Back to the bars

The time of carelessly visiting bars is over. From now on, you need a charged phone battery, an official application courtesy of the government and a working QR-code to get in to bars. If you don’t agree with these new terms and conditions, you will have to accept the consequences.

On a muggy Wednesday night at Leidseplein, people are rummaging their way through the crowd, on their way to start an exciting evening. The hasty clicking of high heels goes well with the ruffling of leaves on the sidewalk that have fallen of the trees a bit too early for this time of year. Gowns and costumes leave the tram station, continuing on to the Dance theatre that is lit to the stars. Not too far from the square, people are enjoying their liquid gold in all kinds of sizes at café Weber. Underneath the overhang, places to sit become scarce. To the sound of slight trembling rain, people talk the night away.

Through the chitchat, a familiar beeping sound takes the overhand. A line forms on the curb with people shining their smartphones in their faces. One by one, each person enters the establishment carefully. Once inside, a sigh of relief is released. Everybody moves in one stretch from the door to the bar, ordering drinks single, double, triple the amount they can afford. When the beeping sound finally fades into the background, an unfamiliar beep throws everybody off. A tall guy standing in front of the door starts a dispute with the waitress. Reluctantly he accepts his fate, turns around and continues walking the other way.

What used to be a way to enter internet sites quickly and easily, has become for a lot of Dutch people a daily hassle. QR-codes have become the new normal. Close to 12 million people are already vaccinated in the Netherlands, but still more than 7000 people test positive every day. So to enter a club, restraint, theatre etc., you need to show your valid vaccination code or proof of a negative COVID-test, not older than 72 hours. Failure to show these documents results in refused entry by the establishment. The terrace remains a QR-code free zone if you can find a place to sit.

Marthe, curly-haired waitress, is clearing the table of empty glasses, leaving condensation rings on the wooden table. When she picks up the last glass, it slips out of her fingers, spilling the remaining bit of beer in the glass. With the towel hooked to her belt she cleans up the spillage.  “I am a fan of the QR-codes, it creates some kind of safe environment in our bar,” she says “People are not afraid anymore to hug, kiss, dance with each other. It’s beautiful to see people living their life again, this time without the major consequences.” When another group calls for assistance, she hurries to the table, occupied by guys who have put on their beer goggles on for the night. After taking their order, Marthe slips back inside while murmuring her last words: “You’re welcome to come inside and dance if you want!”

Two tables down, a young couple is enjoying a bottle of merlot. They’re cuddled up underneath the warmth of the terrace heather and looking out on the busy street. “I am vaccinated myself, but it’s everybody’s own choice. The new government rules are kind off discriminatory to people who feel different about the matter,” Bart tells while looking at his girlfriend, Roos. Roos agrees: “We make use of a system not everybody can enjoy. If I weren’t vaccinated, I also wouldn’t want to take a test every three days.” The two lovebirds continue the discussion among themselves until the bottom of the bottle of wine is visible.

When the clock strikes twelve, the night that started whimsically ends abruptly. Windows close, chairs get stacked and the last people sitting at the tables are being chased away. Café Weber is done for the night and so is Marthe, who waves everyone goodbye. The busyness of Leidseplein turns in to serenity as people make their way back to the tram stations. When the last running tram leaves the platform, only the locals stay behind. But the festivities don’t always end at twelve, who knows what goes on behind the facades of the houses at Leidseplein, uncontrolled and unregulated.