Forget It Jake, It’s Pijptown

When the late night drinking options dwindle, the cultures shall mingle!

By Steve Korver, 16-03-2005, cover feature, Amsterdam Weekly

cuyp-localWhen I first moved to De Pijp in 1893, the ‘hood was just hitting its stride. As I understood it, De Pijp had been built on a foundation of beer. Thirty years previously, Opa Heineken had bought some boggy land on what was then the outskirts of the city to build a brewery.

This selfless act provided impetus for the creation of a whole neighbourhood of ‘Pipe’-like narrow streets with houses to hold a good back-up reservoir of both workers and imbibers. And as to be expected, the cheap rents also attracted a good share of immigrants, students, artists, wacky radicals and pijp artiesten.

Wait a minute. Maybe it was 2093 when I first moved here — I remember now. It was the time when certain ever-erupting subcultures were using the long-abandoned tunnels of the Noord-Zuid metro as their playground. The Albert Cuyp market had evolved into the main black-market strip where you could score scented viagral mists, Sinti mindhacks, neural implant thingies, and a startling array of skin care products…

Now that I think about it, it must have been 1993 when I first moved to here. And in fact, the only radical change that has occurred in these parts in the last decade is that my short-term memory has been shot to shit. I guess I could try to blame De Pijp for this if I really wanted to bother.

OK — there’ve been a few other changes. There’s the chaos around the N-Z metro line. There are the squadrons of designer-coffee-slurping yuppies — bastards who give designer coffee a bad name — and a general movement upmarket to serve them. But I usually try to chart my meanderings around the neighbourhood so as to avoid encountering the passage of time if possible. Really, who needs time? It’s such an over-rated dimension.

It was the proprietor of the Kingfisher, a local haunt, who reminded me that the ’hood had, in fact, and sadly, ‘whitened up’ a bit in the last few years.

He should know. When the Kingfisher opened seven years ago it was one of the first places to open up the windows, let in some light and international design sense, and serve a whole range of post-bitterballen snacking options. (It was, incidentally, also just a few doors down from the brothel where a century ago Eduard Jacobs invented Dutch cabaret that continues to live on through such practitioners as Najib Amhali.)

What makes the Kingfisher different from the many upmarket places that came in its wake, is that it has remained a happily diverse ‘neighbourhood place’. They actually thought carefully about fitting in. In fact, there are some days when it’s like a regular fucking hipster Sesame Street in there. Even a Grover like me can fit in.

The place does get a tad uniform on weekend nights, when the reclamejongens take over. Then there are just too many twentysomething white guys showing each other their mobile phones. But hey, you can’t have everything. (Where would you put it, anyway? Certainly not in my Pijp apartment, which is already overfull.)

The Kingfisher’s good proprietor’s comment coincided with reports last week about a study by council statistics organisation O+S that showed that this city is segregating. Moroccans, Turks and Dutch people were withdrawing into their own neighbourhoods, the report said. It wasn’t a desirable state of affairs, the council suggested.

But was it true? Was my neighbourhood being taken over by cadaverous hordes of Rucola Stamppot People? That was my first thought. You can easily miss the signs of creeping segregation in a ’hood that’s swarming with around 150 nationalities.

My second thought was a bigger one, concerning that whole Gordian knot known as the multi-culturalism debate in Holland. And it was that the debate is really incomprehensible — a sort of chronic blip on the Dutch radar. I arrived here as an allochtoon from Canada with a natural immunity to negative thoughts about ‘multicultural’ societies. So far as I was concerned, that was what society was: a bunch of different people living together.

You could say that my Canuck compatriots are regular Manchurian Candidate types, when it comes to building positive images of things. We’re ever ready to show our good will concerning mosaics, rainbows and the idea that variety is the spice of life. We’re easily triggered by words like ‘diversity’. Yes indeed: there’s nothing like the power of positive indoctrination.

So as a simple Canadian boy, I always took multiculturalism for granted. To me it simply means more eating options. And if the eating’s good, I tend to bond with the people who prepare, serve it and share it.

If you’re serious about breaking down borders, just bring your taste buds and an empty belly. It’s that simple. Just shut up and eat. And if you come across some particularly tasty crunchy bits, use them as a good topic for some cross-cultural banter. Mmm crunchy bits.

Actually, the only thing I ever noticed as being different about Dutch multiculturalism was the expression itself. As a sound, ‘multiculti’ rolls off the tongue with quite some funk. You’d think that such a catchy term would sell itself.

