When Aaron Rodgers whisked Danica Patrick to Paris for a surprise birthday getaway last March, he wasn’t expecting to find himself drinking pints at a bar with cheese hats and Super Bowl XLV commemorative pennants hanging from the ceiling. But Patrick had other plans.
The retired auto racer and ride-or-die cheesehead had discovered the WOS Bar, the only Packers bar in Paris (and possibly Europe), on a solo trip there last fall after searching for somewhere to watch a game.
“Danica texted Pierre, the owner, to ask if he could give special treatment to two of her friends, but of course it was Danica and Aaron who arrived,” Kahina, the bartender, tells me while pouring me a pint of blonde.
She points to a corner booth in the back of the cramped, English-style pub. “They sat back there.”
It’s the last week of July 2019 and a heatwave has just maxed out Paris’ thermometers at 107 degrees. After two days of stumbling from one air-conditioned museum to another, I’m having a hard time adjusting to my current surroundings.
Behind the bar hulks a collage of green-and-gold bric-a-brac that would make a Cubist painter blush — an autographed football helmet, strings of Mardi Gras beads, a forgotten-looking bra, several pairs of green novelty sunglasses, a Wisconsin vanity license plate reading “BEER,” and a few postcards featuring views of Green Bay’s resplendently green bay.
Underneath a ceiling plastered with international flags (and the state flag of Wisconsin) a modest-sized television screen shows a replay of the day’s Tour de France stage, which has been cut short by a freak hailstorm. The French rider Julian Alaphilippe has lost the leader’s jersey, but none of the half-dozen patrons of the WOS Bar seem to care.
I’m in Paris for three days of sightseeing after a fun but hectic two-month summer gig doing carpentry in France’s port city of Marseille. Tomorrow I will begin my 20-hour journey back to Madison — a city whose name all my French carpenter friends recognize from le Madison, a line dance that grew incomprehensibly famous here after Jean-Luc Godard included it in a film in 1964. It’s this sort of topsy-turvy connection that has made me curious about the WOS bar. To be honest, I’m something of a fair-weather Packers fan, but at this point I’m committed. I’m skipping the Louvre for this.
In between pouring pints, Kahina fills me in on the history of the bar. The “WOS” stands for “Wide Open Spaces.” Open spaces are one of Paris’ distinguishing architectural features — think grand avenues, public parks, and gardens — but the WOS-es of the bar’s name lie in the American West, whose mythology the French generally idolize. More than one French acquaintance has asked me, with sheepish hope, if Wisconsin has any cowboys.
The bar’s current owner, Pierre, acquired a taste for American football as a student at the nearby university — yes, that Sorbonne — around the same time he became a regular at the original version of the WOS Bar. A little over a decade ago, he seized an opportunity to buy the bar, and as the years passed he gradually fused it with his passion for his favorite football team.
“Anyway, we have three books like this,” Kahina says, hefting onto the counter a thick guest book as a testament to the bar’s longevity.
According to Kahina, the bar’s clientele fall into three categories. Most of the patrons on any given day are students or “regulars,” lured by the cheap (for Paris) 5.50 € happy hour pints. Next are the gameday fans, a mix of homegrown enthusiasts, tourists, expatriates, and, occasionally, New England Patriots. Super Bowl Sunday (which actually starts in the wee hours of the Parisian Monday) fills the place right up to its 120-person capacity. Finally, there’s a steady, year-round trickle of pilgrims like me. On the quiet evening Rodgers and Patrick came, they met a gobsmacked German tourist wearing a Packers baseball cap.
As I work my way through my glass of Folie Douce, I find myself searching for a Freakonomics-style insight to explain the WOS Bar’s unlikely success. In a country where people seem to either love or wholeheartedly detest the national sport of soccer, is American football amusing for its own byzantine irrelevance? Is it the French admiration of the working classes that draws these fans to a community-owned team, once comprised of meatpackers? One of my French coworkers frequently described France as a “country of villages” — does Green Bay carry a quaint, rustic appeal?
Kahina shrugs. If American football ever seemed out of place in this back street of the city’s Latin Quarter, it doesn’t now. Kahina admits that she isn’t fanatical about the game itself. She’d have to get a better grasp on the rules for that, and she wouldn’t be doing her job if she spent too much time watching the games. But the atmosphere, the vibe — she adores it.
“Here in Paris, we think it’s important to have a good time,” she says.
Flipping through the guest book, I’m struck by the tenderness of many of the notes. The bar seems to have been a highlight of many a Wisconsinite’s European vacation. A few guests have taped in their old ticket stubs (Pierre finally made it to Lambeau in 2013).
Rodgers, for his part, fills an entire page with a gracious note. I’m surprisingly moved when I realize that the bar owes much of its collection of Packers-themed memorabilia to generous fans. The thought gives me an idea.
“So there’s this beer that can only be sold in Wisconsin because the brewery doesn’t have a license to sell it in other places,” I begin. “And people are always smuggling it into other states because it’s so popular… .”
On cue, Kahina begins rummaging in the fridge behind the bar. After a moment, she triumphantly pulls out two cans of Spotted Cow.
“A fan brought them,” she says. “I guess we’re saving them for a special occasion.”
One such hypothetical special occasion: Aaron Rogers and Danica Patrick find themselves back in Paris next spring to celebrate a new diamond ring for Patrick. Or a big gaudy one for Rodgers. Why not both? City of dreams, non?