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Cruising, how did that go in Amsterdam, that big city?

by Ron Meijer in Scene , 24 februari 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar


It is hard to imagine that Amsterdam had over sixty gay bars, clubs, hotels and restaurant in the past, nearly all with regulars. There was something for everyone. And the special thing was that the owner of the establishment usually bore the stamp of his or her personality. Often, for instance, you did not go to the Argos but to Kees or Paul of the Eagle, or Cor of The Lord, to name a few.

Argos, ca. mid 1990s
It had many advantages - visitors felt at home, the bar staff knew you, and vice-versa. Having a chat was easy. The advantage for the owner was that he could count on regulars, as nothing is worse for a stranger or tourist than to step into an empty bar. There were always a few regulars present.

This changed over the years. The number of tourist decreased, and other large cities, such as Berlin, London and Barcelona started to offer more following progress in emancipation. In the past, Amsterdam was the place to be for foreign gay tourists. Now, tourists have more choice, and can divide their time and money over several cities. The Dutch visitor as well soon discovered that home sweet home is perhaps not always the best option. Instead of waiting in Amsterdam for the boys to come to Amsterdam, they now can also spend their money and time abroad, with less and less turnover in Amsterdam as a result.

The established old gay bars, such as the Regina, closed first. Bars that were usually taken over by an ex-bartender who was familiar with the bar when the owner retired or stopped. The non-transparent policy of the Centre district of Amsterdam, especially when it came to dark rooms, further acted as a deterrent to continue a bar, and thus opened the door to investors who were not interested in gay hospitality by nature, but did see possibilities there.

The most famous one of all was Sjoerd Kooistra, who bought up bars on the Reguliersdwarsstraat in quick succession.Oblomow (1984-1986)- April (1986-2010)- L'Entrée (1988, April's Exit after renovation)- (April's) Exit (1988-2010)- Downtown (1990-2010) Richter (1996, Soho after renovation)- Havana (1997-2002)- Soho (1999-2010)- ARC (2007-2010).

Soon he fell into disrepute because of his tough and opaque way of doing business. Many of his business had a boring uniformity, and there was no clear structure. Nonetheless, they were the glory days of the Reguliers, until Kooistra's bubble burst, and little or nothing was left of the Reguliers as a gay street. Will it ever make a comeback and restore its former glory? I doubt it.

To make matters worse, the Warmoesstraat also lost two of its famous crowd pullers -the Cockring had to close due to drug trafficking, and the Argos did not do well under new management. Then the owner of the Eagle, Paul Wierks, suddenly died on holidays in the US.

To date, the Eagle is the only leather bar in the Warmoesstraat remaining. Two of Amsterdam's most famous gay streets almost disappeared from the map.


Looking for a Partner

Home alone and dreaming of Prince Charming does not bring you any closer to finding him, nor does staring at a nice man in the supermarket. You would say that with all these men in the city, everyone would be provided for. However, nothing is further from the truth. In nightly Amsterdam there was another scene available, namely that of cottaging and cruising in parks and public gardens. This is nothing new in itself, but what is remarkable is that this way of making contact was becoming increasingly popular in the 1960s and 1970s, much to the chagrin of the City of Amsterdam.

Typical places for cruising were and remain urban parks, rural forests, public toilets (urinals), stations, parking places (special service stops along motorways), and remote beaches. A similar function is fulfilled by darkrooms that can be found in the various gay bars and clubs.

The phenomenon 'gay meeting place' is not a recent development. Even before the 17th and 18th centuries, there is documentation about cruising places ('de baan') in the Netherlands, such as the Haagse Bos and Lange Voorhout in The Hague, and around the Dom Church in Utrecht. Both the English word cruising and the Dutch word 'baan' (for the place where people look for sexual contacts) seems to derive from the eighteenth-century Dutch word cruysbaan.

The public toilets (urinals or ‘bakken’ in the vernacular) that were known as ‘secreten’ or the urinals for men were used for anonymous sexual contacts. Up to the late 20th century, Amsterdam was familiar with the socio-cultural phenomenon of sexual encounters in urinals placed alongside the canals in the form of an iron and often S-shaped curl where two people could urinate simultaneously, the Amsterdam ‘krul’.

Searching for sexual contacts on a HOP (Homo-ontmoetingsplek) is another form of recreation, and with the increased mobility of the population, gay meeting places were created alongside the motorways and on certain through roads. This is where heterosexual men and women as well seek contact, and such places are nicknamed ‘sex-parking’. Heterosexual couple sex, group sex and sex campers have also made their appearance in certain public places.

Many of these busy ‘bakken’ were en route to and from bigger cities, and the ‘bak’ at the Spiegelstraat/Keizersgracht intersection was (in)famous. Having a look early in the evening was impossible because of the rows of men waiting and staring at each other. Nothing happened, as it was too busy. Things were quieter when the ‘breeders’ walking their dogs were in bed with their wife, but even then it could be busy until dawn.

The City of Amsterdam was not happy, and over time almost all two-person curls disappeared and were replaced by a single urinal or nothing at all. It is a shame that yet another tradition and piece of Amsterdam's history is now gone.

1922
At times I hear people saying (usually a politician before an election): We want to make Amsterdam the Gay Capital of the world again. It just makes me think that that person is clueless. It is the people of Amsterdam who made it what it once was, the Gay Capital. Times have changed, and now you can be just as free in Barcelona as here in Amsterdam, and that is exactly what we always fought for. Feeling free everywhere in the world might be a bridge too far, but in Europe we are well on our way. Amsterdam has certainly contributed to this.
 



 







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