You gain a different perspective of a city after the sky turns dark and the neon lights switch on. The night creatures come out, new doors open, and your perceptions of time and people change. While in Amsterdam a few weekends ago, we ventured out after dark to see what we could find, and Amsterdam’s nightlife didn’t disappoint.
However, I’ve found it’s tricky as a traveler to seek out an authentic after-dark experience—the kind that’s equally thrilling as culturally enriching. It’s easy to trip into tourist traps. Flashy, cheesy places lure you in and empty your wallet with their fat cover charges. Then after you’ve waited in long lines, you finally get in, find the bathroom, and soon enough you leave feeling like you never left your home country. This is not an ideal way to spend an evening while abroad (or anywhere).
We got very lucky in Amsterdam, though. We sort of fell into a crevasse of the city Alice-in-Wonderland-style and landed in an atmosphere oozing Dutch coolness. We found ourselves at Bitterzoet, a small venue serving as a theatre, club, and concert space. It’s located close to the Jordaan district, an area in the city known for housing artists. That night, a DJ collaboration performed on the main stage. We were probably the only Americans there, amidst a diverse crowd of twenty-somethings speaking in Dutch and dressed in their best.
It started with a conversation about a bicycle (I know, how Dutch). We complimented the bicycle of a recent law school graduate named Kina, and inquired about bike safety in the city—for some reason we were incredibly curious about how to ride a bike drunk. We chatted for a while and she invited us to join her and some of her friends at Bitterzoet—she was heading over right then. Her friend was the event photographer, too. After a quick group conference, we said yes.
I was taught to never talk to strangers, but this lesson is bullshit (sorry, parents). Talking to strangers is a great way to solicit advice and information when travelling to a new place. Locals know best and are usually eager and happy to show you their city. I encourage talking to strangers. Just pick wisely and always be gracious.
Anyways, we arrived at Bitterzoet, paid a cover of a few Euros at the door, put our things in a locker, and headed to the dance floor.
I’m not a clubber. However, I love to dance. Like, I really love to dance. But the clubbing atmosphere has always slighted me. And by slighted, I mean disgusted me. I’ve been to a fair share of American clubs and a few in European cities, and I’ve never failed to get an unwelcomed ass-grab.
It’s funny, but it’s really not. Groping, catcalls, and even elevator eyes take away from my ability to enjoy myself because I don’t have ownership over my moves on the floor. Your body is objectified, that male gaze affecting every little hair flick, and subsequently your experience is robbed from you.
But in Bitterzoet I felt free. It was such a refreshing environment. I enjoyed every beat of every song. I moved and danced in my own world without having to worry about being approached or looked up and down.
People danced for themselves. It was not about performance or attracting someone, it was about being goofy and feeling the music and enjoying the way the beat jumped into your bones and made you move.
Bitterzoet vibrated—everyone thrived off of this almost electric current in the air. There was sense of shared energy and we sustained that energy until the early hours of the morning. We danced to song after song to unbelievably good beats—all while feeling completely freed of podgy patriarchal pressures.
It might seem silly to believe that one night in a club could be indicative of a city’s culture, but what I found during my evening at Bitterzoet clearly resonates with some of the principles Dutch people value in their lives—individual freedom, gender equality, and good clubbing.