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The Resurrection Of The DOK

by Hans Hafkamp in Nightlife & Reports , 30 December 2009

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 7 minuten

Many complain about how little is happening in the Amsterdam gay scene over the last years. Well, the creativity and initiative which are needed to make a change in this situation seem to have been lacking in what was once the Gay Capital of Europe. Fortunately there are a few people doing their utmost to create new possibilities. Like club night producers Abiad & Malenka, who want to re-invent the DOK.

The DOK, a legendary discotheque where hefty drag Divine once brought hysteria, and some years later the Hi-NRG diva Sylvester celebrated his hit “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).”
On Saturdays the DOK will once again be territory for men loving men, and all others of the homo, poly, metro, hetero, lesbian and transgender love generation. The queens regain what once was a safe and exciting place for them. Especially in the seventies and eighties the DOK was what writer Jaap van Manen once called “a conventicle known in every far corner of the international queer world.”

Culture Vs. Entertainment

The DOK is in the basement of the beautiful seventeenth century building Odeon at Singel 460. In 1952 the COC rented the place for their member activities. De Odeon Kelder (The Odeon Basement) had a Bavarian beer bar interior at the time, which was not surprising, as the Germans had in fact used it as such during the occupation. It was also because of this history the COC could get the place for a reasonable rent; nobody else wanted it.

From the fifties well into the eighties the COC went through extended discussions about the importance of “culture” versus “entertainment,” or, as the club magazine “Vriendschap” (Friendship) wrote in 1953, the struggle between the “culture lovers and record playing noise.” In the Odeon basement, some members thought, the entertainment thing had gotten way out of hand.

This of course was also the result of the fact that the DOK was the only place in town where the Amsterdam police condoned men dancing together. In the early fifties it was not just the dancing that drew a lot of discussion. People have always hated the unseemly entrance; even now onetime visitors love to hate it. In January 1955 magazine “De Schakel” (The Link) published a letter to the editor: “I’m always slightly irritated that I had to ring the doorbell first and that the little door then mysteriously opened like the entrance to a boy-scout’s cave, the only thing that’s missing is the secret code word.”

The wonderful continuity in a queen’s existence: because thirty years later they were still complaining about it. In 1985 Jan Rot wrote in his novel “Verkeerde Nachten” (Wrong Nights) about what it was like to enter the DOK at the time: “From behind the barred little window the head of a sturdy doorman appeared: ‘Member?’ It always bugged me. Damned as a minority, gathering in dark cavernous places. And because of what?

We were no petty thieves or raping brutes? Decency rotting descendants of snakes and promiscuous parasites no decent person wanted to come close to? One couldn’t allow them to have their own bars? Was the crisis our fault? Were we in the way of the return to pre-war securities and coziness? Did we abolish the prayer at the beginning of the queen’s speech to parliament? ‘Yes! And he’s got a member but no card!’ I played along in my lowest voice.”

Celebrity Hangout

Although the door policy was probably initially a result of police regulations, it was also how the DOK could grow into a place where famous people like Christopher Isherwood, Rudolf Nurejev, Elton John, Grace Jones and David Bowie felt at home. I remember well how Mathilde (at the time no longer Willink but Den Doelder again) danced the feathers out of her Fong Leng creations. These celebrities could surrender to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll without being stared at. In the DOK everyone wanted the same thing.
This different approach of publicity had everything to do with the Zeitgeist as well as the personality of the managers. The DOK was in its heigh day no longer the property of the COC.

Other than the iT in later years, the DOK chose not to turn it into a media spectacle and therefore it wasn’t overrun by provincials looking for celebrities (who’d of course disappeared by then). The treasurer of the Amsterdam branch, Lou Charité, had recognized the commercial possibilities of the popular bar. However, he had to overcome several contractual obstacles, as well as a judicial inquiry against him referring to Article 248-bis of the criminal law (which made sexual relations with someone of the same sex younger than eighteen illegal), which could make getting a liquor license difficult.

Charité managed to do this however so on the 19th of June 1955, the day the COC opened her new society De Schakel, some of his fans announced the start of De Odeon Sociëteit which somewhat later was renamed as De Odeon Kring (D.O.K.).

Via this organization Charité acquired all the licenses while still all the income went straight into his wallet. Everyone knew that Charité watched over the cashflow like an eagle for every night he’d sit at the end of the bar checking the registers. The barkeepers had to report orders to the boss, who’d punch it into the register. Getting a beer was a drag, also because the bar was all the way in the back of the cellar. Whoever made it past the doorman, which wasn’t hard as long as you paid entrance, on quiet nights you came into a sort of deserted little area which you crossed over as quickly as possible to reach the dance floor, which was a few steps down.

This little area was also great on busier nights to get a view of the party and let the party have a view of you. Left of the dance floor were a few seats and the cubicle of the DJ. Further at the back it was quieter and the tables were decorated with smyrna-rugs until well into the eighties. To the right was the ellipse-shaped bar, the throne of Charité, which you could walk around. The later in the evening, the busier this back part of the cellar would get. Near the toilets, which were never only used to pee in, ever. When you heard a German Schlager song around 4 a.m., you knew it was time to score or scram.

Till The Morning Light

However, the DOK did have the possibility for the real party creatures to stay on until much later. There was a little door just opposite of where Charité was sitting, Which lead via a staircase to another smaller bar. I’ve never been able to discover whether this bar was always part of the DOK, but in the seventies it was as famous as a last stop of a night out, as Anco was in the eighties.

I’ve stumbled down those stately stairs many times early in the morning (the exit was via another door) to race home in the first morning light. The times of the old DOK will never return - those were over even before it closed its doors in 1989. A few years before that the DOK had changed its interior: the smyrna-rugs and smoke tainted stuff had been replaced by trendy and much lighter furniture and colors. Even in those years there was one legendary customer: graphic artist Franz Deckwitz, who always finished his day at the DOK. But Franz also died, a few years ago already.

In 1999, when the Amsterdam scene was knocked out by the closure of the iT and burning down of the RoXY, the 24-year old Tim Reighly started up the Wednesday nights again, much to the appreciation of the punters: on re-opening night the queue reached the supermarket on the Koningsplein. But the Wednesday night was not the right night. In that way Abiad and Malenka have a better chance on the Saturday night.

Let’s hope they can light up Amsterdam this winter with DJs like ZuBrowka, ManMachine, Luis Yanguas, Gino, KOSMOS, Rado and Doug Gray and also an announced performance by The Fabulous Pepper Minsky and her Bravo Burlesque Boys & Girls and add a long and significant chapter to the exciting history of 460 Singel. Although “You Think You’re A Man” Divine as well as “Do You Wanna Funk” Sylvester died untimely in 1988 already, I hope people won’t forget the vintage disco they gave us to enjoy. Let’s hope that with that other successful new initiative Club Church on Kerkstraat, the Leidsestraat will once again on Saturday nights become the busy cruise street it was for many decades. It’s Raining Men... [Remix].




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