Molly houses, condoning pubs, women’s cafes and gay bars
Utrecht has never been rich in gay bars, but the city did have some special venues such as the 18th-century molly houses, the first women’s café in the Netherlands and the extremely popular disco De Roze Wolk (The Pink Cloud). Little is known about the history of the oldest commercial gay bars. Which one was actually the first? An unnamed pub in the 1950s in the Donkerstraat or Café De Pauw, opened in 1965?
Molly houses for sodomites
A far precursor of the modern gay bar was the molly house (lolhuis), an inn where sodomites met each other in the 18th century and had sex, with or without payment. A well-known molly house in Utrecht was De Wijnkrans (The Wine Garland Inn) near the Pauluspoort (St. Paul’s Gate), owned by Hendrick Coopman. It was often mentioned in the infamous sodomy trials of 1730, although Coopman continued to claim he had no idea what his clients were up to. However, they told the court that there was a:
separate Camertie (room) for manvolck (men)’ where ‘slappen dingen styf gemaakt werden’ (‘soft things were made stiff’).
Other inns with a sodomitic reputation at that time were De Levendige Dood (The Lively Death) on the north side of the Korte Elisabethstraat, Het Kasteel van Vredenburg (The Castle of Vredenburg) on the corner of the Ganzenmarkt and the Korte Minderbroederstraat and an inn outside the Tolsteegpoort on the Vaartse Veer. The owner was the afore-mentioned Hendrick Coopman, who had sold De Wijnkrans to his brother Willem in 1728. At the end of the 18th century there was also at least one inn – owned by a certain Otterspoor – which was associated with a sodomite clientele.
The inns had not only a sexual but also a social meaning for sodomites. It was the place to be among each other and exchange news, tips and gossip.
We do not know whether there existed cafes in Utrecht over the next 150 years that were mainly attended by gay men and possibly lesbian women. There certainly wouldn’t have been many.
The picture is still unclear for the 1950s. In a 1985 interview, a former officer from the vice squad mentioned Donkerstraat as the location of the first commercial gay bar in Utrecht. The owners gave the vice squad a key ‘to take a look every now and then’, which in practice meant: to check for the presence of minors and for (prohibited) dancing of men with each other. According to a colleague of this officer, many gays would also have met each other in café Arie (Vermeulen) in the Predikherenstraat area.
An important source for the history of Utrecht’s gay bars are the interviews that Heleen Weijkamp held in 1994 with eleven gay men and two lesbian women, then ranging in age from 34 to 80 years. None of them mention the Donkerstraat or Café Arie. The 1950’s bars they do mention were not exclusive gay, but cafes where the chance of meeting ‘fellows’ was greater than elsewhere. Examples: the Black Horse Bar in the Drieharingstraat (classic design full of bells and frills, a pianist and a bartender in battle dress), artist café Musica in the Loeff Berchmakerstraat (night café with many actors, jazz musicians and radio people) and Café Kees and the Willemsbar (William’s Bar) in Wijk C (‘from garbage collector to lawyer’). In 1959, Het Pandje – still present in Nobelstraat – joined the list of bars where gays were tolerated among all kinds of other night owls.
The White Horse Bar in the Voorstraat and the Jaarbeurs or Ritzer bar on the Vredenburg were popular because one of the bartenders was ‘from the family’. Harald Kettlitz said about the latter in 1994:
At the Ritzer bar there was a gay man behind the bar, Jackie. And Jackie was a rare specimen. Bruno, his counterpart, was a blunt character, but when Jackie was there, it was fun. Jackie mothered and was very caring (…) Moreover, he was not to be sneezed at. He always said that he had worked as a steward on the cruise ships of the Holland America Line. I don’t know if it’s true, but if there were trouble makers in the bar he would throw them out the door one after the other. But in a correct, funny way.
In all those bars, gays were tolerated – they brought in money – as long as they did not cause offence.
Exclusive gay bars
Thanks to the greater openness about homosexuality in the 1960s and increasing prosperity, the first exclusive gay bars were opened in provincial cities such as Utrecht. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague had known them for much longer.
The first one known by name and precise address is Café De Pauw (The Peacock), opened in 1965 at Oudegracht 64. Utrecht’s oldest existing queer café BodyTalk has been located there since 1987. According to visitor Wim van Hees, De Pauw was:
‘a cozy brown pub, the bar on the left and tables on the right where you could sit. The audience was very mixed at that time, young and old together.’
