When LeatherHistory.eu reported on the closing of the Amsterdam Argos bar in December 2014, the world – and our mailbox – seemed too small. From all over the world, men wrote us to share their memories and to express their regret over the bar’s closing. One year later, we look back on the (hi)story of what once was Europe’s oldest leather bar.
Warmoesstraat 95 ARGOS – This is a bar with a few black rooms for S&M and masturbation. – Officer Ten Dam in a police report about darkrooms, August 1992
The Amsterdam Argos might have changed locations and owners throughout its history, the name always remained the same making the Argos Europe’s oldest leather bar. For over half a century the bar was a popular meeting place for men into leather and kink. Deemed ‘At Your Own Risk’ by many a travel guide its worldwide fame attracted visitors from all continents, including local and international celebrities such as Freddie Mercury, The Village People and, more recently, Take That’s Gary Barlow.
Then Saturday night came. I went to the Eagle first, to chat with the barman I played with the night before. Leaving around midnight to cross the road, (It was then the barman told me it was his boyfriend that worked in Argos. He said:”you’ll recognize him – he’ll be behind the bar, he said he would wear chaps tonight.”) I walked in – it was packed – and wall to wall Leather. I saw the guy in chaps behind the bar, but it was Eduardo who served me. I bought a beer, then walked to the back. It was then I saw him. A guy in full Leather Uniform smoking a cigar. I stared. He had a boy with him, on his knees licking his boots. I froze, this was doing something to me. I watched for what must have been more than 30 minutes before they both moved on, and went downstairs to the darkroom. Some time later I followed, the guy in full uniform was fucking his boy over the bench that used to be in the middle of the darkroom. I walked round, stood on the other side when the guy shouted to his boy:”SUCK!”, at which point the boy pulled me towards him, undid my fly, pulled my dick out and started to give me a blowjob. I looked at the top and he smiled at me and nodded. I didn’t last very long, and when I was done, the top put his hand round the back of my neck and kissed me.
So it was on this visit to the Argos I discovered my full uniform fetish, my cigar fetish, and the start of my interest in BDSM. – Master Dave
1957: The Argos Pension
The story of the Argos started in 1955 when Sako Jan Tiemersma (Jan), an ex-sailor, opened a cigar shop on Warmoesstraat no. 20. On July 18, 1957, he reopened his business as a pension called Hotel Tiemersma with his partner Anton Johan Kennedy (Ton). The former cigar shop functioned as reception and the kitchen in the back became a bar, with a large table in the center and wooden benches against the walls. A staircase led visitors from the bar to a cellar and a little alley which led to the liquor storage and the toilets. The space in the basement eventually became the very first darkroom in Amsterdam. The guests’ bedrooms (with three or four beds) were located in the back of the basement and had no locks on the doors. Many a visitor changed beds during the night. If they stayed overnight at all. At full capacity the pension could host only 20 guests. In 1958, the hotel changed its name and was advertised as ‘Argos pension’, the Amsterdam Argos brand was officially born. Officially, as witness accounts indicate that Jan – illegally – operated a rather shabby and shady bar business on Warmoesstraat 20 already as early as 1953.
Jan and Ton might have been gay, they personally had no specific leather interest, contrary to their customers. The pension catered to men visiting the city, many a friend of Jan who knew him from his days at sea. A custom habit of the Argos pension guests was to wear their boots in bed which at first surprised the owners.
We just didn’t understand the success. We were just two boys with a motorbike. Never had we heard of sex in leather. I remember Ton once saying:”Jan, have a look. They’re just lying in bed with there boots on. Gee, there’s dirt all over my blankets.” Now I’m a bit older and wiser… – Jan Tiemersma in Koplamp, 1970s
Being the first of its kind and with leather clothing being banned from the mainstream and regular gay venues, the pension quickly gained popularity and drew a clientele of men into leather, masculinity and rough sex. The atmosphere of the Argos pension was intimate, the air one of a secret brotherhood. There might not have been a lot of bdsm going on, leather clothing was key: occasional visitors who wore no leather were to be ignored.
