First on Your Travel List: Know When to Go Commando

Written by | Columnists and Letters

Kevin Phinney

Kevin is anxious to find time to enjoy Amsterdam’s less-family-friendly pleasures, but ends up finding a state of freedom more total than he bargained for.

That Amsterdam would be so scorchingly hot in the middle of June was something neither my partner nor I expected. That the Netherlands was steadily marching toward victory in the World Cup was something we didn’t anticipate, either. But as it turned out for both us and the Dutch, June 2010 gave us ten days of unforeseeable highs and lows.

We agreed to make the trip because a friend of my then-partner was had convinced us Amsterdam was one of Europe’s most progressive and chillaxed cities. She’d also visited so many times with her teenage daughter that she likely thought having a couple of gay boys to show around might freshen up her experience.

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What we hadn’t realized is that she also believed we were going to stick to them daily from breakfast until well after dinner — leaving us little opportunity to explore the city’s eccentricities. Instead, we spent days strolling neighborhoods being touristy. The Van Gogh Museum offered fascinating looks at his early life and process; the World War II Museum was intriguingly candid about nation’s messy interactions with Nazi Germany. Afternoons were spent sampling local and international foods in the plazas — which were sprawling affairs with large open areas surrounded by bistros, bars and restaurants. In each of them, Jumbotrons proudly blared the Netherlands’ advance to the World Cup finals, and the Dutch enveloped us in a sweaty blond bearhug of patriotic fervor.

One afternoon, we visited the Anne Frank home, where she and her family had famously hidden for years before being discovered and packed off to their doom. The tour was predictably harrowing and sorrowful — ending in a large souvenir shop, full of translations of The Diary of Anne Frank in most known languages of the world. There the museum set up an on-the-spot interactive poll dealing with issues of ethnicity and prejudice, so visitors could see how far we’d really come in terms of tolerating diversity.

The few times my partner and I did venture out into the night to see what gay Amsterdam had to offer, our hostesses’ parting words were, “Make smart choices, boys!” Mostly the bars looked like others I’d seen — with two notable exceptions: Almost all of them had back rooms, where men fumbled randomly with others so inclined, and all of those had empty coffee cans nailed just past the entryways filled with government-issued condoms. They too seemed to be silently reminding us, “Make smart choices, boys!”

The last day of the vacation was to be ours alone. We packed and took the long trip to the airport to say goodbye to our tour guides as they headed back to the States. Then we rented a room at the hotel that adjoins the terminal and headed back to town. Again, it was sweltering, and the streets were clogged with Dutch folk, now rapturous that their team had advanced to the quarter finals.

We stopped into a store known for its kinky accoutrements called RoB Amsterdam, where we found and tried on a variety of gear, and learned the valuable lesson that talcum powder is your best friend when it comes to getting in and out of rubber. We bought a couple of mementos and, as we were checking out at the counter, I asked the sales clerk what was happening in the gay world this Saturday night. “There’s not much early on,” he demurred. “Amsterdam is a late-night kind of town — but there is Church.”

My guy and I looked at each other, bewildered.

“It’s not a church,” the clerk. “It’s called Church. Anyone with an interest in kink will have a good time there — but they don’t open until midnight.” Since it was barely 8pm, we decided to share a few beers and hang with the locals until the appointed hour.

At midnight, we took a cab over to the address we’d been given, and knocked at a very nondescript door. It all seemed a bit sketchy in a speakeasy sort of way, but once we were inside the doorman greeted us warmly, accepted our cover charge and asked, “You know about the dress code, right?”

My guy and I again looked at each other, bewildered.

The doorman smiled. “You can wear jockstraps, chaps, underwear or nothing.” I explained that we had did not have dress code-appropriate clothes and that I had also elected to go commando that day due to the heat. “I’m not seeing a problem,” the doorman smiled. “Please leave your jeans and clothes with me.”

I reluctantly stripped and we headed in, where a 6’4” , 260-pound Norse God greeted us wearing an actual tire chain around his neck. “Welcome to Church,” he said. “Pray or be preyed upon.”

I will never forget that night — how it felt to be so on display among so many astonishing -looking men. It was a marked contrast to the engrossing museums and straight sports fans, but it’s not an experience I’d necessarily repeat. I had a fantastic time, but I also kept hearing my Mom’s voice in my head reminding me to always wear clean underwear because you never know where the day is going to take you. I smiled. She’d have said it herself had she seen what I witnessed that night: “Make smart choices, boys!”

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Last modified: July 25, 2019