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Ties are no longer cut off, but the big butcher knife Aunt Bet van Beeren (1902-1967) used for cutting the guests’ ties can still be admired. I’m in ’t Mandje, the oldest gay bar in the Netherlands and now also a museum. In it, Bet’s living area can be admired unchanged in time.

by Wil Groot - 03 March 2020

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’t Mandje, the oldest gay bar in the Netherlands


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When I enter the bar at four o’clock in the afternoon, I hear Elvis sing. Diana ask me to be quiet and enjoy the music. Two seconds later, we are slow-dancing. Elvis is followed up by Celine Dion, and we abruptly stop dancing. “Coffee or tea, Wil?” 

your author (left) with Diana (mid)Moments later I am at the bar with Diana. We met in 2009. Dressed as a nun, I walked in with a collection box. After telling my story about the children in Africa, she suggested hanging a collection box for donations in the bar. It is still there to this day. The Willen en Doen Foundation suits Diana, as she wants to do something useful with her money.

The Zeedijk is laughter and tears. People discuss everything at the bar. After all, the people behind the bar are social workers in the field. Yet, when the word gay is used, the ears are cocked. Everyone is welcome at ’t Mandje. After a few beers, Ajax fans or other soccer fanatics often no longer think about what kind of noise they produce. As a true Amsterdam lass, Diana or another bartender will silence them and correct them in a friendly way. “In general, it is just bar talk, with various subjects.”

Zeedijk“That is not for everyone,” barkeep Inssaf adds. “Sometimes they discuss STDs, and other times the latest news on PrEP.” Sex is, of course, a welcome subject customers feel more inclined to discuss after some hours, with more alcoholic content consumed.

“I recently had to peel two ladies apart, simply because they went too far. Then they almost crawled under a table, because they thought they could have a 69 there. That would be too much, we do not wish to give offence in the bar. Straight couples can sometimes also go too far, but hey, drink makes many overconfident.”

That’s a known fact. At times, many have woken up in a strange place and in a strange bed. Looking at the ties I notice that two of them are not cut off.
“They belong to the couple Victor and Roel, who got married here. Occasionally, we have a wedding party here. At times, even former Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan married couples here, and Dutch actor Peter Faber stood behind the bar.”

Bartender Orlando tells that a lesbian couple recently came to celebrate their ten-year marriage vow, as ten years ago, they were here on their honeymoon. Over the years, many couples have formed here.

“Coming out is another matter. Many who struggle with that come to ’t Mandje. These men dance with women and look at men in the meantime, which has also happened the other way around. Sometimes they open up, for it to become clear they have gay feelings. Men who come in as straight can leave gay, and the same goes for women.”
 
“On Sunday afternoon, there is an accordion player, and people can sing-along. There is also a microphone behind the bar and it is often used. We generally play 60s, 70s and 80s disco music and of course also Dutch sing-alongs. Wednesday nights are also for singing along, with a stew being served to give the guests a proper foundation.” “Can be vegan,” Inssaf adds.

Elvis sings, “Wise man say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.” We sing it out loud and behind us we hear guests, who have arrived in the meantime, also hum along. All with a little grin on their face. ’t Mandje stands for partying and socializing, and with the “Hartjesdagen” and the Gay Pride coming up, the bar is ready for 2020.


  Café ’t Mandje, Zeedijk 63 Amsterdam, www.cafetmandje.amsterdam

Note: The museum, Aunt Bet's apartment, is currently not open to the public because of construction works





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