The street on which the Argos Hotel is located was much too narrow to accommodate our bus so we were left to carry our luggage for the last three blocks. (…) Marshall, with all the aplomb of a sheik, simply left his luggage at the bus and toddled off to the hotel. Fortunately, someone did notice his luggage sitting in the middle of the street and brought it to the hotel. After Marshall was informed that the other 26 members of the tour were not “porters” no similar incidents occurred. – Cycle MC, Wheels magazine, August/September 1969
1965: First Argos bar at Heintje Hoekssteeg
The kitchen table at the Argos pension was a popular meeting place for guests and local leathermen during those early leather days. But as the pension gained popularity the venue proved to be too small to cater to the crowd. As for hosting a bar at their kitchen table, Jan and Ton only acquired a licquor license in 1961. The owners went looking for a different venue and they found it in 1965 at Heintje Hoekssteeg no. 15, a side alley of Warmoesstraat. There they started the first Argos bar, a venue specifically aimed at gay men into leather.
The interior was simple and small. On the left was a bar with some stools and the famous bulls head (a gift from a neighboring butcher) above it. More stools and folding tables were aligned to the right and some wooden benches were placed in the back. The atmosphere was dark, masculine and cruisey. No darkroom needed here, the whole bar could be considered one. Taking a seat on the benches in the back was not without risk, often one could suddenly find ones beer replaced with cock. And although the times were not as liberal as nowadays, the owners were kind enough to let customers enjoy a blowjob or jack off scene at the bar, and even some piss-play in the corner.
To walk in a motorjack through the city at the beginning of the 70s…you had to have courage to do that. Because basically it was simply not done. Those who dared to do that were also the ones who had the courage to be open about their homosexuality. Regular venues, even gay ones, they simply didn’t like those people coming in. It took a long time before leather came into fashion and became accepted. The Argos bar before 1970 at Heintje Hoekssteeg was a really small bar, very narrow. Except for the S Bahn Quelle in Berlin it was the only so called leather bar. And it became known as leather bar because the two owners were bikeriders, they had friends who dared to wear leather in public who visited the bar. And there were some libertine guys as well. The bar drew all kinds of people who liked things rough, who had a leather fetish. Except for ‘t Mandje, it was the only sanctuary for those people, everywhere else you had to be neatly dressed. It didn’t matter who you were, everyone who came to the Argos had the same goal. There was a kind of brotherhood where people protected eachother. People who only came to have a look, for example because they heard of the things happening in the back of the bar, men just blocked their way. There were always a few big guys who would step up…so those who only came to have a look couldn’t pass the bar or see what the men were doing in the back. Rob Meijer came there, Hans van Maanen, Hein van Rooij, Rob Wouters…those were quite high profile people. There was real a sense of friendship, people really helped eachother, as was common in those days. – Michael Eisenblatter, 2009
1970: Argos Boat Trip with friends
On Thursday the entire group – plus all the other guests of the Argos Hotel – were guests of Jan and Ton for the “maiden voyage” of their new boat (yacht is a better word). We sailed out to an island in the North Sea in preparation for a barbecue. As this was the first time they had gone to the island in the new boat they were unaware that the craft could not get close enough to land to dock. So some of the more agile placed planks from the boat to land. However, it all required that we descend to ground (or sea) level via an aluminium ladder. What happened from that point on was sheer Keystone Kops slapstick! Need we say more than – the ladder broke leaving Lou suspended in mid-air! Everyone became so convulsed with laughter that they damn near forgot to rescue Lou. They finally managed to get him on dry land, but not before half the food had also fallen overboard. It was a fun afternoon, and we are proud that Ton and Jan chose the CYCLE MC to join them on their maiden voyage. – Cycle MC, Wheels club magazine, December 1970
The bar on Heintje Hoekssteeg flourished as it provided a safe haven to leathermen in a time where wearing leather was often considered controversial. The Spartacus Guide even listed the venue as ‘at your own risk’ in 1976. Meanwhile the Argos pension seemed to decline. A lack of investments in safety led to a removal of the doors and beds in November 1974. The venue was closed in April 1977 after which it was sold.
