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Former Gay Venues


In the past there were also some famous and interesting gay venues in Reguliersdwarsstraat:

Café Mac Donald
Reguliersdwarsstraat nr. 11
1017 BJ Amsterdam
(1963 - 1982)

This was the very first gay bar in Reguliersdwarsstraat. When it opened in 1963, it had, like all gay bars in those days, curtains in front of the window and a doorman at the door to prevent suspicious people getting in.

Nevertheless, Mac Donald always was a very decent bar, which was often visited by younger gay guys. This was also because men under the age of 21 were legally not allowed into the famous gay disco DOK, which was located almost right around the corner at Singel 460.

Ad for the Mac Donald Bar from 1979

In 1982, Mac Donald was taken over by Manfred Langer (who founded the world-famous gay disco iT seven years later), and turned into a more trendy gay bar called Traffic. Accordingly it was decorated with all kinds of traffic signs. This place was soon taken over by a friend of Manfred and existed until 1991.

A view into Reguliersdwarsstraat with a glimpse of
the sign of the "Mac Donald Club", May 13, 1969
(photo: J.M. Arsath Ro'is - click to enlarge)

Coffeeshop Downtown
Reguliersdwarsstraat nr. 31
1017 BJ Amsterdam
(1970 - 2021)

Downtown was located in the oldest building of Reguliersdwarsstraat, dating back to 1642. As such, this is a good example of how 17th century Dutch houses with a shop at the front looked like. The building was renovated in the late 1960s by the Diogenes foundation, who then put it up for rent.

Frits Blaauw and his boyfriend Fokke IJsinga were interested and wanted to start a clothing store, but Diogenes demanded that the space should have a cultural destination and so they decided to turn it into an espresso bar - with art on the walls to meet the demand of the landlord.

Coffeeshop Downtown in August 2009
Coffeeshop Downtown in August 2009

As one of the first espresso bars in Amsterdam, it was given the name Coffeeshop Downtown: after all, they sold coffee and only years later the term coffeeshop would be used for places where you can buy soft drugs.

The opening took place on April 28, 1970, just before Queen's Day, which was then celebrated on April 30. Fokke and Frits hoped for a run-up from the staff of the offices that were still in Reguliersdwarsstraat at the time, but they did not dare to enter a place run by a gay couple.

Frits Blaauw and Fokke IJsinga in Downtown, early 1970s
(photo from Downtown Magazine Jubileumuitgave)

But gradually more and more gays came and Downtown and because it had started as a regular coffee bar, Downtown became the first gay place with windows and doors wide open. A big difference from the other gay bars of the time, which had shuttered windows and a doorman who judged whether you could enter, like the Mac Donald. With its modern and open character, Downtown not only attracted gays, but also trendy straight people.

Fokke and Frits thought it had been nice after five years and sold Downtown to Jan and Ed, who later sold the place to Fred and Angel. At the end of 1979 the coffee bar/lunchroom was taken over by Frans Monsma and his boyfriend Guus Silverentand (1948-1988), who started to organize creatively executed parties. In September 1981, for example, a large costume gala party was held with the theme "Gone With The Wind".

Presentation of Downtown Magazine, May 1980
(photo: Studio FSR/Riejo - click to enlarge)

Downtown became much too small for all this, so in June 1981 Monsma and Silverentand opened a second place a little further down the street: café April. There, they continued with almost weekly changing interior decorations and exhibitions, in which Dowtown also participated and which made Reguliersdwarsstraat the most hip and happening place of those days.

After Silverentand was affected by aids, Monsma sold Downtown to Arthur and Gertjan, and not much later the coffeeshop was taken over by bar tycoon Sjoerd Kooistra. In the meantime, more and more gay venues opened up in the Reguliersdwarsstraat: in 1988 club Exit, in 1989 dancing Havana, in 1999 café Soho and in 2002 bar ARC.

Book matches from Coffeeshop Downtown
(design: Gerritjan Deunk)

Downtown was no longer at the forefront, but nevertheless remained a popular and busy place where both regular visitors to Reguliersdwarsstraat and numerous gay tourists came in the morning for breakfast and in the afternoon for coffee, tea and a piece of apple pie, and of course for the view of all the men strolling through the street.

