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Mark Schröder about April, Soho and Exit

by Vincent van der Kraan in Nightlife & Reports , 31 oktober 2003


'Deep in my heart I’ll always rather stand behind the bar than work in the office'. In the early seventies the Reguliersdwarsstraat wasn’t more than a dark backstreet. With only one bar, a gay one: the MacDonalds. Late at night, the only people out on the street here were visitors of the MacDonalds, in those days one of the best running late night bars in the gay scene.

Thanks to the MacDonalds Amsterdam eventually got its own gay street with international flair, copmparable to the SF Castro Street or the NY Christopher Street. In this desolate street, coffeeshop Downtown was the first to open its doors in the seventies, followed in the early eighties by April, the first gay café with an open view from the street.





Then in 1987 followed Havana, which recently closed its doors again, and in 1988 gay disco Exit. Since then gay night- and day-life in the Reguliersdwarsstraat has boomed. In 1999 Soho opened its doors and last year a new leaf, the Arc, sprouted from the same branch. Also straight businesses tried their luck, chipping in on the success of the gay businesses, and soon cars had to mend their ways at a footpace through a thick crowd of gays and straights, mingling and enjoying themselves in- and outside the many bars, cafés and restaurants.

Till 2003, the city council remained in denial over the fact that the street had changed character dramatically from a regular thoroughfare to a flâneurstreet. Since the MacDonalds, which at some point changed its name to Bicyclette, and recently the Havana have closed shop, the combination of April, Soho and Exit has become the powerful gay foundation under the street.
We’re talking to Mark Schröder, 40, born in The Hague, and manager of the April as well as the Exit and Soho.





Mark, how did you end up in the Reguliersdwarsstraat?

"In 1985 I came to Amsterdam for my law studies. After that I went into the clothing-trade, but that also wasn’t what I was looking for. I got a job at Danzig and in 1987 landed in Havana. From Havana I became a barkeeper in the April. In 1993 the second big bar was installed there, which turns like a caroussel around a huge pillar in the middle. An absolute novelty in gay bar land. I tried my hand at different jobs here and there outside the catering business, but soon learned it was my curse or blessing and I never regretted it in any way. After our second renovation the April now has three separate identities: the ski hut, the sitting area and the mirror bar. Especially during the winter you can see that each corner has its own crowd."





From barkeeper you turned into manager of not only one, but three businesses. How come?

"More or less by accident. Alex Visser, who used to be the manager, asked me one day if I would be interested and after some heavy soul-searching I decided to go for it and try my luck. ‘No’ is always an option and ‘yes’ you can try for, so why not. But the move from behind the bar straight to managing two businesses... pfff, not easy indeed. Last april I was asked if I wanted to start managing the Soho as well and also that is a fantastic challenge. I do this work now for two years and nine months, but if you’d ask me, I’d tell you that deep in my heart I’d still be rather behind the bar than in the office."

After twenty years the city council finally understood that on certain hours - Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 21.00 hrs - the street has to be closed for traffic going through. What do you think of the council’s policy?

"It’s a good thing it finally happened. But it’s only for a trial period. There are many conflicting interests at work here and as a catering business we have to be very careful with our neighbours. There are 34 different businesses in this street, like clothing outlets, kitchenware stores, restaurants, garages, etc. Some restaurants want their guests to be able to arrive at their doorstep in a limo, others don’t mind that visitors have to walk a few steps to get there.
Some residents can’t stand the noise of bar visitors having their drink out on the street and like them to stay indoors. All these voices have their own say. All parties involved have good contacts amongst themselves, but there are a few notorious complainers who know how to find their way to the council’s complaints window unerringly."





Something else is the rise of aggression against the gay catering business. Does that bother you? At a Palestine demonstration the windows of a gay store recently were smashed in. Do you foresee possible future escalations?

"Ah, that’s crap. The morning papers like to conduct a smear campaign against anything Moroccan or Turkish as soon as they smell aggression anywhere, while a Dutchman doing something never even gets mentioned. No, we’re not bothered with agression aimed at us. The only thing that has been bothering us over the last years is pickpockets, but we try to take firm action against them. Communication is the key word where it comes to agression, which means you should not only talk, talk, talk, but also listen, and listen closely."

You come across as extremely friendly. Aren’t you much too nice for the work you do?

"How nice of you to think I’m nice (Mark laughs heartily). But I’m not a doormat and when necessary I have a mean bite."





How worried are you about the fall in numbers of (gay) visitors to Amsterdam?

"Very worried indeed. So many legal rules have been added these last years, it’s hard to keep it all pleasant. At the smallest complaint you’ll find an inspector at your door, meter in hand, to check the number of millimetres you’ve been transgressing the latest norm this time. Managers these last years have had to deal more with time and again adapting to new rules, than investing in new ventures or major events. Only in the last half year the realization has dawned the reins shouldn’t be pulled only, but should also be slackened now and then. From January 1, closing times will be left to us to decide, like they’ve been doing for a long time already in Belgium. And they’ve never had any problems there with it. But in Holland we had to learn the hard way, that all the bars closing their doors at the same time will inevitably lead to trouble and aggression in the street."

Any new plans concerning the internet?

"I’ve been very active with our website lately. I’d like to start selling CD’s on the net and video registrations of for instance Gay Pride. Having net terminals in the bar demanded an enormous upkeep and at a certain point we simply didn’t have the time to do so. So that’s why we removed them. All of our websites, Regulierdwarsstraat.nl, DiscotheekExit.nl, SohoAmsterdam.nl, CafeApril.nl, are at this point 'Under Construction’. Internet is a great way to inspire people to visit Holland and we’re doing our very best."



 







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In the New Issue of Gay News, 315, November 2017







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