1979: Argos bar moves to Warmoesstraat
A large contingent of MS Amsterdam members were at the airport to assist us with our luggage and bid us welcome. On arrival at the Anco Hotel we were treated to complimentary beers while waiting for check-in. Later, Kaas, new owner of the Argos Bar (Assisted by Blonde Jantje) welcomed us and kept the action going. At one point we thought one of the canals had backed up into the bar – but it turned out to be Cycle Associates from Amsterdam – Jan and Otto. – Cycle MC, Wheels magazine, September/October 1978
No, there was never any trouble with the police, not even when the officers passed the leathermen hanging out and cruising in the alley in front of the bar on Heintje Hoekssteeg. In those days the police officers seemed to be more pro-leather. When the bar moved to Warmoesstraat it was a common gag to handcuff new visitors with the handcuffs that were kept behind the bar. And when someone had them on he was told the keys were lost. So then he was sent, handcuffed and all, to go to the nearby police station, as they “surely must have keys there”. And those officers just played along, referring the guy from one department to another. And after the guy had walked through whole building they told him to just go back to the barkeeper who they knew had had the keys from the beginning! I do remember one early morning, Kees ringing at my door. When he came in he mentioned he had a problem. As it happened, he had the handcuffs on himself and this time he’d really lost the keys so he just had worn them all night long! – Jacques Zonne, 2015
While the pension on Warmoesstraat closed, Argos-barkeeper Kees Raadschelders took over the bar on Heintje Hoekssteeg. In April 1979 he moved the Argos bar to Warmoesstraat no. 95 where it would stay until its end of days. By that time Amsterdam was undergoing some leather changes as well as competition for a leather clientele rose with the opening of the more modern styled LL-bar in 1970 and the start of its popular Warehouse parties in 1971.
As far as I can remember I am the only drag queen who ever performed at the Argos, as Bloody Bette in 1981. Kees used to be a big fan of mine at the time and the place was packed, and I have seldomly had such an enthusiastic crowd. When I was very young, Kees always used to protect me against the more shifty types. Whenever I fell for the wrong guy he made me sit next to him at the bar for half an hour and then he matched me with another man. If there’s a man who put a smile to my face and made me laugh, it must be Kees! – Victoria False
In 1985, the Argos bar switched owners again as Alexander Herger, originally from Hannover, Germany and bartender at the Argos as well, took over the bar from Kees.
Alexander’s smile with which he greeted every customer is said to be unforgettable. One night though, his mood changed rapidly. As was custom in those days, the Argos staff together with fellow leather friends would gather in the wee hours at the bar of the Anco hotel for a nightcap. On one of those occasions, Paul Wierks, who used to bartend elsewhere in town, joined in and announced he would open a new leather bar on Warmoesstraat. Needless to say Alexander was not amused and after Wierks opened his business no customer could escape the rivalry between the Eagle and the Argos. Though relations cooled down and both bars would cooperate in leather events together later on, if you were visiting Amsterdam’s Warmoesstraat in the mid 80s you better picked a side.
We surely had fun at the Argos bar on Warmoesstraat. The bar used to be open in the afternoon and served free coffee. But in those days they didn’t use plastic cups but real porcelain coffee cups. So then we had this one visitor who was widely known to provide blowjobs to each and everyone he met. So he comes from the darkroom to the bar and asks for coffee. To which the bartender tells him they haven’t been able to wash the cups yet and he could take one that had already been used. To which the guy protests:”But that’s unhygienic!” The whole bar just burst into laughter! – Jacques Zonne, 2015
1989: The Argos Sessions – Porn Shoot by Jack Fritscher & Mark Hemry
I first went to the Argos bar in May, 1969, and stayed upstairs at the leathery Argos Hotel. In 1989, on location inside the Argos (main floor and cellar), Mark Hemry and I shot the first video feature (and still photos) of “The Argos Session,” the first of the six-video series, “Bound for Europe” for director Roger Earl who earlier in LA (1974) had shot the leather classic, “Born to Raise Hell.” Here’s my cover shot from “Drummer” magazine’s brother mag, “Mach,” featuring six or more of my photos that I shot inside the Argos, June 21, 1989. – Jack Fritscher
LINK: “Drummer” #141 (August 1990) featuring photos of the Argos session with a review of the video.