Worried that I’d missed something bad happening, I decided that it was time to head out into the streets to check things out — the streets where I have run thousands of errands. Maybe that was why I’d missed all the signs of change. Sheer zombie familiarity.

But of course, I didn’t exactly put my mission like that. No, I invited ladyfriend — ook allochtoon – and myself out on a trip down the memory lanes of my neighbourhood. Would they still be there, if I really looked? Vooruit, effen een avondje goed Pijpen.

First stop, the oldest Irish bar in Amsterdam. I’ve always had a soft spot for this place, despite its somewhat dubious reputation. The place was not fancy and I always just thought the “I” in IRA stood for “international”. Regardless, this tiny pub became a touchstone for multicultiness for me. I used to visit it like clockwork once or twice a year. Nothing ever changed, which was reassuring. There were always a few token Dutch drunks, a smattering of Irish expats, and a couple of Irie Rastas. The place had another significance for me, too. I was raving there one day with a new Surivlaamse hipster buddy when he got a phone call. Pim Fortuyn had been shot, he said. I didn’t believe him and called him a lying black bastard.

The one change that happened there was also quite sudden. One day, about half dozen years ago, I noticed that the elfin leprechaun of a fellow who had run it forever had been replaced by a younger, more talkative, guy. He told me the best local ‘Lost Weekend’ story ever. ‘I came to Amsterdam on a Friday afternoon,’ he said, ‘and I woke up on Monday owning this bar.’

And it was an awful thing, but my first choice of pitstop on my mission immediately got me worried that indeed the universe was misaligning and my beloved ‘hood was indeed getting Typexed all to hell. The place had a new name and had been totally Dutched-up. But it was empty so it was not worth entering for a more in depth evaluation.

Keep walking. Passing Sarphatipark triggered the usual bout of blind rage, as usual. This stems from a couple of summers ago, when I was enjoying the park’s sunshine with a neighbour. We were indulging in our year’s first brew on the grass and philosophising about life and its various quandaries when a couple of cops on bikes interrupted our civilised conversation to tell us that we could leave with our beer, or throw away our beer, or get a fine.

I felt like a Moroccan kid who is not allowed into a nightclub. But what ware Amsterdammer does not have some issues when it comes to authority figures?

None of the new places along the 1e van der Helststraat enticed us through their doors. But as we passed I made a mental note to myself about an overly ingrained habit. I would have to break my compulsive need to eat snert for lunch at Cafe De Markt, and opt for the Assyrian lamb and chickpeas at the Euphraat more often. The coffee is also much better there. Variety is the spice…

Anyway, crossing Albert Cuyp, we regretted the fact that Bazar — a kitsched-out global kitchen that’s going to offer a lot of econo-priced North African recipes — wasn’t opening until the next day. This place is taking over the former Grand Cafe known as De Engel, and it’s great that it’s coming, is all I can say.

Actually, this local Bazar will be a branch of our favourite restaurant in Rotterdam. I don’t know if it hopes to contribute to bridging the Dutch-Moroccan divide. But I’m optimistic that it will have a positive effect on the Amsterdam-Rotterdam one.

Next, Eddy’s Bar. This is where André Hazes grew up singing on the pool table. I had expected to busy myself with a frothy vaasje or two, and I’d also been looking forward to winnowing forgotten peanuts from the carpeting on the bar. But no. The crowd was small, but you’d have been hard-pressed to find a more radical cross-section of cultures, races and ages anywhere in this city. Across the bar, a sixtysomething dude with a big red hat, a Duvel and a doob caught our eye. But since we were made to feel so welcome on our side of the bar and immediately sucked into the action, we never did get around to talking multiculti with him.

It didn’t take long to decide to become a regular there. We ran into a similarly happy scene of matter-of-fact multicultiness at the more youthful Zuid, the bar formerly known as Jan Steen. The kids were doing all right. We only left when I started feeling too old.

We had planned to end the night at the ground zero of multiculti De Pijp: night bar Mazeltoff on Ferdinand Bolstraat. This establishment is run by a Turkish guy and his bleached blonde Dutch wife. We have plenty of happy memories here. The place is a freaking rainbow. You couldn’t get any more fucking multiculti if you tried. Even pink elephants just fade into the background here.

Cynics would of course regard the scene and say that alcoholics mix naturally. But you could also say that ‘when the drinks get mixed so do the people’.

But we didn’t have to stop by the Mazeltoff. We already knew the truth. De Pijp is still multiculti als fuk.

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