When you visit Amsterdam youʼll probably stay in the old centre. In this part of the city are most of the hotels and of course the well known streets with gay and lesbian bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Walking around the old canals of while enjoying your drink, you might have a chat (or more) with a local Amsterdam man or woman. But where do these locals live? In what neighborhoods are their boudoirs and kitchens? This is an article, where I give a description of the parts of Amsterdam where the local gays and lesbians live. And rembember: not all the queens live in palaces, but some dykes live on the water…
Housing in Amsterdam is strictly regulated since the early 20th century. As a consequence of this regime, the quarters built before roughly 1900 are more diverse and free spirited in itʼs set-up and atmosphere. Small alleys in the centre are interspersed with grand canals. Former squalors are renovated into hip neighborhoods. Grand city villaʼs along a park are just around the corner of cheap laborers houses turned into yuppie apartments.
This area built up from roughly 1100 till 1900 forms the core and the first layers of the onion shape lay -out of Amsterdam. Layer upon layer of architectural history exemplifies the diverse social layers of this part of Amsterdam. The old center Houses in the center of Amsterdam are not cheap. As “everybody” wants to live in the city center, high demand creates high prices.
This wasnʼt always the case. In the 1960ʼs and 1970ʼs general disrepair of the houses depressed the prices in several centrally located areaʼs like the Jordaan of the Nieuwmarktbuurt. The families who used to live there were glad to leave their old houses and move to newly built suburbs. This created a perfect environment for artists like painters, actors and writers. They were able to pick up apartments and houses relatively cheaply. Perfect for these creatives, who were able to meet friends and colleagues in the bars and restaurants: an important way to get work and inspiration in this pre-cell phone and pre-internet age. Many of these artists were instrumental in supporting the blossoming gay and lesbian scene. And now, 30 years later, many of them still live in the center of the city as the survivors of the aids crisis and economic downturns of the 1980ʼs and 1990ʼs.
Over the years these artists became professionally more successful and made connections with the families who inherited many of the old canal houses for many generations. Some of these families “produced” notable queens and dykes: the closest thing to gay and lesbian aristocrats you can get in Amsterdam.
The 19th century ring In the second half of the 19th century, Amsterdam got a new boost of life: the economy grew and the city expanded outside of itʼs 17th century boudaries. In the area around the Rijksmuseum and the Concertgebouw, the rich built their villaʼs around the Vondelpark. The middle class and laborers moved out to the neighborhoods now known as De Pijp, Oud West, Westerpark and Oost.
Typically these neighborhoods have been built in the eclectic styles of this era. In the 1980ʼs and 1990ʼs new money moved into these quarters. Young people, often from outside of Amsterdam, bought old apartments and fixed them up. Quickly the old middle class and laborers were replaced by yuppies, among whom many gay and lesbian professionals. These lawyers, doctors, it-professionals and entrepreneurs worked hard during the week and went to the Reguliersdwarsstraat and Warmoesstraat in the weekend to party.
In the same period a different group of young people, many of whom were gay or lesbian, transformed the old houses of the 19th century ring: the squatters. From the 1970ʼs onwards young people had squatted empty houses and commercial buildings, who got into disrepair. They formed the hotbed for the new house scene, new galleries and artistic workshops. In this vibrant scene new forms of living together were established, like woongroepen (communals).
The squatters and professionals merged together in the gay and lesbian scene of Amsterdam to form the golden age of Amsterdam as the Gay Gateway to Europe with big events like Europride and the Gay Games. Symbolically this period game to a close with the closure of The IT and Havana, the burning down of the Roxy. Nowadays you can still find many gays and lesbians living happily in these neighborhoods. Slowly but surely the focus of gay and lesbian life is spreading to other parts of Amsterdam.
As the houses in the 19th century ring of Amsterdam got more and more expensive, gay men and lesbian women arriving in Amsterdam had to look for more affordable houses. Area’s previously less popular, like Oost, De Baarsjes and Bos & Lommer, got a new lease of life with many gays and lesbians setting up home here. This trend started slowly in the late 1990’s, but in recent years has gathered momentum.
Not only the atmosphere in these neighborhoods changed because of the new trendy bars, restaurants and shops, also the LGBT community itself got new impulses. Unwilling to travel all the time to the city center (although this takes about 20 minutes on the bike), new initiatives came up like Pinkwest and Pink1095. These are basically get togethers of gays and lesbians in local bars or bookshops, where like minded people meet and discuss neighborhood events or their favorite books. The purpose of these events is to create a local network of LGBT people, so that they can find friends, and if necessary support, in their own little corner of Amsterdam.
Slowly but surely over the years the visibility of gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals has spread over the city, with Amsterdam Noord as the latest addition. In this way Amsterdam has truly become a rainbow city.