Amsterdam, Part 2.

(You might want to read Part 1 first.)

Saturday afternoon. After lunch, Alan and I wandered northwards to the temporarily relocated Stedelijk museum, now stuck out in a “post-industrial space” near the Central Station, and accessible via a series of wind-lashed pontoons. Regrettably, the museum’s fine permanent collection of contemporary art was not on display. Instead, we had to make do with a load of half-baked, indifferently executed, wilfully obscure and largely clueless pile of ropey old conceptual-art-wank toss-bollocks. That most wretched and aesthetically bankrupt of genres, “video art”, dominated much of the space – but it was surpassed in pointlessness by a vast installation of crudely scrawled “political” graffiti which would have shamed an SWP convention for the under-12s. However, the overall disappointment was at least redeemed by some stunningly powerful and disturbing photography, shot in South Africa and Israel, which landed some massive sucker-punches to popular perceptions of both nations.

Our cultural duties fulfilled, we rewarded ourselves with leisurely early evening drinks at the Queen’s Head on Zeedijk, which connects the Central Station area with the Nieuwmarkt. The street is reassuringly chi-chi at the top end (K would have been in his element), before yielding to some funkier shops and bars, and a mini Chinatown. We liked the moderately chi-chi Queen’s Head, which benefits from not being a “destination” gay venue, but more of a low-key regulars’ haunt. It’s the sort of place which you could visit regularly on your own with a newspaper or a book, slowly building your relationship with it.

Saturday night. Our half-hearted plans to pay brief lip-service to “coffee shop” culture ran swiftly aground, as 30 seconds inside the raucous Bulldog on Leidseplein were enough to signal that it wasn’t our scene. On we trolled, to the campy bars around the Amstel, for a restorative contrast to Twinksville and the Dead Cow Zone.

Monmartre was quieter than we had led to expect – that mid-January effect again – but there was still enough residual jollity to spread around, and a much higher ratio of smiles to pouts than we had become used to.

Around the corner, the venerable Amstel Tavern instantly felt like home, with its traditional decor, its Delft mugs hanging from the ceiling, its welcoming bar staff and its camp-as-tits musical playlist. Disco-pop classics merged into singalong Dutch schlager (and boy, did people sing along), taking in a healthly dollop of Eurovision along the way (Teach-In’s “Ding Dinge Dong” in its original Dutch version, woo-hoo, I have found my level at last!). Best bar yet.

Up the road and off to the west of Dam Square, it was nipple-to-nipple at Prik, the city’s newest gay venue, which was celebrating its six month anniversary with half price drinks all night. A solid and seemingly impenetrable wall of flesh had to be squeezed through in order to get much more than two feet inside the doors – but we are nothing if not persistent, and minor irritations like having half a glass of lager sloshed down my cleavage weren’t going to hold us back. Prik is the nearest thing that Amsterdam has to a lively and pumping Soho venue such as Bar Code, with a more cosmopolitan and recognisably Urban Gay Scene crowd to match. It is, without a doubt, the biggest Destination Venue of them all right now.

Wedged into the back bar, Alan and I spent the next couple of hours benignly observing the bobbing throng, as they jiggled their bits to an eclectic mix of classic and cheesy hits: Blondie, The Cure, Kylie, New Order, and MC Miker G & and DJ Sven’s lost classic “Holiday Rap”. A clump of drunken Irishmen handed out glowsticks, before brandishing inflatable guitars and roaring along to “Copacabana”. Oh, it was a scene and a half.

On the way out, I remarked to Alan: You know, that would have been most people’s idea of sheer bloody Hell, and I can’t even explain why I enjoyed it. I mean, all we did was stand there with drinks in our hands while getting pushed and shoved by a crowd of total strangers – and yet it was great. What’s that all about?

The night ended back in – oh look, shall I just spell it out this time – COCKRING. There, I’ve said it. Cockring. We went to a club called Cockring. Is everybody here OK with that? More of the same, only for longer. Heaps of fun. But let’s not dwell, eh?

(I’ll wrap this up tomorrow.)

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