Here I am. In a completely gutted building from the 1980s near Central Station. Some dated tiles show something of a past. But in several months, this has to become a new gay hotspot in Amsterdam. It is 2013. And as a future employee, I look around glazed, thinking about how things will turn out.
And now we have already celebrated our first anniversary. Sauna Nieuwezijds has not gone bankrupt, didn’t burn down to the ground, I’m still alive, and the sauna is a great success. Hurray!
Not that I ever doubted that. I have known my employers for a long time. I was in fact already working for their other enterprise Club Church, in the cloakroom, as a bartender, a light jockey, a host and performer. In Club Church, visitors have been flying off the handle en masse for over six years now, with bodily fluids in every corner.
This is not only because of the great diversity of its parties, but also because of its accessibility. Everyone is welcome and treated with respect. But where Club Church stops, Sauna NZ goes on. Not just when it comes to opening hours (in the weekend it’s opened non-stop), but also in design, atmosphere and cleanliness.
Months after my first look at the building, the walls were placed, tiled, painted and wallpapered. Things started coming to life. In cooperation with the architect, this former bingo hall became a pearl among saunas. The atmospheric, open plan lounge with wooden floor gives it a nice living room feeling. The only thing missing is a purring cat or a drooling dog on my lap. Well, being in the company of an attractive man would be more satisfying, with or without drooling... Also, the Finnish sauna has I-no-longer-need-television windows for an exciting glimpse of showering men and boys, and the spacious steam sauna heats things up.
Especially tourists regularly ask me if the sauna only has one floor. My answer usually is: “Yes, Sauna NZ is like Amsterdam; small but cosy.” If it’s a weekday, and there are about thirty guests present, you don’t have to roam to meet that hunk again. It’s almost big enough to get you into shape. I do notice that sometimes people do not have the nerve. Especially on the very busy Sunday morning and afternoon, our cosy sauna sometimes resembles a relaxed evening four-day marathon. Cruising is part of the equation, but sometimes there could be more action. Before you know it, you missed the love of your life for the next ten... uhm... thirty minutes.
My colleagues and I take our work very seriously. Despite of what happens in the darkroom and private booths, I still work in the hospitality industry. The relaxed atmosphere of the sauna and moderate sound of the music creates a form of professional informality between us and visitors, without creating a great distance. Unlike in Club Church, I am not flirting all the time while working, and after work it can be hard to assess whether you can take action on that attractive man you saw at the bar earlier.
Everyone with some experience in the hospitality industry knows that pouring drinks and (fresh) food is just part of the job. Other fun stuff, such as keeping the place orderly and clean (OK, to be honest, neurotic me likes to do those things...) and making sure the guests feel at ease. Thinking about daily operations and contact with nice colleagues is also part of the job. We have a pretty big team, all with a different background, their own way of doing things, and their own tasks. Besides “general staff,” the sauna also employs cleaners and masseurs. But mostly we are one big family with the best intentions. And believe me, nothing is more pleasant than coming to work and be greeted with a hug from your colleagues. And not just because I am ruggedly handsome. Just as much fun as the events we organize.
The last Saturday afternoon of the month is especially for our “hairy and fuzzy friends” with “Bears at NZ.” And some of my colleagues are responsible for the “Aufguss” (the pouring ceremony in the Finish sauna) on Wednesday evening. And for two months now, we have transformed the rather quiet Tuesday night into a popular “No Towel Night.” Also in 2015 we will continue to renew.
But there are less pleasant things as well. People who have had one too many, or OD on barbiturates. Or people who have forgotten that their bed is back at their place, and not in our lovely palace at Nieuwezijds Armsteeg. There are always some people who need to borrow the book “How to Behave Properly” at the library again.
Sleeping is simply not allowed, and other house rules are not in place to be ignored. In the silence section of the train once does not make loud telephone calls either. In my days, this was considered normal, this thirty-year-old grandfather says. However, it’s what makes our profession very diverse and interesting, and makes us grow as human beings. Besides... nurse, educator and police officer can also be useful on my resume...