Amsterdam is renowned for being a haven for liberalism and open-mindedness, and with good reason. Tolerance is deeply embedded in the Dutch psyche, so it’s no surprise the city has an impressive track record when it comes to gay rights: homosexuality was decriminalised here in 1811, the first gay bar opened in 1927 (Café ’t Mandje, still open at Zeedijk 63), and one of the first gay rights organisations, the COC Nederland, was founded here in 1946, at a time when much of the world considered homosexuality an illness.
That means the city’s ‘gay scene’ is not concentrated in specific areas to the extent it is in other cities – at least not like it used to be. The Reguliersdwarsstraat, once synonymous with the city’s gay culture, is far less prominent than in its 1990s heyday, and the closure of sex clubs like Warmoesstraat’s infamous Cockring has fuelled talk of a ‘homorecessie’ (gay recession) in the national media. But there’s plenty going on if you know where to look, and Amsterdam remains one of the most tolerant, laid-back capitals when it comes to being open and honest about one’s sexuality.
Saucy nightclub Church – established in 2008 – has become something of an institution, with fetish nights and the anything-goes, ‘SOS Sex On Sunday’ party, and there are innumerable other bars and clubs catering to the LGBTQ+ community. Don’t be surprised, though, if you’re joined at some of these places by groups of open-minded ‘straights’ looking for an edgy night on the tiles – it’s all part of the desire for true inclusiveness and means you’re more likely to be turned away for wearing the wrong sneakers than for anything as irrelevant as who you sleep with.
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Best gay bars and clubs in Amsterdam
The more extrovert end of the gay spectrum is well represented by cruising club Church. It has it all, plus more: a bar with Greek-style columns, a stage perfect for drag-queen acts, a great sound and light system and various dark, dark chambers... Cheeky theme nights abound.
Gay Street stalwart Club Exit has been reborn as mixed Club NYX, named for the Greek Goddess of the Night. Four floors offer distinct vibes – making liberal use of graffiti, glitter and concrete – and a toilet DJ keeps the party going while you wash your hands at a giant pink phallus.
Cheap, cheerful, tasty, filling. That’s what the food is like at this sparkly diner at the back of the thoroughly mixed lesbian and gay lounge. On Wednesday night all burger dinners (a house speciality; each one is named after a drag queen) cost just €10. Combined with the two-for-the-price-of-one cocktail happy hour – from 5pm-7pm on weekdays – this is the ideal place to take a cheap date. Tuesday night is reserved for lesbians.
This hip spot on Reguliersdwarsstraat caters to a broad clientele, but keeps things colourful and fun-loving. It’s happy hour every day from 6pm, and Wednesday is ‘Fabulous Cocktail Night’, complete with drag queens and games (plus cheap tipples). Downstairs can get a little packed, but there’s more seating and space upstairs, where you get a great view of the bustling street below.
Unveiled 20 years ago, Karin Daan’s three-sectioned pink triangle – symbolising past, present and future – was a world first. It’s become a place to celebrate and be proud: on Queen’s Day and Pride it’s annexed to an open-air disco and market. Don’t miss Pink Point, the city’s official gay and lesbian information kiosk right next to it. It’s staffed by friendly and knowledgeable volunteers, and has a great selection of queer souvenirs and gifts.
De Lellebel is a tiny drag bar where the cross-dressing clientele provide all the entertainment themselves. Though most people will be found in drag, admirers and friends are welcome and the atmosphere is friendly. Entertainment runs all week: Tuesday is karaoke night, Thursday salsa and Monday is ‘Whatever You Want, You Get’, when punters themselves are responsible for providing the music.
The newest addition to Amsterdam’s lesbian scene, this cosy space has a relaxed and welcoming vibe and aims to be ‘a platform for and by women’. Casual yet hip, they have a killer cocktail list and are open to showcasing female talent of all kinds, whether that be through art on the walls, special guest chefs, or even hosting a pub quiz.
This legendary gay club was Amsterdam’s first. Opened in 1927 by openly gay local character Bet van Beeren, ’t Mandje (‘the basket’) was a popular hangout for the city’s LGBTQ+ community until it closed its doors in 1982. Just before its then owner (Bet’s younger sister, Greet) died, she put the wheels in motion to have the club restored and re-opened – which it was, finally, in 2008, bringing ‘the basket’ back to its bustling best. Look out for the ties pinned to the ceiling – cut off by Bet to punish naughty behaviour among past patrons.
Mankind is a quiet locals’ hangout tucked down a side street near the Rijksmuseum and the antique shops and art galleries of Spiegelstraat. Not just an excellent pit stop for culture cruisers, this bar also serves excellent sandwiches and a cheap-ish dish of the day. In summer the canal-side patio is perfect for catching some rays (or simply watching the world go by).
Queer or not, PRIK is hot. Indeed, true to the bar’s slogan this venue attracts a diverse crowd who enjoy its tasty snacks, groovy soundtrack and special events such as the ‘After Shopping Cocktail Sale’ and ‘SpeedDate’ evenings. There’s also the utter fabulousness of having Prosecco – or, as they call it, PRIK wine – on tap.
This established gay bar promises to be ‘a place to feel comfortable’, and they go out of their way to do precisely that. Open every day, their music selection and house DJs are second to none, and after 6pm they do snacks (although their famous soup and hot dogs are Sunday only). But the real draw is the large, second-floor darkroom, which has a cruising area, private cabins, a sling room and smoking areas.
The Queen’s is a fun and attitude-free gay bar – the plethora of Ken dolls in the window are a nod to its camp and kitsch nature – with a similarly-minded clientele, plus picturesque views over a canal at the back. It holds regular one-off nights, with drag acts and DJs – don’t miss the infamous ‘Drag Bingo’. It also hosts parties on King’s Day, plus bear nights, football nights (during the cup season), Eurovision Song Contest nights and so on.
Don’t let this traditional-looking English pub fool you – it’s one of the biggest, and liveliest, gay bars in town. Recently refurbished, it now has a cocktail bar and large dance floor, while the terrace out back is a wonderful spot in warmer weather. It’s also where the pretty boys come to see and be seen, so go dressed to impress.
Never in fashion, so also never out of it, this hardy perennial of the lesbian scene is particularly popular at weekends. The women it attracts tend to be slightly older, but young bucks certainly make an appearance, and it has a loyal following of feminists; a recent change to their door policy means that men are now allowed in, whether accompanied by a woman or not. The only lesbian pool table in town can be found in the basement.
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As in all of Europe’s foodie capitals, brunch has recently become serious business in Amsterdam. And good thing – there are now hip, stylish addresses serving up all manner of excellent mid-morning treats across the city, meaning finding your avo or your eggs has never been easier.