Last night De Pater was open for the last time before closing its doors permanently. The owner sold the place so he can go and retire easily. For everyone who has been coming there regularly, there’s this dual feeling of being happy for him, and being sad one of the best damn bars in the city is shutting down.
For anyone who has never set foot in De Pater, I’ll do my best to describe the place. Although I feel words won’t do this place justice. De Pater has this distinct feel to it, a shared energy with anyone and everyone who walks through the door.
De Pater not a big place. Hell, when I first went to De Pater, I almost walked past it. Twice. It’s located in a small alleyway between two major streets in The Hague’s city center, right next door to one of the more well-known karaoke bars. Most of the time when you walk past it, patrons of that karaoke bar is spilled through the street, often even blocking the entrance to De Pater, unaware there’s an actual bar there.
Once inside, you’ll realize the interior is as cramped as the exterior. There’s not much place to go. Up front near the entrace, you have the bar. Usually there’s only one bartender, because really, there’s only space for one person behind the bar. Most of the time, he’s working his ass off, because small as the place is, it’s usually packed.
Get past the bar, and you’ll get to the stage. A slightly elevated area where all the magic happens. It’s an open stage. If you can play an instrument or sing well enough, you’re free to get up on stage and play. Don’t expect to have the place to yourself though, you’re going to share it with everyone else on stage. Some of the most amazing jamming sessions erupt from up there, mixing all sorts of music styles together. In all the time I’ve gone to De Pater, I’ve not heard one single bad jam session from the place.
Did I mention the place ignores the smoking ban that’s in place in this country? Because they do. If you want to smoke, you smoke. Simple as that. There’s no ashtrays either. It’s a messy, smokey, booze-filled, somewhat seedy, packed-like-sardines sort of place. And that’s precisely what I love about it.
A few years ago, my old roommate’s band, NiCad, had a gig there. I’d never heard of the place, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d seen them play at O’Casey’s, one of the major Irish pubs in The Hague. I’d seen them play at ‘t Paard, where most bands end up sooner or later. But seeing them at De Pater was a different experience entirely.
It took me a while to find them, walking past the place twice without realizing. I’d almost giving on up finding them, when on the third time walking through the street I ran into the bassist standing outside. Like I said, the place was small. I’d expected something bigger. At first I was disappointed they were playing much smaller venues than before. Although that feeling faded when, after the first break, they started jamming with several of the in-house musicians. One of the most amazing sights that night was this black dude who was not just beasting on drums, but he was also rapping and singing while doing so. Later this turned out to be a regular thing there.
It didn’t take long for me to become a regular at the place.
One night I met this girl there who I ended up talking to for the duration of the night. We hit it off almost immediately, talking about good movies, Steve Buscemi. She talked about coming from England, and how weird Dutch customs are in terms of paperwork, to the point of having to retake the cultural aptitude test (which is bullshit to begin with) after having been on vacation back to her homeland. I talked about wanting to get more serious about writing, and about the trip to England I was about to take. She told me if I really wanted to start writing, I should just write. Told me the best thing I could do now was just start up a blog right now, and get my work public, in my own name, on my own terms.
The next day, this blog was born. Still one of the best choices I’ve made in the last few years. The stuff I’ve put on here helped me write for Guerrilla Geek. Helped me sell articles. Got me my current editor job. Not to mention all the people I’ve met since starting this site up.
Not long before my trip to England, my roommate’s band played at De Pater again. Just like before, it was an amazing night.
Fast forward several years. I’ve lived in England. Lived in Ireland. Have been homeless. Just got back on my feet again. I decided it had been too long and that I should go see how De Pater was holding up.
The place had been doing well. Live bands still played there almost every night, followed by the famous jam sessions. The place was still packed. Apparently my new downstairs neighbor was a regular there as well. We bonded over that. Then I learned through him the place was going to close up soon. That it was being sold. I felt heartbroken upon hearing that.
Last night was the last night. Live music from 10pm until 6am. It was one of the best nights out I’ve had in my life. As much as I mentioned De Pater tends to be packed, I’d never seen it quite as busy as it was last night. Despite that, it never felt like it was too much. The entire crowd was all regulars. All people who knew what they came for. People who wanted to experience De Pater just one more time.
The moment I headed home, I felt one of my dreams shatter. It had always been a dream to improve enough on the guitar to jam along on stage with the people there.
Now that they’re closed, I don’t know where to go anymore in this city. I might just give up on the The Hague night life all together. Most of the places I used to like started going after younger audiences, switching live bands for DJs. Places with a good community and even better live music are hard to find.