uijs. The American, now on the floor looking up at Mr Van Buren, like a scolded schoolboy, was soon helped up by the other man who had actually started this whole fiasco. Mr Van Buren looked at the men and said, 

“Not in my house!”. 

The entire pub was just staring at Mr Van Buren in pure disbelief. Miss Schuit, a bit embarrassed, gathered her group and escorted them out. Mr de Vries was still calmly seated at the booth, clearly not worried for a second, stood up and proudly said,

“One round on the house!”

As everything returned to normal. By 3 am, all the customers had left, leaving Mr de Vries, Mr Van Buren, Mr Uijs, and myself with the opportunity to share a drink. Mr Uijs, who was extremely grateful, lifted his glass and made a toast to the man who came to his defence.

A few weeks later, Mr Hans Van Buren would peacefully pass in his sleep. Mr de Vries erected a plaque in the booth he used to call home.

“This booth is home to Mr Hans Van Buren. Dedicated as a never-ending thank you for saving the lives of more than 150 Dutch Jewish children during WWII, including the life of Mr Dwight de Vries. May you rest in peace.”

It turns out, that during WWII Mr Van Buren used The Red Pubas a hideout for Dutch Jewish children. Taking care of them by any means necessary, feeding them, clothing them, and protecting them for weeks. When the time was right and the coast was clear, he would pass them on to one of his fellow resistance members who would then smuggle the children by boat, to safety in London. Knowing that, it gave new meaning to the night he declared, 

“Not in my house!”

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