The Amsterdam Bar

I think it was probably the first time that I ever experienced openly gay people, The Amsterdam Bar in  Huddersfield, 1977-ish, it was probably the first time I’d used the word “gay” too, the country was awakening to a new enlightenment, the legality of homosexuality had been established by an act of parliament ten years previously and yet like many other minorities gay people were still subjected to ridicule, prejudice and mockery even on prime time TV where “queers” and “puffs” like Larry Grayson and John Inman hogged the limelight and set the standard for public perceptions of what a gay man was like.

It was Steve Smith who first told us about The Amsterdam Bar, his cousin who was at University in Huddersfield was a regular and he made it sound like a pub like no other pub we’d ever been in, we were to discover over several visits that he wasn’t exaggerating either, I’ve never been in a pub like it since.

Its a long way to drive for a night out, ok it doesn’t look that far on a map from Leeds to Huddersfield but you pass dozens of pubs on the way and our little convoy of three cars hesitated outside each one as the occupants demands for more beer grew louder as we passed each one but we persevered and met up with Steve Smiths cousin outside the Amsterdam at the back of  a good sized queue even at 7pm on a Saturday night.

“Don’t mention puffs or queers, don’t point at anyone and definitely don’t laugh” advised Steve Smiths cousin, “some of these queers are hard lads” we took this as read, it was Huddersfield after all, “oh and by the way” he added “when they call last orders drink up and get rid of your glass straight away”.

It was loud inside, loud sweaty and totally bizarre to a group of lads from Leeds who thought they’d already seen it all in their big city bars, an unseen DJ played disco tunes of the era (we’re talking about Saturday Night Fever here, quite a camp look when you think about it) and whilst the ratio of men to women was high there wasn’t very much at all to point at, no Larry Grayson-stylee camp men, no overtly flamboyant Quentin Crisp look-alikey’s and no men obviously dressed as women, still, we sat around a circular table and kept our heads down whispering to each other not to point and definitely not to laugh.

The party atmosphere grew louder and more brash as the evening rolled on until finally it was “supping up time” which in any “ordinary” pub in the county would result in a dash to the bar for more beer and a prolonged argument for the next half hour as the landlord tried to prise those drinks from your hands with a “Have you lot no bloody homes to go to ?”

Not so in The Amsterdam Bar though, last orders was greeted with a huge cheer and a rush of activity to down your last drinks and return all of the glasses to the bar, these gay blokes were well behaved we all thought, but there was method in the madness.

As soon as the bar and security staff confirmed that all glasses were cleared from the tables the lights dimmed, a huge cheer went up from the crowd and then a theatre spotlight illuminated a corner of the bar from which stepped the first drag act that I had ever seen in my short life thus far.

It may or may not have been one or more of the landlord and/or bar staff who put on a half hour long floor show of such wonderful flamboyance, some of whom actually looked quite beautiful, or maybe that was the beer, culminating in the troop leader sitting on a swing and swinging above our heads throwing roses down on us all and blowing kisses as he/she sang a medley of Streisand and Garland songs – yes stereotypical, but yes, great fun.

We returned several times over the next year or so, we saw Lyn Paul perform there once,
Who ?
Lyn Paul of The New Seekers, yes you do know her, the blond one out of The New Seekers, ok the female blond one out of the New Seekers, the one who wouldn’t look like a nightmare if you woke up next to her, yes thats her.

We were complimentary gay men for a year for gay men knew how to enjoy themselves in The Amsterdam Bar – its a car park for an adjacent factory now according to Google Maps and the two owners fled to Benidorm (according to five minutes research on t’interweb) after the VAT man came after them (oh but that has some resonance with me).

Going back to mild beer and dominoes in The Queenswood Club was a bit of a let down after that.

And now I think of it, Huddersfield was the place to go for alternative entertainment in the 1970s

41 thoughts on “The Amsterdam Bar

  1. Larry Grayson – now there’s ablast from the past. But I guess Alan Carr is not that much different in his approach.

  2. The two fellas that owned the place are still alive and well, one of them is my great uncle, who did most certainly go to Benidorm and open first Peppermint bar and then Zanzibar. The other guy was a dutch fellow by the name of Kees (nickname for Kornelius in Dutch).

    Although my uncle Philip was attacked in the car park of one of his establishments it was most certainly not the Amsterdam bar but the Pussycat, formerly Wakefield Variety club. They are both are alive and enjoying retirement split between Amsterdam and Benidorm.

  3. Thank you for the comment Barry, pleased to hear that your great uncle and his partner are still alive and well – theres a bit of mis-information floating about elsewhere on t’interweb but I’ve now corrected my bit !