On April 28, 2010, Downtown celebrated its 40th anniversary, but shortly afterwards, Kooistra's business empire collapsed like a house of cards and all big gay venues in Reguliersdwarsstraat had to close their doors. Downtown was the last to close on December 31 of that year. Fortunately, a new owner was quickly found and Downtown reopened in March 2011 in its original state.

Lunchroom instead of Coffeeshop at the facade, March 2012
(click to enlarge)

The new owner changed the name Coffeeshop Downtown to Lunchroom Downtown, because the term 'coffeeshop' now too often led to misunderstandings.

Due to the high rental prices in Amsterdam, however, the small lunchroom also had to attract tourists as well, giving it a much more mixed character. The Corona pandemic forced Downtown to closed its doors forever in April 2021, after having served the gay community for just over 50 years.

> More photos in our article about Coffeeshop Downtown in Dutch

De Viking
Reguliersdwarsstraat nr. 17-19
1017 BJ Amsterdam
(1976 - 1987)

De Viking was the first gay disco in Reguliersdwarsstraat. 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. The Viking also had the first darkroom in Reguliersdwarsstraat.

Exterior of De Viking during the interior demolition
(photo: Facebook/Havana Reunie - Click to enlarge)

In 1987, The Viking was closed after a drug raid by the police. For a short time the place was reopened by new owners under the name Oscar. After a complete renovation it was succeeded by the popular mixed gay dancing Havana.

Interior of De Viking during the demolition
(photo: Facebook/Havana Reunie - Click to enlarge)

> More photos in our article about De Viking in Dutch

- About the owner: Business Boy – Funeral of Reint Koning

Café April
Reguliersdwarsstraat 37
1017 BK Amsterdam
(1981 - 2010)

April was the most famous gay bar of Amsterdam. The venue was opened in June 1981 by Frans Monsma and Guus Silverentand, who were already owners of the nearby gay coffee bar Downtown.

Cafe April was the first gay bar in Europe with doors and windows wide open. With its light, modern and trendy interior, April was also in general one of the hippest bars of those days.

April decorated for an Easter party in 1982
(photo: collection Frans Monsma)

Because of its spectacular decorations and big and fancy parties, April became almost instantly the most famous gay bar of Amsterdam. Many people from all over the world came here just to visit Café April in Reguliersdwarsstraat.

Exterior of gay cafe April in 1983
(photo: David Jarrett - click to enlarge)

In 1996, April was completely renovated and made three times as big as before: the largest gay bar at that time in all of Europe. Eye-catching attraction was the carousel bar in the back part, which rotated around together with stools and visitors!

The new rotating bar of cafe April in 1996

April was again completely renovated in 2008-2009 and became bigger as ever before. The famous architect Eric Kuster designed a new interior with colorful LED-lights and a tribal tattoo theme: this was meant to be just as international and sexy as April and its visitors:

The third interior of April in July 2009
The third interior of April in July 2009

Due to a conflict between the owner, bar-tycoon Sjoerd Kooistra, and the Heineken company, April was closed in May 2010.

Not until a year later, the bar was taken over by Casper Reinders, who build a completely new interior and renamed it into Ludwig II. This was meant as a gay bar, but was too exclusive to become successful. Within a year it was turned into a straight underground bar named Ludwig.

> More photos in our article about Café April in Dutch

- Gay News: April Celebrates Twenty Fifth Anniversary

Club Exit
Reguliersdwarsstraat nr. 42
1017 BM Amsterdam
(1988 - 2010)

Exit was situated in a former coach-house, dating back from 1766, which in the mid-eighties housed the exclusive bar and restaurant L'Entree. This was a favorite place of many Dutch celebrities.

In 1988 this venue was bought by bar-tycoon Sjoerd Kooistra, turned into a disco for nearby gay bar April, and therefore originally named April's Exit. It was completely refurbished in 2001 and finally renamed Club Exit.

Club Exit and Exit Café in 2007
The exterior of Club Exit and the Exit Café in 2007

Exit was a big gay disco with two bars and a large dancefloor with an overlooking balcony. Each of these areas had its own music: popular music at the first floor bar; R&B, Hiphop, Rap & Latin at the second floor bar and club, Electro, Vocal and Tribal music spinned by a DJ on the dance floor.

