Arriving by train from Delft, Netherlands my wife Erin and I found ourselves in Paris, France, arguably the cultural epicenter of the world. The Eiffel Tower looms large over a city rich in history possessing museums jammed full of works by da Vinci, Van Gogh, and Monet to name just a few. It is an ever-evolving diverse community that has persevered through war and conflict. Fashion forward and sophisticated is what you might consider when drawing conclusions of Paris.
Across the pond more than four thousand miles away in a town of 100,000 people not known for its worldly treasures or forgive me, its sophistication, stands another icon, Lambeau Field. Like the Eiffel Tower it presides over Green Bay, a sturdy righteous symbol of American Football, but more importantly a monument to all the fans that fill it religiously on cold Sunday afternoons in the throws of winter to watch a game.
Minus long forgotten history lessons of French explorers who were some of the first Europeans to call Wisconsin home the parallels between Green Bay and Paris are few and far between. American Football is an afterthought in a land where soccer reigns supreme. Yet in a small corner bar in the heart of an area known to Parisians as the Latin Quarter you can on any given Sunday belly up to the bar and watch the Green Bay Packers.
A Frenchman Becoming a Packers Fan
In 2007 Pierre Louvrier opened Wide Open Spaces Bar or WOS Bar as it most commonly known. Pierre rolled the dice when he opened the place and decided that instead of showing French Soccer, which also is often played on Sundays, he opted instead to show the NFL. At that time broadcast technology or offerings were not what they are today, Pierre could only show what ever came in over the satellite.
WOS Bar opened in 2007, however Pierre’s interest in the Green Bay Packers began in 1998 when following the 1997 season, lead by Brett Favre the Green Bay Packers matched up against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII.
A friend and fellow university student of Pierre’s happened to be a Packers’ fan and invited him to watch the Super Bowl with him. Pierre agreed and in an effort to support his friend he cheered on the green and gold. Despite the disappointing Super Bowl loss by the Packers, Pierre was smitten by the play of Brett Favre and the aura surrounding the Green Bay Packers.
His appreciation for the Packers matured following the 1998 Super Bowl. After opening WOS Bar Pierre showed Packer games whenever the satellite feed allowed. During this time a gentleman by the name of Brad Lemerond came to WOS Bar to take in a game. Lemerond relayed to Pierre that he was from Green Bay. Initially Pierre was skeptical, but after a review of Lemerond’s drivers license he was convinced.
Lemerond extended an invitation to Pierre to come to Green Bay and take in a game with him. In 2011 Pierre made the trek to Green Bay and did just that. Not only did he see the Packers defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-26 but he took the Lambeau Field Stadium tour and went through the Packer Hall of Fame. Pierre is as much of a fan as just about anyone residing in Packer Nation. It’s fair to say he bleeds green and gold.
In December of 2012 Pierre returned to Green Bay, this time bringing his Bar Manager at the time and Scotsman, Matthew MacLaurin with him. Not only did the duo see the Packers take on the Vikings, but get this, they met with Green Bay Mayor, Jim Schmitt at his office. Louvrier and MacLaurin are fans, but I’d say they are more like the foreign ambassadors to the Green Bay Packers.
Packer Nation – One Big Family
Above all my interest in pursuing the On the Road with the Green & Gold project is a result of the sense of community I felt watching Packer games at Saraveza in Portland Oregon. Despite being far removed from Wisconsin, fans gather in droves to watch the game and be in the company of their people. Continually and without exception I discover this same sense of community whether I am watching a Packer game in Houston Texas, San Diego California, Seattle Washington, or Paris France.
This same sense of community I feel, Pierre and Matthew MacLaurin feel as well.
Pierre told me, “I really want to emphasize the family feel of the Green Bay atmosphere.” He continued and said, “A couple of years ago, some people came to the bar to watch a game. It seems because everyone knows everyone in Wisconsin, a few months later, out of the blue, we received a package from the Green Bay Packers Marketing Manager.” The package was full of memorabilia to decorate and be displayed in the bar.
At the time of receiving the package Pierre had not yet traveled to Green Bay. Pierre said, “This is really neat, you really feel like you are a part of one big family. This whole big Packers family welcomes you with arms wide open.” He continued to explain that it is not unusual for Packers fans to visit the bar, return home and then send Packers themed care packages to the bar. Pierre told me, “Sometimes it feels overwhelming because you feel like you don’t deserve this stuff, the kindness and attention… It’s just a place to watch a game, it’s (the attention) really, really great.”
