Going Dutch: A Weekend in Amsterdam

Philip Ellis
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It’s a tough time of year. First the poverty-enforced detox of January gives way to the equally bleak February, a month which drags on much longer than its 28 days have any right to. Then March rears its ugly head. And there’s still no sign of Spring!

Sick with boredom and half out of our minds with cabin fever, two friends and I booked a very, very last minute trip to Amsterdam last week in the hope that some shameless, salubrious revelry might temporarily lift our spirits. A weekender in Berlin had been met with resounding satisfaction last autumn, and we had high hopes for this notoriously naughty city.

So was our sojourn in Amsterdam anything like the last days of Rome? With a dash of Sodom and sprinkling of Gomorrah? Surprisingly, and a little disappointingly, no.

Amsterdam is without doubt a beautiful city; its dainty architecture and countless bridges are both picturesque and highly Instagrammable, and its canals are remarkably un-smelly. But if you put the ubiquitous aroma of weed aside, Amsterdam is actually a lot less debauched than its reputation may lead you to believe. While it doesn’t quite border on family-friendly, outside of the red light district you are unlikely to see anything more outrageous than what we get every day on Page 3 of The Sun.

Truth be told, the only thing that actually shocked me about the red light district was how very ordinary it was. Sex is a business in Amsterdam, like so many other places, and as I walked past the girls beckoning and posing from behind glass like BHS mannequins, I found myself wondering what exactly I had expected. Glitz? Glamour? Nicole Kidman in her Moulin Rouge swing? Amsterdam might be the acceptable face of the sex trade in Europe but when you get down to the nitty gritty, I imagine punters couldn’t care less about glitter and tassels.

Not that the boys and I spent much time perusing windows – we were far more interested in exploring the queer side of the city. Everyone we asked pointed us in the direction of Club Church on Kerkstraat, one of the most popular gay clubs in Amsterdam, which hosts a number of themed and fetish nights. But while we were promised a veritable whore’s wonderland, the reality was a crowded dancefloor, cramped smoking room and overpriced vodka. And non-smokers be warned; wherever you go you will wake up smelling like an ashtray. For a social smoker such as myself, it was a welcome change to be able to light up inside; for my friends, less so.

Among Amsterdam’s most frequented gay bars are Soho and Taboo on Reguliersdwarsstraat, both of which offer a laid back, intimate atmosphere. In fact, every bar we entered in Amsterdam was incredibly intimate – that is to say, small. Space is at something of a premium in Amsterdam, and architects have clearly built upwards wherever outwards wasn’t possible. This has led to a couple of interesting, multi-storey bars, but it also means a vastly different clubbing experience to what some may be used to.

But different isn’t necessarily bad, and all three of us agreed that compared to the in-your-face sleaze and raunch of Berlin’s bear bars, Amsterdam’s atmosphere was much more relaxed. Gentlemanly, even. Only the most prudish of visitors could object. Sure, the city may titillate, but I doubt it could genuinely shock.

In fact, the most depraved behaviour I witnessed probably came from our fellow Brits abroad; we ran into a number of hen parties and lads’ weekends on our rambles through the cobbled streets. And even they appeared to be on their best behaviour; I’ve seen much, much worse on a Club 18-30 holiday in Malia.

About Philip Ellis

Freelance writer, ineligible bachelor and shameless flirt. Loves: books, booze and boys (in that order). No, I don’t intend to grow up any time soon, and yes, that song is about me.