The Cuckoo’s Nest in Nieuwezijds Kolk used to be a bar even before it became known as a leather cruise bar. But apart from leatherfolk, you wouldn’t want to be seen at the shabby place back then as it was more of a hangout for druggies and their dealers. After the original bar had closed in 1985 the venue was bought by Cain – who used to be known under his birth name ‘Cal’ – Berlinger and his partner Gait Laarhuis who reopened it, a few weeks after the original bar had closed, as a night-time leather bar. The now famous darkroom didn’t exist at the time. Actually, when the bar started,it only consisted of a closet covered by a curtain and it was only used occasionally.

In those early days, the Cuckoo’s Nest was no match for the other leatherbars in the Warmoesstraat, yet it did have a handful of hearty regulars who were like family and regularly came to the bar to watch television. Business wasn’t very profitable at first, until, one afternoon, the well-known Amsterdam-based artist Nigel Kent jokingly suggested that the Cuckoo’s Nest change its hours from night to day and paint it pink! Apparently, there was no money for pink paint. But the bar did have the right  licence to be open during the day,  which eventually turned out to be a huge success.

Cain and Gait rebuilt the interior of the venue, moving the bar from the back to the right of the entrance – previously occupied by an extra-large pooltable – thereby clearing the entrance to The Cellar, “the world’s largest darkroom” below stairs. Beyond the bar stood an old motorbike behind which were the lavatories. On the walls behind the motorbike, visitors could see a collage of a couple of thousand images of musclemen, made by Peter Madden. A smaller selection of naked men could be seen behind glass on the bar itself. The pooltable was moved to the back of the room with also a couple of gaming machines. Furthermore, the Cuckoo’s Nest offered its visitors a wide range of background music, from Jazz to Broadway and movie themes and international newspapers on a stand and a hot and cold buffet on Sundays.


Already from its start, the Cuckoo’s Nest drew an international clientele. Bikers – many visitors were member of ECMC, MS Amsterdam and MSC London – would park their motorbikes outside, the place was popular with hardcore S&M leathermen and most of the time there were Afro-American leathermen present. Mind you, new visitors didn’t need to be afraid of being tied up or bent over the motorbike as the bar maintained a very friendly character and there were always regulars around who just came to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere instead of heavy leather play. Within a year of its opening, the downstairs darkroom, which used to hold garbage and beer kegs, was rebuilt with a second bar which came with a custom-built shoeshine stand, bathtubs for watersports, several cabins with gloryholes and three slings. The decoration consisted of ropes, tires hanging from the ceiling and, just like upstairs, there was a huge wall mural downstairs, made by bartender Tony DeRosa who later became the owner of the Spijker Bar in the Kerkstraat.

This darkroom became particularly popular when Ad van Schaik lost his licence to host the LL-parties at his warehouse and the Cuckoo’s Nest immediately filled the slot with its Full Moon sex parties. In those days the Amsterdam leather bars proved to be much more supportive of each other than nowadays is the case. As Cain recalls the help from Paul, the owner of The Eagle, when starting up the business, and all the leather bars at the Warmoesstraat were willing to promote the parties organized by the Cuckoo’s Nest. They even provided extra cases of beer when the first few leather parties under- ordered. Apart from Cain who in one article[1. Unfortunately we weren’t been able to track down the name of the magazine or the year it was published.] we found is described as “the big black American who makes you feel at home very easily and who you know is present when you hear his loud laughter” and Gait “a most quite bearded Dutchman”, the Cuckoo’s Nest’s management team was joined by a third man named Mel “who was voted Mr Leather UK 1980, has his own brand of style when courting the downstairs bar and has some exciting biker and sex tales to tell”. The aforementioned Tony DeRosa combined bar shifts at the Cuckoo’s Nest with work at De Spijker and – following  New York and San Francisco – the staff was completed with a leather woman named Monica.

The joyful times at the Cuckoo’s Nest took a turn by 1987 when Cain sold his share and Gait died in 1988 and Mel went on to work in the Warmoesstraat around the same time. Alexander Kröner who had been a silent partner in business for some time by then, took over the venue. Originally planning to work there for just a year, Arjan Kröner, Alexander’s brother, came to work as a bartender at the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1990 and became partner in business in 1991. After his brother’s death in 2004, Arjan took over the business and is still the owner of the venue.

Over the years many parties have taken place at the Cuckoo’s Nest. Among others, the venue organized Hellfire parties, took part in the 1996 Leather Pride SEXtreme festivities and hosted a BLUF-meeting. But best known are the Cuckoo’s Nest’s own Cellar Parties (there were 12 editions until the beginning of the 1990s) which took place after midnight in the darkroom – back then still one large room with wooden cabins, slings and a bar – and featured stripshows and a dj spinning records. The parties were very popular as current day’s large safe sex parties didn’t yet exist and the LL-parties had gone for some time. Yet, the parties themselves caused a little friction with the neighbours at the time as visitors would often line up in the street and, excited as some of them were, engaged in some public ‘foreplay’. Another problem were visitors walking back and forth between the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Web bar in  their chaps only. Eventually the Cellar parties ceased to exist due to the coming of other popular party locations.

When talking to LTHR.NL in 2009, Arjan mentioned his wish to give another Cellar Party when the bar will celebrate its next jubilee, yet this could prove rather difficult as the darkroom isn’t one large party space anymore, but now consists of small alleys and many dark niches and holes – on the other hand, we’ve never heard anyone complain about the Cuckoo’s Nest’s current darkroom structure, quite the opposite!

Source: Donation by Cain Berlinger with the help of the Leather Archives & Museum.

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