In 1968, De Adonis (The Adonis) opened at Oudegracht 49, owned by Utrecht singer Don Mercedes, who later made a name for himself with the hit ‘Rocky’ (1975). With a large dance floor, De Adonis was the first gay disco in the city also hosting special events with transvestite acts. A special feature were the telephones that hung on the wall near the tables. This allowed you to call another table if someone you found attractive was sitting there (an indirect method popular in many other bars was to have the bartender deliver a beer to someone you were interested in: ‘please, this is from that gentleman on the corner of the bar’). De Adonis closed after five years.
From the mid-sixties to the present, Utrecht has had about 30 gay bars. That seems like a lot, but only a few existed at one time and most didn’t last for more than a few years. Until the mid-1970s, they were mainly gay bars with tinted windows and closed doors. Internationally recognizable pub names such as Incognito, La Vie en Rose and Adonis showed the way to the right listener. To enter you had to ring the bell and a doorman would admit you if he knew you or if you answered affirmatively to the question whether you knew what type of venue you were entering.
In or out of the closet
The variation in the Utrecht gay venues in the 1970s and 1980s reflected the difference between more activist open gays and lesbians and those who kept a more low profile or remained in the closet. The first group included the founders and visitors of the women’s café De Heksenketel (meaning Witches’ Cauldron or Pandemonium), the young people of the PANN café, the visitors of the integration-oriented PANN parties and an great part of the COC audience.
In the same year that De Heksenketel opened, 1975, the Sobrino bar started, an old-fashioned private pub that, unlike many predecessors, was well attended and would persist for eleven years. The doorman was Annemarie Noot, a well-known figure in the Utrecht scene who would later also hold her own at the door of other gay bars. ‘Het Sob’, as the bar was also called, was also popular among COC activists who wanted to continue partying after the closing time of their own venue. One of them, Kees van den Berg, recalls in a 1994 interview:
‘The Sobrino Bar was one of those plush bars for fairy boys. They did not go to the COC (…) Those queens did not like the COC and if you came from the COC, they called you ‘student’. (…) Many older, married men also came there and tried to find someone to start a relationship.’
In all bars, except of course De Heksenketel, women were far in the minority. That changed with Het Everzwijn (The Wild Boar) on Loeff Berchmakerstraat (1974-1979). Navratilova (1995-1997) at the Lucasbolwerk was also mainly attended by women.
Het Everzwijn was the first commercial bar where you could look inside. In 1982, In de Gouwe Gheijt (the Old Goat or – in quickly pronounced Dutch – meaning ‘in a hurry’) on the Oudegracht (where Café België is now located) went one step further. The owner got rid of a doorman and had a summer terrace on the sidewalk. Like other Utrecht gay bars the café suffered from unprofessional management and went bankrupt after just two years.
De Roze Wolk (The Pink Cloud)
A constant factor in the ever-changing range of opportunities for meeting in Utrecht were the monthly PANN parties during the 1970s and 1980s. A lot of different people came there: fags, dykes, bisexuals, trans people and straight people. Jan Scheepstra and Ton Alkemade took the initiative to create a disco for a similar audience, but not once a month, but five times a week.
Homodisco De Roze Wolk (Gay discotheque The Pink Cloud) became a huge success from the start on April 4, 1982. Soon people were lining up at the door of the wharf cellar Oudegracht 43, which could house around 250 visitors. “Despite the crowds, the cigarette smoke and heat, the lack of oxygen and the sweat, it was the hotspot of Utrecht,” according to the 2018 memorial book. For many gays and lesbians, ‘De Wolk’ became a second and, in difficult times, sometimes a first home. This also applied to De Wolkenkrabber (The Skyscrape), the café above at street level that opened in October 1984.
‘De Wolk’ was renovated and expanded three times, organized separate men’s and women’s evenings when heterosexual visitors started to dominate the atmosphere, and held legendary theme and costume parties. With De Wolkenkrabber and the BodyTalk, which opened in 1987, diagonally across the canal, ‘De Wolk’ would remain the centre of Utrecht’s gay and lesbian nightlife for more than twenty years. Visitors came not only from Utrecht, but from far and wide, even from – then called Gay Capital of the World – Amsterdam. Robbert Kalff, now owner of Café Kalff, also came there. As a 16-year-old he was quick off the mark:
‘I just had a moped. From my home town Woudenberg I drove for 45 minutes to Utrecht. I thought the party was terrifying. There were people who in my view seemed very self-confident. I went home full of impressions.’
