Renewing friendships in Haarlem. Being thankful. Promising to be back soon.

Marilyn, Inge and Diana.

Previously: Out there in the fields, or a visit to De Plukker Hop Farm Brewery outside Poperinge.

Most of you know that Harlem (New York) derives its name from Haarlem (Netherlands). In fact, Peter Stuyvesant’s original Dutch settlement from 1658 was called Nieuw Haarlem — and “nieuw” means exactly what you think it does.

I’ve never been to New Harlem. My first visit to Oude Haarlem came in 1987, in the form of a day trip from nearby Amsterdam.

Haarlem in 1987. It looked about the same as now.

Eight years later, I made the acquaintance of a Londoner named Gerald, who is universally known as Boris. He was a friend of a friend, the well-documented phenomenon called Six Degrees of Big Kim.

We all attended a party in Copenhagen hosted by Little Kim. I vaguely recall walking off a hangover the following morning with Big Kim and Boris, prior to hopping a train back to Belgium.

Subsequently I was introduced to Boris’ old pal Dewi, a Welshman. Some years before our acquaintance, they’d invested in a house in Bound’s Green, an area in north London. In 1998, my cousin Don and I crashed there for a few days.

Dewi has continued to occupy the Bound’s Green property at varying intervals, but by the late nineties, Boris had gotten a job with a Dutch company, and he moved to Haarlem. There he bought a flat, learned the language and became a de facto Dutchman, albeit it without formal citizenship.

(Cue a discussion of Brexit)

Soon thereafter Boris met an affable expatriate Californian named Bill, who had come to the Netherlands to work as a cook in a Mexican restaurant. It seems that the “melting pot” isn’t an exclusively American concept. Bill met Inge and they began dating. All of them became regulars at a wonderful Haarlem pub called the Cafe Briljant (2002-2017), owned by Rob.

Boris also knew the people who had started the Jopen brewery, and were contract-brewing as they pursued the goal of a brewing facility in central Haarlem.

Concurrently, the era of Roger’s and Kevin Richards’ Merry Band of Beercyclists had dawned. Thus we came to Haarlem in 2004, where Boris met my friends and we met his, among them Bill and Inge; by this time, they were married. Jopen was consumed, and Rob’s bar often visited.

Including 2004, I was to visit Haarlem five times during the next five years. By 2007, Diana and I were close enough to Bill and Inge that we stayed in their lovely house for a few days. It’s a place that Bill, a jack-of-all-trades, almost single-handedly remodeled. 

The last group bicycling trip to date came in September of 2008. Six of us (among them the late Kevin Richards) started and ended our journey in Haarlem. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is just a few miles away, and a shop in Haarlem agreed to rent the needed bikes.

We rode the train to Poperinge, attended the hop fest, and then biked most of the way back to Haarlem. Before splitting off for further adventures, there was a brief window in which to meet briefly with our friends. It was especially wonderful to see Inge, who was about eight months pregnant with her and Bill’s first child.

I returned home, and life promptly got in the way. Bank Street Brewhouse opened in March, 2009, and the demands of trying to get the restaurant and brewery up to snuff intervened. All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. We live and we learn, etc.

From 2010 through 2012, with neither the money nor the time, Diana and I weren’t able to travel at all outside the country. Finally we made it to England in 2013 to visit her relatives, then back to the continent in 2014, though nowhere near Haarlem.

I’ve often referred to this period of my business career as trench warfare, and while this is too glib by half, it does convey something of the idea of how stressful and frustrating the BSB project proved to be. By 2014, I was beginning to see the handwriting on the stall, and the as yet ongoing business divorce stalemate began in early 2015.

In June of 2016, to the day of Muhammad Ali’s funeral, I happened upon Inge via the serendipity of Facebook. While Bill, Boris and Dewi weren’t the social media types, I was “friends” with Inge and Rob, although not to the extent of paying close enough attention.

Inge posted photos of daughter Marilyn, and seeing them delighted me. It slowly dawned on me that six years had passed since I’d so much as e-mailed any of my friends in Haarlem. There was consternation aplenty in what passes for my soul. How could I have been such a negligent schmuck to allow so much time to pass?

I quickly fired off a comment on Inge’s Fb post, vowing to come see everyone in 2017, when I knew we’d be coming across the pond for the triennial hop festival in Poperinge. Inge replied affirmatively, and asked me to message her privately.

This is how I learned that Bill had died suddenly five months earlier, in January of 2016. Four months later, my beercycling co-conspirator Kevin was gone, too. It was obvious that our long-overdue return to Haarlem in 2017 was going to be both therapeutic and elegiac. 

And so it was.

On September 20, 2017 mother and daughter arrived by bicycle to Haarlem’s Grote Markt, the market square lying outside the doors of the pleasingly esoteric Hotel Amadeus. Diana and I were waiting.

It was a letter-perfect autumn day, and so we had an outdoor drink across the way at the Grand Cafe Brinkmann, where it soon became obvious that Marilyn is a dynamo. She’d been raised speaking Dutch with Inge and English with Bill.

Afterwards came a short walk to the Jopenkerk, Jopen’s long gestating brewery-in-a-church, which had been little more than a fenced-in construction zone in 2008. Now the Jopenkerk and the public space around it are people magnets.

Time slipped past. For dinner, we adjourned to Taste of India and a delicious spread of madras and curry. Dewi was in town, but he’d joined Boris at the Cafe Briljant for a tasting of rare Scotches from Rob’s cellar stock. We’d see the three of them soon enough.

The lost years melted away, and it was wonderful to reconnect.

Next: Haarlem is awesome. How did I forget this fact for so many years? Next time I threaten to open a brewery, will you be a pal and sedate me, okay?