After Alexander passed away in 1994, his partner, Eduardo Bettega, took over. Born in a small province town in Brazil Eduardo landed in Amsterdam after a trip around Europe with a friend. Eduardo wasn’t into leather originally but since the inheritance of the bar in 1994 he quickly caught up. With Eduardo at the steering wheel, the interior underwent some changes to reflect the soul and history of the bar. A division between the first and second bar by a small staircase gave leathermen the opportunity to show their gear before heading off to he back where the atmosphere was hotter and cruisier. The darkroom downstairs got its own soundtrack, once Eduardo played ‘ Noises from the Swamp’ there, which was met with enthusiastic reactions from visitors.
A german man brought me to the Argos. I was very impressed when I first entered the bar. It was something I had not seen in my whole life. Apart from my fantasies and in magazines I had never seen leathermen in real life. These were not the gays as I knew them in Brazil, but real men. Ever since I started going there more and more. In the beginning I didn’t dare to pass the first bar. Until I saw it wasn’t all as dangerous as I had imagined. Quite the contrary! – Eduardo Bettega in Gaykrant, 1998
2011: The last chapter
The world has changed. The bars are in a more difficult position because of internet. People go out less for sex but more for fun and company. There have been initiatives to make adjustments, but every time they bump into rules and regulations which makes a lot impossible. You can’t change anything, no door to an adjacent building, no terrace, etcetera. You can’t blame the bar owner. Stability is good. The Argos and Eagle have become institutions. The Argos exists for over half a century and the Eagle has been around for almost 40 years. I think Amsterdam still has an enormous appeal to leathermen from all over the world. – Martijn Bakker, Leatherpride Amsterdam press release, 2009
In February 2011, The LeatherHistory.eu Foundation was one of the first to report that Martijn Bakker, owner of the RoB leather store and cruise club Fuxx, had officially taken over the Argos. By that time, the bar had been on sale for some time. Bakker, on a mission to invest in the local lgbt community, invested in the bar’s interior and adapted it to modern day’s safety policies and customer needs. The bar closed for renovation for a couple of months and reopened in the summer of 2012. The biggest changes included the demolition of the bar in the back, replacing it with an enlarged cruising area, and the creation of windows (with curtains) at the front and back of the building. Downstairs, the darkroom was enlarged and an additional cruisy bdsm smoking area was created following the national ban on smoking in bars.
Though still famous around the world and popular with leathermen at home and abroad, the new management was unable to turn the declining number of visitors. Towards the end of 2014 the announcement came that the Argos bar had been sold to a non-leather party. An official Farewell Party took place on January 2nd, 2015.
I am so sorry to hear of the Argos bar closing! I live in the USA but have been on seven visits to Amsterdam. On each occasion I went to the Argos bar several times. (…) I must say I’ve had the best times in my life in there along with friends that traveled with me on some of my visits, I always made sure we visited the Argos Bar. I found the bartenders and staff to be very Hot and helpful. I’ve met many guys there at the bar that I have become friends with. I can honestly say I’ve never left that bar unhappy! Thank you for giving me the chance to sow my oats of my youth, and to meet up with the finest men anyone could ever dream of meeting! Thank you! – John F.
For this article we used several resources, details are available upon request. This article would not have been possible without the help of our visitors and supporters. The LeatherHistory.eu Foundation wishes to thank all those who sent us information or memories about the Argos’ history. Unfortunately we couldn’t post all your reactions in our article, feel free to use the comment section below to share your comments and additions – or just send us an e-mail.