Imagine traveling to the 17th century.
Part 1: When fiction turns into reality
Picture this: you are at the most busy and touristic street of 21st century Amsterdam, surrounded by the buzz of bars, hotels, fast-food places and other dubious restaurants, coffee-, and sex shops. It’s crowded, noisy and dirty, no different from the touristic areas from all capitals of the world. Now imagine that in the very beginning of that street you found a time-machine which would immediately transport you to the core of the 17th century Amsterdam.
You would find yourself in an old brown bar, surrounded by wood, genuine barrels and more than 70 different genevers whose bottles and labels seem as ancient as the surrounding space. You would sit by the bar like an old sailor, request the local beer and ask the barman for a recommendation regarding the best genever to accompany it. He would then ask you about your tastes and fill up a glass with something strong brewed by the very bar where you are now sitting. You take a sip and as it warms you up you start talking about the weather, about where you come from and the journey you just undertook. There are no speakers with music in the 17th century and people, of course, talk to each other. Maybe you’ll end up chatting to the Dutchman sitting next to you and it is possible that later someone even pops in to play the piano that stands in the middle of the bar.
It is the ‘Sing Along’ night, there’s a banjo player in the house as well, and everyone sings aloud traditional songs which you end up humming too. Sounds overly fanciful? Well, the place I just described is situated at the Nieuwebrugsteeg 13 and there’s no exaggeration in my account. The proeflokaal ‘In de Olofspoort’ is both the oasis and the time-machine of the Warmoesstraat.
Part 2: when reality seems fiction
When I first got in there I sat in the back room of the house, named ‘The thirsty heart’ (‘Het dorstige hart’) and went under a ritual of liquor-choosing while having one of the most surprising history classes of my life by the owner of the bar herself. And it envolved that place having been part of one of the stone gates of Amsterdam, built in 1341 and named under a norwegian saint, Sint Olofspoort, for trade reasons. Know that the foundations of Amsterdam are built on ten thousand trees from Norway and now you get the importance of the tribute.
In 1618 the architect Hendrick de Keyser was commissioned to build the current building, after the gate having become unnecessary following the expansion of the city. In 1988, the decade when the Warmoesstraat and the Red Light District were still no-go areas, Riny-Reiken helped pioneer the neighborhood´s rebirth by creating a place that is in itself a monument to Dutch culture, and that was to become an ‘Erkend Genever Café’ ( an official genever cafe, basically). And the best is that for some reason this place almost goes unnoticed by the untrained eye – it’s as if the time machine is invisible – which helps on creating a certain legendary atmosphere.
The liquor-choosing ritual was in itself impressive. Riny chose ‘Perfect hapiness’ (Volmaakt Gelukt) for me, her words being a subtle mix of fantasy and reality, in this story-telling tone of voice. What I couldn’t have known by then, is that all this scene was just a premonition. A few months later, I’d be standing at that very room singing Edith Piaf. It was a ‘Lied and Klassiek night’ and by then I was given an ‘Inspiration’ liquor. And I can tell you it worked: singing in a time-machine is no less than extraordinary.