Casa rosso playboy

In Celebration of Amsterdam's Live Sex Show

Casa Rosso, the oldest live sex theater in the Amsterdam, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary

Not all of the lights in Amsterdam’s Red Light District are red. Midway down the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal is one of the quarter’s most eye catching facades, emblazoned with a giant pink neon elephant who’s sporting a tie with Amsterdam’s triple X coat of arms and cheekily blowing a little red heart out of his trunk. The iconic symbol advertises the location of the Casa Rosso, the oldest live sex theater in the Amsterdam, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The sex trade in De Wallen, the official Dutch name of the district, dates as far back as the 13th century. Sex work itself was legalized in The Netherlands in 1811, much to the pleasure of the then occupying Napoleonic troops who spent a great deal of their leisure time visiting the parlors lining the narrow alleyways leading off the canals. Not much had changed in the area until 1968, a year of rebellion and revolutions, including the sexual revolution. This also came with the proliferation of pornographic films and erotic cinemas. However, instead of opening a movie house, the founder of the Casa Rosso, Maurits de Vries, took another approach.

“Our product is unique, we were the first in the world to have a live sex show performed in a theater venue,” Jan Otten, the Casa Rosso’s current owner, tells me as we sit in the empty pre-show theater. Otten started working at the Casa Rosso as a doorman 43 years ago and gradually climbed the ranks to become the manager before buying the business in 1997.

“At the time it opened, there were only the girls in the window in the Red Light District,” describes Otten. “In the original bar there were girls doing striptease. This was allowed, live sex was not. But since [de Vries] owned the whole building, he got around this by converting the third floor into a small theater. When the show was about to start, they closed the door making it a private venue, therefore the bar rules did not apply.” It’s hard to conjure up that clandestine space from within today’s incarnation of the Casa Rosso. Redecorated in 2016, the classy venue now has new red velour theater seats, a stage with a raisable revolving platform and high-tech illuminated glass poles and a group of seductively frolicking nude sculptures overhead.

Over these 50 years the Casa Rosso has indeed evolved greatly, hand in hand with playing a crucial role in the development of the Red Light District and the rise of Amsterdam as the erotic capital of the world. The Otten Group now includes the well-known Bananen Bar, the Hospital Bar, the Erotic Museum and Casa Rosso brand shops. “The show has something for everyone,” Owner Jan Otten goes on. “We try to have a variety of artists, from different backgrounds and ages as well as strip shows, live sex shows, women with men or women with women.” The nightly show starts at 7 pm and goes to 2 am during the week at 3 am on weekends and features a changing rooster of 10 different acts that last for around six minutes and are repeated six times a night.
After some foreplay, the couple flowed through various sexual positions, the revolving platform giving the audience an optimal vantage point.
While Otten refers to the live sex acts as “normal sex like you do at home,” the shows are performed by artists—not hookers—and by real couples. The theater’s manager, Chris, who has worked at the Casa Rosso for 25 years, is in charge of recruiting the artists, which number around 30. Chris explains that “candidates can apply through the website with an email and pictures” or apply in person during their annual auditions in Ibiza.  “The couples have to audition in between the acts during the evening show. We choose them based on how they are on stage, if they can forget the audience and do their show. It might be harder for men, so we give them three weeks to get used to performing, then their show must be perfect.

“Most of the couples have worked in the industry in one form or another, whether at other shows or in films.’ he continues. “They like to work at the Casa Rosso because they don’t have to travel around and they have a stable schedule.” That said, some do not completely fit this mould. Udy and Erika, the only Dutch couple currently working at the Casa Rosso, were spotted by the theater via a modelling agency and have been working there for sixteen years. As a singer, Udy was used to being on stage, but shy Erika had never performed before. “Remember the first time you had sex?” she asks. “It was like that the first day here.” She’s still timid, but this is well hidden by the intensity of their sensual interactions. “We love working together and are still very much in love,” sums up Udy.

Many of the striptease artists come from Spain, like Maria, who was working in Ibiza as a performer when a friend alerted her to the auditions the Casa Rosso was holding there. She couldn’t make them, so she daringly called Chris to convince him into giving her a try. He accepted and what she thought would be six months has turned into six years. “I prepared a special act just for Casa Rosso,” says Maria. “After seeing their many amazing acts, I thought what could I do that was different? I came up with an idea that no one had ever done before and everyone loved it. When I do my show, seeing people clapping, smiling, reacting to it, it makes me so happy. I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.”
Amsterdam needs the Red Light District, the Red Light District needs the Casa Rosso.
Sitting in the front row that evening, I was eager to find out what made Maria’s act, and the Casa Rosso, so unique. Curtains drawn, the music began and out came the first couple: a well-built tattoo-laden, 30-something man and his equally attractive, lingerie-clad female partner. After some foreplay, the couple flowed through various sexual positions, the revolving platform giving the audience an optimal vantage point. The live sex acts are interspersed with individual striptease acts ranging from a dominatrix-esque vixen to the doll-like Maria who playful removes her frilly underwear and oh so innocently reveals a surprise from her vagina.

“The show is not just for men,” adds Maria. ”I think women should also enjoy it, maybe even more!” Looking around the theater, I did see more men than women, nonetheless, there was a sizable percentage of couples, and of all ages and nationalities. I was expecting to see more bachelor parties, although, while this is a popular stop for them in the district, the theater keeps their numbers and behavior in check. In fact, one of the most noticeable changes to the theater over time has been its audience. “Before we had many Japanese people,” says Otten. “Now we are seeing more Chinese.”

“For the Chinese, Amsterdam is the City of Freedom,” says Li Jie, head of the Casa Rosso’s Chinese department. “The Red Light District is real life and a real area. They are so interested in seeing the girls in the windows. Striptease isn’t all that foreign to them since many have already traveled to Thailand where there is a similar atmosphere. A live sex theater is something new. At first they might feel a little uneasy being in a theater, but after a few minutes, they get into it. After the show, they say they feel hot!”
Despite these improvements and expanded audience, it hasn’t always been la vie en rose for the cheerful pink elephant of the Red Light District. In December 1983, tragedy struck the theater when a recently dismissed cleaner set fire to the building, killing 13 and seriously wounding 16. The theater rose from the ashes, reopening five months later next door. “Amsterdam needs the Red Light District, the Red Light District needs the Casa Rosso,” says Otten. In addition to people it helps draw to the area, Casa Rosso keep it a safe and attractive place. It employs 12 security guards, in addition to the staff at their venues, to monitor and keep the peace in the district. It has also carried out street cleaning initiatives and Otten personally keeps the swans of the canal well fed. Besides its community involvement, the theater helps its mostly foreign staff as a springboard to their dreams.

“Our artists generally work here for a couple of years,” says Otten. “Then they move back home and can use the money to do something there.”

“This job helped me so much,” declares Maria.” It’s paid for my Master’s and helped me start up my own cosmetics company.”

“We are like family,” is the common sentiment echoed by Jan, Maria and Erika. It’s not your average family, but one with strong bonds.

So what about the Casa Rosso’s next 50 years? “What can you do different?” ponders Otten. “Sex will be the same in the future, even with robots.”

Still, Chris feels that the new decor has added another dimension to the theater. Its spruced up look, along with frequently changing costumes and music, keep the show alive. Even though the revolving platform of its stage may one day feature robots, as Otten suggests, the Casa Rosso is bound to remain a titillating experience.

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