    The Amsterdam Bar was something else though 🙂

  4. I was doing one of those five minutes searches when I came across your site. Me and a mate and often another male third party (all straight like you and your ma tes) used to travel over to the Amsterdam from Batley two or three times a week every week for what seems like years but in reality was probably about 18 months.There was no where like it and I haven’t come across anywhere like it since. Funnily enough we went to the other pubs in the chain, Barcelona in Kirkstall, Continental, Halifax though I’m not sure we ever got to Pussycats – guess we must have done. In my opinion they never reached the heights of the Amsterdam though. I also went in the Market Tavern once but that was just a normal boozer.
    The interesting thing for me was the height between the top of the bat and the ceiling. You find me a pub where a grown man can stand on the bar and walk, freely up and down it; since 1977 I have probably come across two.
    It’s interesting to hear that Philip Collarby and Kees are still together, I heard they had gone their seperate ways some time ago. I know that Gabby opened Gabby’s bar in Stourton Leeds in the 80s and that sadly he passed away quite a few years ago. Peter Roddy was reported to have taken the White Horse in Castleford after his Amsterdam days but he has now disappeared from the radar.
    One of my most surprising memories was the night Philip literally jumped over the bar and walloped this kid who had been taunting him. You are absolutely right, folk who went there for trouble usually got more than they bargined for and thankfully it happened rarely. When you think about the often over the top security in pubs and bars now it’s interesting to think back that there were no bouncers, just the bar staff and always a few straight older looking regulars who knew the staff. You got a strong sense that they would would act as back up if required.
    Every time the Jubilee is mentioned I smile and remember the Jubilee Song – “Elizabeth, Elizabeth, the hardest working housewife we have seeeeeen……..!
    Happy happy days from what seems a lifetime ago.

  5. The thing that I recall from the 1970s is the general intolerance of gay people, I can’t imagine two openly gay men even holding hands in any of the pubs I used to go in in Leeds, and yet The Amsterdam never had anything but a good, fun atmosphere and was populated by groups of gay and straight men without any of the antagonism that there would have been in any other pub – I’m not quite sure why that was or how the management made that happen but they were ahead of their time in lots of ways.

  6. Absolutely. In my opinion the Amsterdam created the mould for fun pubs and the “gay” aspect” added a different and special dimension. It lacked any sense of the testosterone fuelled atmosphere of a lot of places. After creating the mould they must have broken it because no other fun pub came near. It was a bar owned and run by gays for everyone as opposed to a gay pub, which in those days tended, I understand, to be sleezy pick up joints.

  7. The Amsterdam Bar was certainly an iconic place created by Philip and Kees.
    Sadly Philip passed away on 8th September 2012.
    He spent the last few months of his life living in Amsterdam where he and Kees eventually got round to getting married after 45 years of being together.
    I was lucky enough to be at the wedding , although he knew then that he was dying it was an amazingly cheerful day with Philip on sparkling funny form entertaining all his guests as only Philip could.
    He will be very sadly missed.

  8. Had some great nights out at the Amsterdam bar, when it first opened it was quite small but later they knocked trough into two more houses and made it a lot bigger.
    some great acts played there off the top of my head, Kelly Marie, Jimmy james and the Vagabonds, Bobby Crush, Bernard Manning, Edison Lighthouse, Ivy league.

  9. Remember the record they made and played in the club?
    We’re having a gangbang, we’re having a ball…….

  10. Hi…..I hope someone might be able to help. I remember watching a film in the early-mid 80’s called “The Adventures of a Drunk” and the Amsterdam Bar was featured. The film was a low budget, locally made thing…it was just so ridiculously funny and my mates and I still talk about it. I am trying to find a copy……can anyone help…?? Please do ask around on my behalf…I would be eternally grateful to anyone that can help find it…CHEERS.

  11. I remember the Amsterdam very well. We had many a great night out there and it is still talked about with friends fondly.
    I must say though that even though it was owned by two gay men and frequented by some gay men it was always known as a place where you could pick up married women who were looking for for that little bit extra, so to speak.
    I must say as well that my uncle who moved to Glasgow in the late 70s met up with a woman there who used to go to the Amsterdam on regular trips. It was that well known.
    Imagine how many toilet stops they must have had to make on the return journey though.

  12. I was a copper in 1975 and travelled up to the Amsterdam several times whilst on a detective training course in Wakefield. Me and the guys I was with were straight (as far as I know) but we had some fantastic nights out. It really was a great
    atmosphere which has sadly disappeared, true avant garde. An experience I would love to repeat but know I never can because we have been overtaken by modern (maybe postmodern) culture. Terrific memories.

