Reguliersdwarsstraat has an interesting history as this street has been influenced by the wealth, as well as the poverty of surrounding neighbourhoods and has become a place for a wide variety of both gay and straight people.
See also the history of some of the most famous former gay venues of the street:
The important episodes of the history of the street are related to the areas marked on this map:
Reguliersdwarsstraat has its name from a late mediaeval cloister of priests who lived according to the rule of Saint Augustine. Hence they were called regular canons (in Dutch: reguliere kanunniken). This cloister was build in 1394 and was situated not very far away from present-day Reguliersdwarsstraat. It was destroyed by fire in 1532.
Birds-eye view of Amsterdam on a painting from 1538
In the upper left the former cloister of the regular canons
Later on, a few streets, a canal and a square were named after this cloister by the prefix Reguliers. Reguliersdwarsstraat is the street which lies more or less transverse (dwars) to the broad Reguliersbreestraat, which was the main street leading from the former Regulierssquare (now Rembrandt square) into the old city centre.
Reguliersdwarsstraat itself was constructed in 1586, when a new fortification was build to protect the city. As walls couldn't resist canons anymore, the new fortifications consisted of an earthen rampart with bulwarks. These skirted the southside of Reguliersdwarsstraat, so at that time houses were only build along the northside:
Detail of a map of Amsterdam from 1640 with
Reguliersdwarsstraat alongside the city wall
In 1664 the fortifications of 1586 were leveled in order to construct the new Herengracht. This canal was part of the large city expansion plan, which included the construction of the famous concentric canals (the so called grachtengordel).
The part of Herengracht right behind Reguliersdwarsstraat was called the Golden Bend (Gouden Bocht), because here were the big and stately houses of the rich merchants and regents of Amsterdam:
Painting of the Golden Bend, end of the 17th century
At the northside of Herengracht, these houses stood on lots reaching all the way to the southside of Reguliersdwarsstraat. This made it possible to have large gardens behind the big houses and stables and coach-houses alongside Reguliers- dwarsstraat. Nowadays there are still 19 of such coach-houses left, easily recognizable by the huge front doors.
Around 1800 most of the merchants and regents living at Herengracht lost much of their wealth and the coach-houses were sold or rented to private persons. In the 19th century they were ideal for a variety of small business using horse carriages.
As the western part of Reguliersdwarsstraat was influenced by the wealth of the Golden Bend, the eastern part of the street was more influenced by the poverty of the back-street quarter called Devil's Corner (Duvelshoek).
In this neighbourhood there were countless small dwellings, a lot of small public houses and the streets were full of beggars, pedlars and all sorts of street performers.
At the beginning of the 20th century a large part of Devil's Corner was pulled down, so the first cinemas of the Netherlands could be build there: in 1917 the Bioscope Theater of Franz Anton Nöggerath and in 1921 the famous Tuschinski Theater, which is still one of the most beautiful Dutch cinemas.
Old building, which was part of the
Bioscope Theater of F.A Nöggerath (1919)
(photo: Stadsarchief Amsterdam)
At the same time the then narrow Vijzelstraat was widened and the huge Carlton Hotel was build alongside it. This cut Reguliersdwarsstraat physically and visually in two parts.
The hotel was so big, that it had to be build right above the entrance to the western Reguliersdwarsstraat.
During World War II German Nazi-officers were housed in the Carlton Hotel. In april 1943 the Germans shot down a british bomber, which accidently came down right behind the hotel.
Not only the hotel was severly damaged, the fire caused by the bomber destroyed also all the houses in Reguliersdwarsstraat between the Carlton Hotel and Geelvincksteeg.
This was the most devastating fire that struck Amsterdam since 1659, but this time, as by a miracle, only 13 civilians died.
After the war, the area destroyed by the fire was for more than a decade used as parking space for cars. It wasn't until the sixties that relatively big new buildings were run up here: Muntstaete for the city savings bank, and De Geelvinck and Munthof for various offices and shops.
Car-park and construction activities in the area destroyed by the bomber (1963)
(photo: Stadsarchief Amsterdam)
Since the fifties there was a steady growth of bars and restaurants in Reguliersdwarsstraat. Ordinary straight bars have since long been in the street, especially around Devil's Corner. The first restaurant was probably Ognibeni at number 74, which existed from 1936 untill the seventies.
In 1963 the first gay bar was opened in the street: MacDonald Club at number 11. In those days gay bars like this one had curtains in front of the window and a doorman at the door to prevent suspicious people getting in. Nevertheless MacDonald was always a very decent bar, which was often visited by gay guys under 21, who where not allowed into the famous nearby gay disco DOK at Singel number 460.
In Amsterdam there was a rather liberal climate, so already in 1970 the first public gay establishment was openend: Coffeeshop Downtown at number 31. This was and still is a coffeeshop where you can really get coffee (and a lunch) - and so not a coffeeshop where soft drugs are sold.
Six years later the first gay disco opened in Reguliersdwarsstraat: De Viking at number 17-19. At first this was a rather hippie styled venue, but later on it got a bad name because of the business boys, the drug dealers and the wild sex parties. De Viking was closed by the police in 1987.
The eighties are known as the golden decade of Reguliers- dwarsstraat. Starting with the opening of the Mexican restaurant Rose's Cantina in 1980, more and more fine and foreign restaurants came into the street, some of them of the highest ranking. Nowadays there are more then 20 different restaurants, most of them well-known and very popular.
A variety of venues in the mid-eighties
(design: Gerritjan Deunk)
A year later, in 1981, Frans Monsma and Guus Silverentand opened the world-famous Café April. This was not only the first public gay bar that was open untill late night, it was also one of the most hip and trendy bars of those days.
