Last month the Sauna Nieuwezijds (NZ) opened, Amsterdam’s first new gay sauna in more than fifteen years. We went to the opening party and were blown away by this stylish new bathhouse right in the center of town. We spoke to Elard Diekman, one of the driving forces behind the new venture.
Elard, first of all, congratulations - the sauna looks fabulous, I was very impressed by it all. Tell me what’s your favorite part of NZ?
“Thank you, I’m also really happy with how it all came out and hope that our public likes it too! Of course I love the whole place: the Jacuzzi, the lounge, the glory hole carrousel, but for me the highlight is the Turkish Bath, I just love all the columns and corners.”
We hear a lot about the Amsterdam city council holding back on licenses for darkrooms and saunas. How in the heck did you manage to get permission to open a gay sauna in what is officially the red light area?
“We’ve been organizing parties and events in Amsterdam since the mid 1990s. As part of the GALA (Gay & Lesbian Amsterdam) foundation, we’ve produced the outdoor events on the Homomonument, large scale fetish parties in the Silo and also smaller parties on the Warmoesstraat for years. We know the relevant regulations and we have a very good working relationship with the city council. So you could say we’ve paid our dues. The bottom line is that if the sex on premises is consensual between adults and not commercial, the venue will need no special license.” We were amazed by the attention to detail and style that the sauna exudes. Did you model Nieuwezijds on another particular sauna? What was your inspiration?
“I enjoy going to saunas myself - whether gay or just regular ones - so I’ve seen a lot in my time from around the world, from Bangkok -like Babylon, one of my favorites - to Berlin - Der Boiler, also a great sauna. So I had a lot to compare with, could see what worked and what didn’t and could really select what I personally liked. But it was our architect, Ad Bogerman, who translated our ideas into reality and created the sauna as it is.”
We were surprised that the sauna was up and running in what seemed to be such a short time - was there a lot of behind the scenes work going on?
“Er, yes. We officially launched the sauna website and Facebook page during Gay Pride in August, so that’s when a lot of people heard about it for the first time. In September newspaper ‘Het Parool’ ran a front-page article on us, not a very positive article by the way, but that was of course priceless publicity and that’s when most Amsterdammers became aware of us. But we had been scouting venues for more than a year before that, and had actually found our present location in December last year - so it was about a year from start to finish. It was an enormous amount of work to get it up and running in such a short period of time.”
What is the connection between Club Church and Sauna Nieuwezijds?
“Well, you could say that they’re both children of the GALA foundation, so I guess siblings. GALA has given birth to many great initiatives in Amsterdam, from the Roze Wester festivals to Pink Point, the new Stichting Homomonument, Club Church and now Sauna NZ. My partners in NZ are Wim Peeks and Richard Keldoulis (who is also my husband), both from Church and GALA, and in addition we have about twenty-five investors who also believed in the project, a lot of whom also invested in Church.”
“We think it will be a great combination - first you can party your ass off in Church, then wind down in the sauna to finish off the night.”
What, in your view, sets Nieuwezijds apart from the other saunas in Holland?
“Like Church, we are very welcoming and client friendly, which is something that is sometimes missing in other businesses. On top of that we’re open nonstop in the weekend, from Friday midday till Monday morning, so it will be a great place to chill after partying or somewhere to hang till the first trains leave. We have a full breakfast on the weekends, a team of top masseurs available who will offer all types of massage - and all that in the wonderfully relaxed atmosphere of a gentlemen’s club.”