In the 21st century, the ways in which many men and women connect with members of the same sex have changed. Making contact is now increasingly taking place through the internet and special dating apps. Large-scale parties at special locations, such as in Utrecht ‘Rubber’, became successful competitors for traditional entertainment venues. Young people in particular have less need for separate LGBTI+ bars and feel more at home among a broadly diverse and inclusive audience. This can be found, for example, in the Utrecht political-cultural café ACU on Voorstraat, also famous for its queer Cruise Control parties.
Gay bars have closed all over the country over the past fifteen years and where they remained, it was recently the Covid epidemic that often finished them. Declining visitor numbers led to the closure of both De Roze Wolk and De Wolkenkrabber in 2006. The café on street level remained queer: first as Chueca and since 2011 as Café Kalff.
In addition to Kalff, BodyTalk, founded in 1987 by Feibe Zweers, proves that a ‘rainbow’ café still has every reason to exist in 2023. When his original ‘men’s café’ was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2008, he drastically changed course. Zweers cancelled the contract with the beer supplier, became independent, modernized the interior, threw out the slot machines, opened the windows and started special events such as karaoke evenings and pub quizzes. The Facebook page with photos of visitors became an unprecedented success – the days when you secretly visited a gay bar are far behind us. This also applies to BodyTalk regulars, including the members of LGBTQIA+ student association Anteros.
Maurice van Lieshout
Utrecht ‘gay bars’ through the centuries
Molly houses 18th century
De Levendige Dood (The Lively Death), north side Korte Elisabethstraat
De Wijnkrans (The Wine Garland) (Hendrick Coopman), at the Pauluspoort (St. Paul’s Gate)
Jeremy (Jeremie) (?) (Hendrik Coopman), Outside Tolsteegpoort / Vaartse Veer
Het kasteel Vredenburg (The Castle of Vredenburg) (Evert Hartkamp), corner Ganzenmarkt / Korte Minrebroederstraat
Unknown, owner Otterspoor
Gay-friendly or gay-frequented cafés from the 1950s
[19??-1970] White Horse Bar, Voorstraat 8?
[1946-1994] Black Horse Bar, Drieharingstraat 1- 3
[1924-1977] Ritzer’s Jaarbeursbar, Vredenburg 39
[19??-1962] artist café Musica, Loeff Berchmakerstraat
[1954-1995] Café Kees, Willemstraat 37
[19??-??] Willemsbar (William’s bar), Willemstraat 12
[19??-??] Café De Lindebar, Nieuwegracht 197
[1959-present] ‘t Pandje, Nobelstraat 11 / 23 / 193
Gay bars from the 1950s
[1950-1953] COC De Grot, Oudegracht 333 at wharf level
[195?-??] ??, Donkerstraat
[??-??] café Arie Vermeulen, Predikherenstraat area
[1964-1979] COC Trefcentrum (COC Society), Nieuwegracht 28 at wharf level
[1960s] ??, near Visschersplein
[1965-1969] Café De Pauw (The Peacock), Oudegracht 64?
[1967-1968] Paddy’s Bar, Oudegracht 47
[1967-1974] La Vie en Rose (or Club 234), Oudegracht 234
[1968-1973] De Adonis (The Adonis) (discotheque), Oudegracht 39
[1968-1969] De Sevenclub, Zadelstraat / Boterstraat
[1969-1972] Panncafé, Nieuwegracht (1969) / Kargadoor Oudegracht (1970-72)
[1969-present] Pann Parties, various locations, nowadays Tivoli-Vredenburg
[1969-1973] JJ Club, Oudegracht 70?
[1971-1972] The Bear Club, Oudegracht at wharf level?
[1972-1973] Incognito, Jansdam 3
 Nederlandse Travestieten Vereniging (N.T.V.) (Dutch Transvestite Association), Loeff Berchmakerstraat 4
[1974-1979] Het Everzwijn (The Wild Boar) (mainly women), Loeff Berchmakerstraat 10
[1975-1978] De Adonis (The Adonis), Oudegracht 70?
[1975-1988] De Heksenketel (Witches’ Cauldron or Pandemonium) (women), Oudegracht 261
[1975-1986] Sobrino Bar, Hamburgerstraat 17
[1978-199?] Pann-kaffee, Oudegracht 255 at wharf level / 275 / 219 etc.
