Courtesy Dennis Bouman

Travel & Adventure

Welcome to Amsterdam After Dark

The modern world often suggests that adults get serious and stop partying—that they grow up. Mirik Milan, however, isn’t so interested in appealing to societal expectations.

Instead, Milan focuses on the role partying plays in fostering healthy, vibrant cities. It’s this belief that inspired him to begin organizing parties at age 20 and what led him to become Amsterdam’s resident Nachtburgermeester (or Night Mayor). To this fun advocate, venues in Amsterdam’s progressive club scene are what make the city a cultural and creative hot spot. “Not only is nightlife important economically, but it’s important socially and culturally,” Milan declares. “There’s a social side to night life, really, in that it exposes people to something different, offering new ways to see things. There were famous nightclubs in every age and place that inspired music, fashion and art.”

In times of troubled international relations, Milan feels the party scene can “open up [the] world” and gives him and his attendees the opportunity to practice tolerance of people from different backgrounds. “Culturally, rich nightlife can lead to more socially and ethnically inclusive cities,” Milan says. “This is the biggest challenge for our cities, how to make them more inclusive and diverse. Seventy percent of the world’s people will live in cities by 2050. This is the future. Nurtured and supported the right way, nightlife can have an enormous impact on a city.”

And then are his thoughts on partying practice in relationship to business. According the Milan’s testimony, the evening's world of possibilities also offers young creatives the freedom and opportunity to explore and develop real-life skills. “Clubs can be like business schools for young adults and provide informal learning. Not everyone can motivate themselves academically.” He continues, “Think about all the photographers, production managers, promoters and other creatives that had a chance to develop their skills in night life.”

The city leader knows nightlife’s teachings to be true because he was once a student of the flashing lights, blasting music and communal sweat. He remembers the summer of 1988 to be the a time when acid house music and raves ruled Amsterdam's after hours landscape. He was already known for staging Fellini-esque parties fueled by surreal-like visual effects and feverish displays with no boundaries, but he hit a new high when a boat traveled from Russia to the Netherlands capital. “We organized a party on that big old marine vessel. We also built a nine meter high waterfall in the middle of an old church and a famous music venue.” It was outrageous and avant-garde and it caught the attention of new party partners like Spotify and Jameson. But it wasn’t until 2012, when Stichting N8BM A'DAM, an independent foundation promoting the city’s arts, officially declared him night mayor—a role that collaborates with city government, media, educational establishments and businesses to proactively solve any nightlife problems his city might encounter. “Amsterdam has the image of being a hedonistic Valhalla but it’s actually pretty controlled and a lot of people don’t like all that is going on.”

One problem Milan helped solve, alongside the city’s Mayor Eberhard van der Laan, was to provide 24-hour licenses to clubs deemed worthy. What appears from an outsider-looking-in to be careless was actually a calculated effort to give partiers a place to go after last call, reducing flooding into residential areas and alley ways. In addition to reducing noise complaints, the change also just happens to make Amsterdam that much more appealing to travelers. “There’s always something for them [party attendees] to do, until the point when they are ready to go home—when they are tired, when they have met their new wife or boyfriend. Not having to push people out in the street at the same time means there are less problems.” So far, 10 city venues have been granted 24-hour licenses with an additional 10 in the works, incorporating not just clubs, but also galleries, restaurants and other meeting spaces.
Maybe the best known venue is De School, a place organizers describe as an art project that visitors can participate in. De School is a former technical college that has now transformed in a multi-room warehouse with neon sculptures, multicolored paneling, open seating and hanging jungle-like foliage. It’s a result of what can happen when imagination and community are left to play together unencumbered. Today, De School plays many roles— a daytime cafe, a gourmet restaurant, a gym, a concert space, an art gallery and dance space—and it’s open at all hours of the day on the weekend. “It’s an important venue for underground techno and house music, really good dark rooms, genderless toilets, it’s an amazing night club,” Milan describes. 

For those looking for a more luxurious experience, Milan points to an elegant Asian-themed nightclub called Jimmy Woo. For a more high-end night out, but a classy one, it’s one of the best places to go,” He says. Besides scandalous stories involving international celebrities ( Britney Spears is said to have passed out there), a step inside is met with thousands of lights undulating lights hanging from the ceiling as an assortment of dance, hip hop and reggae music plays. It is the place that looks most like a Los Angeles hot spot, but here everything is a bit more dramatic as the night goes on. You may see a man dress in a clown suit or a life-size dragon swaying next to you.

Then there’s the kind of night life that Amsterdam has long been famous for, the wonders and wares of the Red Light District. For Milan, the main reason to visit the district is the iconic erotic theater Casa Rosso—the oldest live sex show in the district, known for flaunting phallic props for strip teases and S&M. While he mentions he has no interest in promoting sex tours, he does approve of an interesting new Red Light District brothel, My Red Light. It is a quintessential window brothel, but what makes this one different is the sex workers have full autonomy. The sex workers’ collective owns the building, has full control of how the brothel is run and manages the proceeds, cutting out anyone who would exploit the workers. “The city supported this project. If we are going to make prostitution legal, let’s try to make it actually legal and get rid of the people who want to get their hands on the industry.”
A new night mayor, Shamiro van der Geld, takes over this year. Milan, however, has no plans to stop studying ways to help his city’s nightlife succeed and be taken more seriously: “What would happen if 10 percent of the budget set aside to promote high art was put into more creative underground culture instead of the white boxes that are museums?” Knowing Milan's tenacity and inventiveness, we may very well find out.

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