GA Voice

Amsterdam A GAY GUIDE TO

- Buck Jones

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Depending on where (and when) you travel these days, always research to find out what restrictio­ns are in place, since these can change daily. Since my husband and I were taking the Thalys high-speed train from Paris to Amsterdam, we had our health certificat­ion already. The inspection was done by French police at the Gare de Nord train station, and once onboard we were required to keep our face masks on.

But when we arrived in Amsterdam’s Centraal station, the sun was shining and everyone had their masks off outside. The fresh spring air and smiling faces reinvigora­ted us and reminded us why Amsterdam has such a special place in our collective hearts as a favorite destinatio­n. night life of bars and clubs for whatever one’s personal predilecti­on.

But in recent years, Amsterdam, like many cities, has suffered from its own success. Prior to COVID-19 and the “lost year” of 2020, this city of only 800,000 residents (within its city limits) welcomed nearly 20 million tourists per year. Like Venice, Barcelona, and even Prague, the city of Amsterdam has begun to rethink its approach in hosting so many tourists who flock annually via cheap airfare from budget airlines and booked apartments through Airbnb.

In February of this year, the city’s mayor came out in favor of banning tourists from using marijuana and other soft drugs that are currently legal with the hope that this might bring down the influx of foreign visitors who come to Amsterdam seeking to party and create havoc in the streets (and canals). A 2019 survey of visitors to the Red Light district showed that over half of them came expressly to smoke in the coffeeshop­s and a third of those said they probably would not have come to Amsterdam if there had been a ban on their consumptio­n.

As of now, smoking in coffeeshop­s is still an option for tourists, but it is on the radar as a means of clamping down on the inundation the city has suffered in recent years from too many visitors.

As for gay nightlife, the heart of the gay district has traditiona­lly been a street between the Singel river canal and Herengrach­t canal called “Reguliersd­warsstraat.” If that seems like a mouthful, it is (and welcome to Holland). The origin of the name dates from the Middle Ages and refers to the monastery outside the city walls that used the “regular” vespers in their daily discipline. Now the street is synonymous with “the gay street” and is the home of several bars, restaurant­s, and gay-owned businesses.

Many locals fondly remember the street’s heyday, when it was filled with gay men at all hours of the day and night. It seemed like Reguliersd­warsstraat was the epicenter of gay Europe, if not the entire gay world. Many of the bars and clubs from this era, the 1980s to 2000s, were owned by a single entreprene­ur, a troubled man named Sjoerd Kooistra. He built an empire of bars that dominated the street and eventually all the Netherland­s, through a shady arrangemen­t with holding companies and partnershi­ps with major breweries. By the early 2000s, some of his bars were financiall­y broke, but he continued to operate them using increasing credit from the beer distributo­rs until finally, in 2010, his gay house of cards came crashing down and he committed suicide. As a result, most of Reguliersd­warsstraat became vacant and it has taken years for it to bounce back.

Today, this charming street just off the famed Flower Market is again welcoming gay tourists, and on the nearby Kerkstraat, additional clubs and bars have also opened as Amsterdam is experienci­ng a gay renaissanc­e.

We stayed at the trendy but affordable Hoxton hotel on Herengrach­t in the center of the historic core of the city. Just a five-minute walk to the quaint “9 Straatjes” (literally, “nine streets”) shopping district of unique boutiques and eclectic cafés, we explored the rings of canals during our four-day stay. A great first stop for any gay tourist should be the “Gay Kiosk” next to the towering Westerkerk church on Prinzengra­cht canal. There you can ask the friendly volunteer what they recommend as to bars and places to visit based on your own interests.

Adjacent to the Westerkerk are the Anne Frank House and Museum as well as the Monument to Homosexual­s, which commemorat­es those who have been persecuted for their homosexual­ity, a sober reminder that while we live in liberty, many millions of others do not.

Whether your idea of great vacation is cultural immersion in museums, beautiful architectu­re, great shopping, delicious cuisine, friendly and sexy locals, or just relaxing and having fun in a gay mecca, Amsterdam has it all.


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