On the top floor of Exit there was a new chillout lounge and finally a darkroom, which made the atmosphere of the club rather cruisy. But that's also where a wide variety of gay boys, guys, men but also some women came for.

The dancefloor of club Exit in 2007
The dancefloor of club Exit in 2007

The upper bar of club Exit in 2007
The upper bar of club Exit in 2007

Due to a conflict between the owner, bar-tycoon Sjoerd Kooistra, and the Heineken company, Club Exit was closed on April 6th, 2010.

In 2011, the place was taken over by Rob de Jong, who previously opened venues like Bar ARC and Club Roque. The former Exit got a completely new interior and was reopened in October 2012 under the name Club NYX.

- See also the photos of the Old interior of Club Exit

> More photos in our article about Club Exit in Dutch

Reguliersdwarsstraat 17-19
1017 BJ Amsterdam
(1989 - 2002)

Havana was a mixed gay bar and dancing and the most popular venue of the 90's. It was opened in the place of the former gay disco De Viking by Frans Monsma, who earlier created the famous gay bar April.

The Havana had a warm, but also international style and was famous for its drag queen performances with Nickie Nicole, the Eurovision Song Festival parties and the musical nights.

Upstairs one could dance on the very trendy club music of DJ's such as Natarcia, Kathy, and Groovemaster Johnson. This music attracted both gay and straight, male and female, white and black people.

The left part of the ground floor interior of Havana
(photo: Highlow Productions - click to enlarge)

The right part of the ground floor interior of Havana
(photo: Highlow Productions - click to enlarge)

Havana also became famous for the spectacular Hollywood Parties, organized in cooperation with the legendary gay disco iT in nearby Amstelstraat. These parties started in Havana, and with limousines and carriages the wunderfully dressed up people were driven to iT to continue the night:

Hollywoodparty with Manfred Langer outside Havana (early 1990s)
(photo: collection Frans Monsma - click to enlarge)

In 1996 Havana was taken over by bar-tycoon Sjoerd Kooistra, but his more commercial approach led to a decline in the number of fancy parties.

When the landlord wanted to raise the rent, Kooistra suddenly closed the venue in 2002. Nothing happened until in 2005 the building was squatted by a group of students who turned it into a place for alternative and artistic activities for some time.

A few years later the building was completely renovated, and finally, in April 2009, a new Havanna was opened here. This started as a straight venue, turned into a gay venue, but failed to become a succes and therefore closed by March 2010.

The new interior of the new Havana in 2009

The place was reopened for the third time by the end of 2010, and once again on July 21, 2011, when together with the new Ludwig II and EVE, Havana was reopened by the mayor of Amsterdam. This fourth Havana also didn't manage to survive very long: it was closed already in January 2012.

> More photos in our article about Danscafé Havana in Dutch

Reguliersdwarsstraat 44
1017 BM Amsterdam
(2002 - 2010)

ARC was opened in June 2002 by Anqelique Schippers, Rob de Jong & Company and its name was derived from their initials. The cosmopolitan styled interior was designed by the famous architect Eric Kuster.

All this attracted the most trendy gay and straight people, and also a lot of celebrities. In 2003 Bar ARC, which initially was a restaurant as well, won the title of the city's Best Cocktail Bar.

The interior of Bar ARC
(click to enlarge)

By the end of 2007 ARC was taken over by bar-tycoon Sjoerd Kooistra. This made him the sole owner of all big gay venues in Reguliersdwarsstraat. As many people feared, the place couldn't keep up its high standards under the new management and gradually lost its glamourous image.

The exterior of Bar ARC in 2008
(click to enlarge)

During the first Pink Christmas event of 2008 there was a living gay Nativity scene in the back garden of ARC. This was heavily criticised by some Christian groups, but also attracted world wide media attention:

Living gay Nativity scene in the garden of ARC (2008)

After the collapse of the Kooistra-company, Bar ARC was closed for the time being on September 6th, 2010.

Eventually the bar was taken over by a new owner, who redecorated the interior, renamed it into EVE and reopened it on July 21, 2011. EVE was not very successful had to close within a year. Since September 2021 this location is a gay bar again called BLEND XL.

> More photos in our article about Bar ARC in Dutch © 2007/2020