For everyone, Amsterdam evokes back-pedaling bicycles and old gabled houses that line their leaning facades along romantic canals. For gays, Amsterdam immediately evokes the friendliest city on the planet. and rightly so.
With more than a hundred gay establishments, the capital of the Netherlands remains one of the most attractive cities for gays. And also the one that has long been at the forefront of LGBT rights. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1811 and the first gay bar opened in 1927! It was also the first city in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, on April 1, 2001.
This year, Amsterdam celebrated the tenth anniversary of homosexual unions with a large photo retrospective at the city hall, the Stadhuis. It was also the first city to inaugurate a memorial for the homosexual community, the Homomonument. And on August 6, it was once again the first city to have gay men from its army march in their official uniforms during the gay pride march, which takes place here on the canals.
Nowhere else is there such a tolerant and gay-friendly city, except perhaps San Francisco. And yet, Amsterdam has recently experienced some turmoil within its gay community. A sordid story of money worthy of a railway station novel pushed the biggest bars of Reguliersdwarsstraat to close.
Thus, the establishments located on the busiest and most festive gay street, owned by entertainment magnate Sjoerd Kooistra, closed their doors following his personal bankruptcy and suicide. In 2010, April, Arc, Soho, Havana and Exit, the most popular clubs, disappeared. Of course, the historic fetish bars in Warmoesstraat in the Red Light District and those in Halvemaansteeg were not affected. But the mainstream gay party scene did disappear.
Was Amsterdam going to become a desert for gays? Unthinkable. Even the city's mayor decided that something had to be done to bring rainbow colors back to the Venice of the North.
After a long period of administrative wanderings, these bars have reopened one after the other, under new names, some with a new decor, all managed by new teams. Thus, for the last gay pride in August, one could once again party at the Soho, in an unchanged English pub atmosphere, or at theArc, renamed Eve, or at the Ludwig II instead of the April, taken over by the boss of the very trendy Jimmy Woo, and finally at the Havana, which has kept the same name. Only Exit has not yet reopened its doors. These reopenings are a relief for the entire Amsterdam gay community and for the many foreign visitors who come to enjoy the city's festive and tolerant atmosphere.
Other entirely new clubs like Bump have taken advantage of the vacant space to make their appearance. Wisely located in Kerkstraat, a street that already has other gay establishments such as the Church club or The Golden Bear and Amistad hotels, this new address, which was taken over as soon as it opened, is sexy, fun and without attitude. It has already become a must on the Amsterdam gay route from Kerkstraat, between the princely canals, through Reguliersdwarsstraat and Spuistraat to Warmoesstraat in the Red Light District near the Central Station.
The young gay generation has chosen to reinvest De Wallen, the historic stronghold of Amsterdam's fetish scene, with more mixed places like Café Bleu on the Nieuwmarkt with its glitter and chandelier decor, or the restaurant Getto. Even the leather scene has taken advantage of this to make its revival with the opening in April of Club Fuxxx, formerly the Cockring. Uniform evenings, leather or cruising, the old recipes are revived in a new decor. Hans, a muscle and leather bombshell straight out of a Tom of Finland album, explains: "Amsterdam does not have to compete with other European cities for the status of gay capital. It always has been. And if it has led the way for others, all the better. Everyone is welcome here. "
While it's true that Amsterdam has far more gay venues than many other European cities, the recent upheaval has allowed it to revitalize a scene that is too 1980s and 1990s for some people's taste. The European gay capital is renewing itself while maintaining its legendary tolerance and preserving its gezellig, the Dutch way of life.
Find all the gay and gay-friendly addresses in Amsterdam in the Amsterdam gay guide
(Illustration photo © Laurence Ogiela)
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