  13. I remember several trips, you couldn’t move in there, a visit to the gents meant pushing tightly through the crowd, I remember it being mostly girls. The floorshows were great and the song “Having a Gang Bag” performed on the stage (the top of the bar) was repeated all the way home. They did open a bar in Halifax called the Continental but it never had the same buzz. Happy happy days. Just remembered I sure we saw a very young Lenny Henry there.

  14. First visited the Amsterdam Bar in the brilliant summer of 1976. Thought was the year we last had water stand pipes.Formerly the Zetland the original building was on the street corner and a year later was extended and a special night was arranged to celebrate the opening of the new look bar. The original bar was circular and the late Pat Phoenix of Coronation Street attended on the Opening of the extension. Some great nights i enjoyed there and no trouble. A example of the friendly atmosphere was you could be served five yards from the bar and the people in between would pass your drinks down the line rather than pushing your way to the bar.Good Years that didn’ t last long enough and sadly won’t happen again.Been nothing in the West Yorkshire area since to beat the Amsterdam Bar.

  15. hi, ive just spotted your page i have been looking ages for anyone who could remember the places that me and my friends used to go , 1977 was when i started going to the amsterdam bar ,being straight i found it strange at first but it had a fantastic atmosphere ,the drag act was great i remember him pulling kermit out of his shorts then the muppet song ive not laughed like that since ,the people were very friendly i only once saw a bit of trouble going to the loo was a challenge but great fun ,there wont be another place like it ,its sad that people dont or wont remember the best era ever ,we also went to the pussycats in wakefield ,tiffanys nightclub ,the alexandra bar,the spaniard and mitre ,heppys bar ,and the new yorker ,plus these two that i never went to cassanovas and roof top gardens ,it would bebrilliant if anyone had any photos of any of these places ….graham franks…..thankyou for the memories

  16. i used to play there in a band called the fortunes ,they had all the top acts of that time play there big stars who like us just wanted to do it for the atmosphere ,i used to stay with kees and phil in their house on wakefield rd [im not gay but they were just great people and i loved them !]i also used to stay with gabby up in brighouse ,sometimes, he was so funny ,i always remember him doin berlington bertie on the bar of the barcelona ,im still gigging up and down the country and i have done for 40 odd years ,an i tell you this nothing compares to the amsterdam bar in huddy [an im from london ]

  17. I too remember the Amsterdam Bar The hosts as I remember were Gabbi and Kees. I met people from Manchester, Liverpool, Grimsby and Hull among a lot of other cities, the atmosphere was marvellous and if you thought there were far more men than women you were mistaken, a lot of girls went there feeling safe as it was called a gay bar I call it an everybody bar all were welcome there was no trouble there but you had to get there early as the original bar was small and an extension had to be built. I remember those days they were magical moments in my youth, I think the Amsterdam bar changed a lot of young mens ideas on gay men. I thank the hosts for what was a great place with a great entertainment and a really good natured clientele.

  18. What a crock of shit it was not queers was run by 2.the one who did the show when the bar closed was one of owners.was a good pock up place for never said anything about there party piece.the sing along we are having a gang bang.visited most weeks great night out

  19. Used to go there every other thursday night even though it was a 130 mile round trip. That’s how good the place was. Always a great sing a long to We’re having a gang bang, you’ll never walk alone and during the Falklands war “sailing” nearly took the roof off. Surprised no one has mentioned the rope trick performed by the bar staff. The drag acts were superb and the atmosphere unequalled in any pub or night club I have been to since. We used to go to the Amsterdam bar and then on to Jonny’s nightclub where they did superb hot beef buns. They were the days.

  20. Can anyone ask around to see if there is still a copy of the film “The Adventures of a Drunk”?? I’m sure the fellas from the Amsterdam Bar had something to do with it and it is the funniest film ever.

  21. I used to go there twice a week in it’s heyday. Just a couple of points to put the record straight, the biographer stated that Google earth shows it as a car park for a factory now, this is not correct, the building is still there intact exactly as it was in the 70s, but is now a fast food outlet/Kebab shop called ‘Posh Nosh’. The car park is round the corner & across the road. The second point is the record ‘we’re having a gang bang’ was recorded on the premises by a local recording studio in Golcar, I was there when it was recorded. the proprietor was called ‘Mike Storey’ of September Sound Studios, 38 Knowl Road, Golcar, Huddersfield, HD7 4AN. The studio closed down in the mid 1980’s & is now a care home. As has been pointed out many times before, it was the place to go to be entertained in the 70’s. Sorry to hear of Phillip’s demise.