Direct from the start April became famous for its big and fancy parties with spectacular decorations. Gay people from all over the world came here on their trip to Amsterdam.
When this bar was extended and became a rotating bar in 1996, it was the biggest gay bar in Europe.
The first interior of Cafe April (1982)
(photo: Missets Horeca)
A view alongside April in 1983
(photo: David Jarrett)
click for a bigger picture
In 1986 April and Downtown were taken over by bar tycoon Sjoerd Kooistra, after he had bought his first bar (Oblomow at Reguliersdwarsstraat number 40) in Amsterdam one year earlier.
In 1988 Kooistra opened gay disco (April's) Exit and in 1996 he took over the famous disco "36 op de schaal van Richter" at number 36, which he turned into the big gay pub Soho by 1999.
Two years later the popular gay dancing Havana was also taken over by Kooistra, but he closed it down in 2002. In that same year Angelique Schippers and Rob de Jong opened a new place, which became the most trendy gay bar of that time: ARC at number 44.
Gay venues at the beginning of the 80's:
17: De Viking
37: Café April
10: Favourite Taverne
6: 't Pandje
In the sixties, the number of bars the eastern part of Reguliersdwarsstraat grew to eight in a row, with some more in Korte Reguliersdwarsstraat. This were ordinary straight bars, but in the seventies and eighties some of them were turned into gay bars.
In 1997 the multicultural Reality Bar at number 129 was opened and by the end of 2006 't Leeuwtje was turned into a gay bar too, bringing the gay community to the centre of this part of Reguliersdwarsstraat too.
Video of the Queen's Day street party in 1997
In the nineties Havana was the place to be, not only in Reguliersdwarsstraat, but in the city as a whole too. Together with the discos RoXY an iT, this was the Golden Triangle of the Amsterdam night life.
In the Reguliersdwarsstraat not only Havana, but also April, Exit and the other venues florished. All this came together in what is remembered by almost everyone as the greatest open air party of all: the performance of Kylie Minogue during Gay Pride 2000:
The performance of Kylie Minogue in Reguliers-
dwarsstraat, during Gay Pride 2000
(video: MVS Gaystation)
The beginning of the 21th century was marked by the break-through of the internet. First this new medium was foremost used for publishing and gathering information: therefore since 1998 almost all restaurants, bars and clubs in Reguliersdwarsstraat made their own websites:
The first websites of restaurant Bangkok, Rose's Cantina and April & Exit
A few years later more and more people got a permanent internet connection and this made it possible to use the world wide web also in an interactive way.
Especially for a dispersed minority group like gays, this was a great opportunity to get in contact with eachother.
But that also meant there was less need to go to gay bars for finding friends. Through the internet one could search and find friends a lot more specifically.
Together with price rises caused by the introduction of the euro in 2002 and many gays going out also in straight establishments, the number of visitors of gay venues began to decline.
To make the street more attractive, it was reconstructed in 2006-2007: a new pavement was laid, old and disturbing objects were removed, sidewalks were made broader and, last but not least, the western part of the street can now be closed for cars during the summer season. This to make more space for pedestrians and terraces:
By the end of 2007 bar-tycoon Sjoerd Kooistra, already owner of Downtown, April, Soho and Exit, bought gay bar ARC. That made him the sole owner of all big gay venues in the street. From this new position he planned doing things to improve security in the street and organizing bigger street parties.
In July 2009 Kooistra re-opened a completely renovated en refurbished cafe April, but by the end of that year he got some serious problems with the Heineken Brewery. They claimed the rent for his bars wasn't paid for almost a year, went to court and won. With the court order Heineken closed Club Exit and the Exit Cafe on April 6th, and on May 19th even the world famous gay bar April.
Other breweries and companies also went to court to get paid, so even more bars of Sjoerd Kooistra closed their doors. One day before one of his favourite bars, gay pub Soho, had to be closed, the bar tycoon committed suicide at his estate near Nijmegen.
This unexpected and dramatic death of Kooistra was a great shock. Especially there was a great fear for the future of his venues in Reguliersdwarsstraat, as they were the heart of the Amsterdam gay scene.
So many visitors left without their favorite bar, made a new gay bar, called Taboo, open its doors in August. But in september the last big gay bars of late Kooistra, ARC and Soho, were closed too. With only a few minor bars left, Reguliersdwarsstraat entered a long, cold and snowy winter:
A cold and empty Reguliersdwarsstraat in December 2010
Even on the very last day of this disastrous year 2010, the legendary 40-year old gay coffeeshop Downtown was closed too.
After the closures in 2010, many people definitely wanted "Reguliersdwarsstraat" and its venues back. Behind the scenes, the city government and the Heineken company also worked hard to find new owners for the bars.
Already in March gay Café Soho reopend its doors, keeping its old name and its grand classic style interior. Next was the small but famous Lunchroom Downtown, which opened its doors again on March 21.
On July 21, 2011 the mayor of Amsterdam himself came to Reguliersdwarsstraat for a grand reopening of the last three big gay bars which were still closed by then:
The legendary Café April was taken over by Casper Reinders, owner of some exclusive Amsterdam clubs. He gave this venue a completely new interior and also a new name: Ludwig II. Gay bar ARC got a new owner, who also restyled the interior and renamed the venue into EVE. Finally, also bar/club Havana, was reopened again also, with the same name, but with a new interior.
Street party for the reopening of 3 big gay bars, July 21, 2011
Unfortunately, none of the three bars which were reopened on that July 21, survived much longer than a year. Havana was already closed in January 2012, Ludwig II was turned into a straight underground bar and finally, also bar EVE was closed by the end of August 2012.
By then, the old gay disco Club Exit was still closed for almost two and a half years. But with a new owner and after an extensive renovation this venue was reopened in October 2012 as gay club NYX.