When you spend time with Pierre of course it is clear that he is a Green Bay Packers fan. But you also meet a very hard working and humble man. I complimented him on his success and for creating this place in Paris France for Packer fans to watch games. He told me he is proud to have done so, and went onto say, “I never had an agenda, I was just a fan and wanted to show the game of my team, that’s all. Maybe it’s working so well because it was not planned, it was just out of passion and wanting to share this passion with others.”
Game Day Experience
A high school friend of mine, Kerry Flanagan Wehmeier, saw on the On the Road with the Green Facebook page that I would be visiting WOS Bar. She responded and relayed what a good time she had when she was there, but also advised me to arrive early, as it would get busy for the game. So of course I heeded her advice and arrived around 90 minutes prior to kickoff.
WOS Bar was about a five-minute walk from Hotel St. Paul Rive Gauche where we stayed. When I strolled up I knew I was at the right place, as out front a Green Bay Packers G-Force flag was displayed with pride. Behind the bar the bar tender sported an Aaron Rodgers jersey.
I entered and took a seat next to a woman who was visiting from Scottsdale Arizona, but was originally from Madison. She told me she had googled for a place to watch and of course WOS Bar showed up. A story happily relayed to me throughout the evening. It was awhile before the 7pm Paris kickoff time, but there was already a smattering of green and gold in attendance.
After ordering a beer I went around an introduced myself to fellow Packer fans. I found three types of fans in attendance: Fans from Wisconsin or originally from Wisconsin now residing in other places in the U.S. visiting Paris for work or pleasure, fans from Wisconsin living in Paris, and Parisians who have become Green Bay Packer fans. Pierre said that the NFL is growing in popularity in France and the Packers are a fan favorite.
By kickoff the bar was comfortably full and I established a nice place to stand in good view of the TV, yet able to interact with those around me. This may seem like a mundane point. But for me this is important, I want to be well positioned to slap high fives, discuss the progress of the game, but not to be overlooked, keep my glass full.
I was surrounded by a good crew of people hailing from places like Mequon, Wauwatosa, Oconomowoc, Two Rivers and so forth who were equally excited about the start of the 2016 Packers’ season. Once the beer started flowing and Mason Crosby initiated the season with the opening kickoff it didn’t matter if you were in Green Bay or Paris it was all the same. Go Pack Go releases the same green and gold endorphins no matter where you are located.
The only hints of being in Paris were the beer selection; Kilkenny was my libation of choice and the bartender’s accent. I want to clarify that I am not poking fun; the bartender however was quite comical. When the Packers defense was in action you could hear him over the crowd yelling IN-TER-CEP-CION! With a terrific French accent that made the act of intercepting a pass sound like a grandeur turn of events worthy of high esteem. When Joe Thomas did indeed intercept a pass in the first quarter I thought the Rodgers jersey-sporting bartender might bust clear out of his skin as he hopped around slapping high fives repeating IN-TER-CEP-CION!
Another unique experience I had during the game was Matthew MacLaurin’s brother was in attendance, and he dialed up Matthew who is now living in Scotland. In the midst of the action Matthew and I had a brief meeting via Face Time. Afterwards Matthew reached out to me through Facebook and we had a great back and forth. Like Pierre his passion for the Packers is sincere. Matthew has a Facebook Page for Scottish Packers’ fans called Packers of Scotland.
At halftime Pierre gave me a nice welcome and introduced me to those in attendance. This friendly gesture prompted more fans to introduce themselves to me. Which made the second half of the game good fun with all my newfound friends.
The game was a bit rocky, but hey it was week one of the NFL season. The Packers emerged victorious, defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-23. The high-powered offense the Packers are expected to have was not yet a well-oiled machine. Their defense held up and kept the Jaguars out of the end zone at the end of the game when it mattered most.
As for me experience at WOS Bar, I had a great time. When you’re removed from the comforts of home and the ability to watch a Packer game is not at your fingertips, a television showing the game and cold beer is more than enough. At WOS Bar the game is on and the environment is genuine. It’s so much more than just a bar with the game on. You’re with family, surrounded by distant relatives from Packer Nation that you never knew you had. Pierre has done an incredible job of creating or allowing his bar to become a little piece of home, the Parisian outpost within Packer Nation.