  22. On Saturday Amsterdam Bar nights in the 70s you had to clear your glasses from the bar (but not from tables) at last-orders because the resident singer, in resplendent drag and gaudy make-up, climbed on top of it to mime to “This Is My Life” by Shirley Bassey at full blast. This was followed by “We’re Having A Gang-Bang” when everyone would form a pelvic-thrust conga across the whole pub. I remember lots of girls went there and they all joined in the conga line, which for me was about as close to a shag that I came at the time. Oddy’s in Bradford did a similar routine in 1981, first time I ever heard the original Birdie Song long before the crap version by The Tweets.

  23. I remember being there when a female act was on who said she was embarassed to admit that it was her who recorded the having a gang bang record there and then went on to perform it. Who was she?

  24. I used to work at the Amsterdam, the best times of my life. It’s now being made into student accomodation. I am still good friends with Alan Ward who used to do the drag show

  25. Great times at the Amsterdam singing viva espania, watching Phillips Carmen Miranda nothing like that now 😞

  26. I’ve received an email from Andrew Ball who was having problems posting this information on here so I’ve copied here myself as he has some up to date news on the premises and would like some help from anyone with photos …

    “Hi all, great reminiscences – and what a wonderful tribute to Phillip by Kees on YouTube!
    I am one of the partners who have just about finished the conversion to student accommodation. What a state the building was in, I can’t begin to tell you how neglected it was. I’ve managed to get hold of the 7″vinyl of ‘Gang Bang’ and will be putting it in a frame on one of the corridor walls – along with five of the letters from the ‘Amsterdam’ signage which we found. It was very disappointing that we didn’t find much evidence of the halcyon Amsterdam days when we ripped the building apart last year – very little indeed. I’m also going to put up some framed photos of some of our renovation shots and would love to put on the walls a few framed photos of the Amsterdam’ in action’ (ones suitable for viewing by tender aged students!!). Does anyone here have any decent quality photos I could print and frame for the walls? I’d be particularly interested in a good external shot, and any shot of the main bar or dance floor ‘in action’. Many thanks all, here’s hoping! 🙂 “

  27. I worked there for about 2 years in the mid-seventies. Such a fun place to work! As well as the gang bang, a song was also released for the silver jubilee. Another point – night always used to end with ‘you’ll never walk alone’. Bus loads of people used to come from all over! Busiest pub ever!! It was about 6 deep at the bar but the nicest of atmospheres. And lots of famous comedians and soap stars would always put on a show. It was good fun and straight people loved it too

  28. Hi Andrew , if you contact me on 07900018613 I can put you in contact with Kees who has masses of photos from the Amsterdam Bar.

  29. Hi Lance, thank you. I’ve asked my property manager Angela to get in touch – she’d actually been doing some research and had tried unsuccessfully to contact Kees by Facebook messenger. Hope that’s okay. All the best.

  30. Thank you very much for this article, I’ve been looking for evidence that this pub actually existed and not in my dreams. I attended Huddersfield Polytechnic in the a summer of ‘77 and ‘78 as part of my teacher training. We use to visit the pub quite often and it was just as you described. I still have a copy of ‘ we’re having a gang bang’ recorded live at the Amsterdam Bar in my collection, I remember seeing Chris Cassnova (I think that was his name) he was on New faces.
    Happy days

  31. My name is Mike Johnson author of 7 published novels including Sheffield and Other short stories.

    I would like to reproduce some of your comments on the Amsterdam Bar for Sheffield 2

    It was a favourite of mine in the 70s


    Mike Johnson

  32. Of course , spoke to kees, the original Dutch owner , he is 75 now , happily doing nothing in Amsterdam

  33. Fantastic thread about the Amsterdam Bar. Came across this accidentally while doing research for TV script set in 80s in West Yorkshire, but mainly focusing on the Gemini in Huddersfield, which was a well known gay club – again unique and teaming with many colourful characters who also used to frequent The Amsterdam. If anyone has any stories or anecdotes/memories of a particularly rapier-witted and potty mouthed drag artiste by the name of Barry Stevens – who bizarrely did ‘Piaf’ as his repertoire – I’d be grateful.
    Barry was notorious for his patter and brilliance at putting down hecklers even when drunk on stage. I believe he performed a few times at the Amsterdam. To say Huddersfield had such a famously wild and diverse entertainment scene back then where coachloads would travel miles from various towns and cities to experience says a lot for the town and the individual mavericks who set them up and ran them in the first place.

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