The Dutch can’t even shock each other anymore. When Amsterdam’s Arc bar staged a campy nativity scene last Christmas — featuring drag queen Windy Mills as a very blond, busty Mary surrounded by four muscle boys–cum–wise men flashing their own impressive cleavage — no one seemed to notice.
That, of course, is what we expect from Amsterdam, an unflappable city where it’s impossible to take things too far. And despite a few recent efforts to curb the city’s hard-core party (including plans to limit and relocate the red-light district), Amsterdam maintains its über-gay status with a percolating nightlife and a crammed four-season social calendar that includes summer’s Love Dance festival and pride parties, October’s leather pride events, and winter’s Pink Christmas celebrations.
But what keeps Amsterdam current — a truly contemporary gay capital — isn’t so much its taste for the fast life as something fresh: the city’s ascendance as a Euro style center. Bike through the string of new man-made islands in the Eastern Harbour, browse Marcel Wanders’s witty housewares at Droog, shop the quirky fashion boutiques of the Nine Streets area, prowl the art studios of the revitalized NDSM shipping yard, or sample the organic plates in De Kas’s glowing greenhouse dining room — what you’ll see is a blooming renaissance.
Suddenly spawning an exuberant wave of top chefs, designers, and futuristic architects, along with whole new neighborhoods, Amsterdam has reverted to its roots, as an urbane burghers’ city with a fine eye for beauty and the brawn to keep pulling itself out of the sea.
Spuistraat 109; +31-0-20-320-0002
Prik is Dutch for “bubble,” and this unironic smiley face of a bar is pure effervescence — from its fruity specialty apple mojito to the open terrace where you can pop toastie sandwiches to a weekend DJ spinning. If all that good cheer proves infectious, you can buy the I LOVE PRIK shoulder bag or T-shirt.
The Cockring and Exit are the two old Dutch masters of the thumping gay scene, but Church, which opened last year, is determined to shore up Amsterdam’s bad-to-the-bone status with a calendar of nonstop kink that includes Wednesday night’s Naked Bar (dress code: buck naked), Friday’s underwear party, and Sex on Sunday (free condoms and, um, coat check). You won’t go home feeling dirty, though; there are showers downstairs for that after-party scrub-down.
An antidote to the cruisier scene, this queer Sunday night underground dance party (doors open at 11, but the line forms early) is fittingly held in a former basement squat and offers the best flashback to Amsterdam’s flower-power glory days. That means the city’s artiest insider crowd, an eclectic playlist (indie to incomprehensible), and the most altruistic bar tab in town, since all profits go to worthy gay causes.
Oostelijke Handelskade 34; +31-0-20-561-3604
Situated in the stylish Eastern Docklands, this former prison offers two- to five-star rooms, so, depending on the size of your wallet, you can rent a raised cot and shared bath or a lavish studio featuring a concert piano or a 12-foot bed. All guests have access to the readings, screenings, and anything-goes performances.
The Ambassade Hotel
Herengracht 341; +31-0-20-555-0222
This maze of 10 golden-age canal houses offers ethereal views down a leafy stretch of the Herengracht canal, impeccable old-world service, and a literary pedigree (Salman Rushdie hid out here).
The College Hotel Restaurant
Roelof Hartstraat 1; +31-0-20-571-1511
This theatrical dining room, originally the gym of a 19th-century school, makes the best case for New Dutch cuisine. The kitchen’s Alkmaar barley risotto alone gives the lowlands’ signature dishes a fresh lift.
Foam Photography Museum
Keizersgracht 609; +31-0-20-551-6500
Artistic masterworks are on view everywhere from the Van Gogh Museum to the Rijksmuseum, but don’t miss Foam’s powerhouse exhibits of major contemporary photographers — like a recent Ryan McGinley show.