The Beautiful Game Is a Beautiful Thing at El Big Bad
Photos by Aaron Champenoy
A battle cry is being sounded across the bar by an overzealous fan. It's the tenth time he's done so, making it appear as though his boasting button stuck on repeat.
Every time his Netherlands team scores against Spain, his drawn-out call elicits looks of fury from the opposing team's fans. The breakneck speed in which they glare causes them to nearly spill their beers in the process.
The team from the Netherlands is dominating this opening-round match of the World Cup, which is infuriating their rivals. The shouts of "Orange! Orange!" - the Dutch team takes its nickname from the color of its jerseys - over the obnoxious "Goaaaaaaallllllllll" calls are as much fighting words as cries of victory.
Located right in the middle of downtown Houston, El Big Bad (419 Travis) is normally pretty sedate. The bar is intense this Friday afternoon, but it's still the perfect place to meet up to watch the planet's most popular sporting event.
An offshoot of the now-defunct El Gran Malo, this rebooted bar has an intimidating drink menu to match its name. El Big Bad (English for "El Gran Malo") has no shame about boasting that it serves some of the best margaritas in the city; luckily, it lives up to its claim. Well-crafted drinks and a great bar scene make it the perfect place to meet a friend or two for a cocktail after work.
But there are no after-work apertifs or light chatter to be found today. It's the second day of the World Cup's month-long tournament, and El Big Bad has opened the doors to the soccer crowd. The match is being projected on four screens, and between the game and the drink specials, the bar is full of boisterous soccer fans. They're dressed in clashes of red and orange, primed for one hell of a match.
"Hey! Look! Gooooooooooooaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllllllll!"
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The Netherlands fan is again taunting his Spanish counterparts, who cheer for the team they call La Roja ("The Red"), with an expression of sheer giddiness over the game's brutal score. A number of Spain supporters sit head in hands, with alcohol providing no medicinal benefit at this point.
The game is now 5-0, with the Netherlands kicking the red out of La Roja, the defending World Cup champions. Apart from divine intervention, nothing can cheer these guys up, not even tequila. No one expected a game like this, especially the fans here.
As the Orange (or "Oranje" in Dutch) fan continues yelling, his antics cause a sea of sighs, levied against the laughter from the winning side. Half the bar seems to approve, while the other looks very, very opposed to his revelry. Some even demand that he quit.
"Hey, man! That was funny the first time, but come on!"
The group of men crammed next to us have on jerseys, but unlike the clusters of orange and red elsewhere in the bar, there is a fair showing of both teams' insignias in this group. Rival fans playing nice is almost unheard of in the soccer world, but it's happening.
For the most part, anyway. One Netherlands fan can't resist a little teasing.
"Hey, you want a Habanero Margarita? Or have you had enough of this burn?"
His friend replies, defeated.
"Man, it's early. Drink your beer and shut up."
The playful ribbing still seems to sting the Spain fan a bit, and he pouts over his margarita. He does opts out of the Habanero flavor, though. Perhaps the burn this game is putting on him is enough.
But the sulking Spanish fans laugh off the light-hearted insults as they notice the wall of tequilas, El Big Bad's crowning glory, sitting behind them. Inquiries are made as to the best option for shots, to buy the Rojas a round as a show of good sportsmanship.
It's a peace offering uniquely tailored to El Big Bad. Fierce rivalries are bound to erupt during an event as big as the World Cup, even among friends.
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