Postcards from the World Cup #6: A Spanish wake and a riot of Oranje
#6: Jamon Jamon & De Hems
Jamon Jamon, 92 Charing Cross Road, London
De Hems Dutch cafe bar, 11 Macclesfield Street, London
Welcome to the death of a party. The moment when Spanish football fans, at least in one quarter of London, turned their backs on Xavi, Iniesta and definitely Fernando Torres. Instead they stayed at work, sending out emails, checking accounts, ordering stationery, anything to avoid witnessing the exit of this once unstoppable football nation at an embarrassingly early juncture.
What a downer. The Jamon Jamon tapas bar, which is located on the fringes of Soho and Covent Garden, promises "World Cup Football and Half Price Tapas!" Music to our ears. The wine list is exhaustive, the mini-dishes delicious.
Sadly, the response to Vicente del Bosque's defence of La Roja's world title has been so underwhelming that on our arrival, Postcards is given the remote controls to the TV in order to locate Spain v Australia at the arse-end of the digibox. We are the only people in the restaurant, apart from three enthusiastic members of bar staff who have very little to do. "Because we play so badly, no one is interested," says one. "We had good crowds for the first two games…"
This situation, then, is a double-edged sword. The shiny, gleaming, razor sharp side is that Jamon Jamon's service is fast, the drinks arrive ice cold, and a brief glance at Quincy on the other channel is enough to lift the boredom of watching this dull, dead rubber game, which is hardly lifted by David Villa's 36th-minute goal.
The rusty, blunt edge is that Postcards experiences the overwhelming sensation of gatecrashing a wake. Albeit a wake for a very, very unpopular person. And so we head for somewhere happier, hotter and indeed whiffier than Jamon Jamon – namely Netherlands hangout and legendary Chinatown boozer De Hems, where the smell is of a gym locker (such is the Manaus-style heat inside) and the view resembles an explosion at Tango HQ.
If you haven't noticed from watching their games on the box, Netherlands fans love a bit of orange. This isn't the most insightful fact you'll glean from a Postcards dispatch, but it's worth noting, as the fans gathered in De Hems for their tie against entertaining Chile are covered in the colour from head to foot. Wigs, novelty sunglasses, eyelashes… and that's just the blokes. Everyone in De Hems could quite easily be the victim of a cinematic radioactive disaster.
Meanwhile, both floors of this expansive watering hole are packed to the rafters with fans crowding around several tellies. The crush for beer is five deep. And when the second half starts, horns sound, the closing time bell rings loudly and a man in a jester's hat (orange, naturally) leads a chant of "Hup, Holland, Hup!" through a megaphone set to 'DEAFENING'. It's bedlam in here.
What Spain lack in enthusiasm, the Dutch more than make up for with sheer bloody rowdiness, mainly because Chile – as they have been all tournament – are a constant threat and very difficult to break down. There is tension, and screams whenever Alexis Sanchez pings a ball around the penalty area; desperation kicks in and when Arjen Robben takes a theatrical tumble to earn a free kick, the pub cheers wildly.
When the Dutch do eventually score – they manage it twice in a 2-0 victory – it's difficult not to yearn for the more civil tranquility of Jamon Jamon. Girls are hoisted onto shoulders with the sole intention of soaking everyone nearby with beer. Horns blare. And when the final whistle sounds, an old traditional folk song blares over the speakers as everyone pogoes their way out into the street.
The mood is boisterous. The feeling is that Mexico, if that's who they're to meet (it's unconfirmed until the evening), are there for the taking in the second round. For the Dutch, this is the beginning of a night-long shindig. For the Spanish, This Football Life stinks. But at least it's a quiet life.
WHAT WE HAD: Two for one tapas! Octopus and chorizo, £7.95.
@bymattallen is criss-crossing the capital in the line of duty for the duration of Brazil 2014. His aim to find the best World Cup-themed parties in London. If you know of any, please tweet him. And bring your novelty sunglasses and eyelashes.