[1979-2007] COC, Oudegracht 221
 Club 44 (burned down after two days), Verenigingsdwarsstraat 5
[1982-1984] In the Gouwe Gheyt (The Old Goat / In a hurry), Oudegracht 196
[1982-2006] Homodisco De Roze Wolk (Gay discotheque The Pink Cloud), Oudegracht 43 at wharf level
[1984-2006] Homocafé De Wolkenkrabber (Gay café De Skyscraper), Oudegracht 47
[1984-1985] The Gay bar, Blauwkapelseweg
[1986-1987] The Scarabee, Bemuurde Weerd OZ 40
[1986-1987] Bert’s Gay-Bar, Hamburgerstraat 17
[1987-present] BodyTalk, Oudegracht 64
 Wells Fargo, Hamburgerstraat 17
 Hudson Bar, Bemuurde Weerd OZ 40
[1987-1994] De Groene Sluis, Bemuurde Weerd OZ 40
[1987-1990] Witch (women), Oudegracht 64 (basement BodyTalk)
[1989-??] O.S.M. (Ons Slag Mensen; parties) (Our Kind of People), Sociëteit De Vereeniging, Mariaplaats 14
[1993-??] De Competie, Predikherenstraat 5
[1995-1997] Navratilova (mainly women), Lucasbolwerk 1
[2002-present] Cruise Control (parties), multiple locations, ACU, De Helling, Ekko
[2007-2011] Chueca, Oudegracht 47
[2011-present] Café Kalff, Oudegracht 47
[2014-present] Rubber (parties), Club Basis, Oudegracht at wharf level 97
[2019-present] Queer in Wonderland (parties of transfeminist collective), Ekko
Please send additional information to: email@example.com
Arjan den Boer en Ton van den Berg, Verdwenen horeca in Utrecht. Gezelligheid tot sluitingstijd (Utrecht 2022).
L.J. Boon, ‘Dien godloosen hoop van menschen’. Vervolging van homoseksuelen in de Republiek in de jaren dertig van de achttiende eeuw (Amsterdam 1997).
Adrienne Dercksen, Homodisco De Roze Wolk en homocafé De Wolkenkrabber Utrecht 1982-2006 (Utrecht 2018).
Pieter Koenders, Tussen christelijk réveil en seksuele revolutie. Bestrijding van de zedeloosheid in Nederland, met nadruk op de repressie van homoseksualiteit (Amsterdam 1996).
D.J. Noordam, Riskante relaties. Vijf eeuwen homoseksualiteit in Nederland, 1233-1733 (Hilversum 1995).
Fenna Riethof, ‘De klassieker – BodyTalk: van mannenbar tot regenboogcafé’, DUIC-krant 9 april 2017.
‘Utrecht volgens Utrecht Pride-voorzitter Robbert Kalff (…)’, DUIC-krant 3 juni 2022.
Heleen Weijkamp, De ‘coming-out’ van een stad. De ontwikkeling van het homoseksuele uitgaansleven in Utrecht van 1930 tot heden. Doctoraalscriptie Geschiedenis UU (Utrecht 1994).
Pauluspoort (St. Paul’s Gate), Lange Nieuwstraat. The molly house De Wijnkrans (The Wine Garland) was located in this neighbourhood. Drawing J. de Beijer ca 1744. The Utrecht Archives, Image Bank
Jaarbeursbar, ca. 1930. The Utrecht Archives, Image Bank
Black Horse Bar, 1978. The Utrecht Archives, Image Bank
Sobrino bar in 1986, a year before its closure. The Utrecht Archives, Image Bank
Café ‘In de Gouwe Gheijt, 1982/-83. Oudegracht 196. Photo service GAU, The Utrecht Archives, Image Bank
Café Navratilova, Lucas Bolwerk 1, 1997. Photo Maks Smits, www.facebook.com/Navra2love/
Opening De Roze Wolk (The Pink Cloud), 1982, The Utrecht Archives
Café De Wolkenkrabber (The Skyscraper), 1992. Photo service GAU, The Utrecht Archives, Image Bank
Café Kalff, 2018. source: https://www.homohoreca.nl/utrecht.php
Advertisement BodyTalk, in GA Magazine February/March 1988, www.homohoreca.nl
BodyTalk, 1988. Photo service GAU, The Utrecht Archives, Image Bank
BodyTalk, recent. Photo Wikimedia Commons
Cruise Control, has been the’ filthiest alternative euphoria’ in Utrecht’s Gloria Queer party since 2002. Source: https://3voor12.vpro.nl/lokaal/utrecht/