Why has Amsterdam’s oldest gay bar renamed itself IKEA?

The Spijkerbar, the oldest gay bar in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in December 2020.
The Spijkerbar, the oldest gay bar in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in December 2020. Copyright Sarah Tekath
Copyright Sarah Tekath
By Sarah Tekath
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Clue: It's got nothing to do with meatballs or flatpack furniture.


Amsterdam's constricted centre — with its crooked canal houses and overcrowded bike stands — is the last place you'd expect to find an Ikea.

Yet the Swedish megastore's familiar yellow and blue logo is now on display in the Dutch capital.

But it is not a change in strategy from one of Sweden's best-known exports. It's not an Ikea at all. It's a bar protesting COVID restrictions.

Steven Koudijs and Tomas Adamer took over Spijkerbar — which first opened its doors in 1978 is the city's oldest gay bar — on March 1, 2020. But just two weeks later they were forced to close its doors after PM Mark Rutte announced a coronavirus lockdown.

"We had planned another month for the handover with the previous owner and wanted to start on April 1st. But that never happened. However, on the purchase contract, it’s officially March 1. This is also when the lease for this place started. Since then, costs are coming in," Koudijs said during an interview in the empty bar at the end of December 2020.

"So we thought we’d put some money on top for remodeling and renovation because the bar was pretty run down," he added.

In the middle of 2020, from June to October, it was possible to open for a few weeks but COVID-19 measures restricted the number of people allowed inside to between 20 to 25 people.

"We have received permission from the municipality of Amsterdam to enlarge our terrace outside which partly compensated for the limitation of guests. But for the interior we had to hire a bouncer to keep an eye on the number of guests and turn people away in case of need," Koudijs said.

Spiraling costs

The bar has been closed again since mid-October and costs are accumulating

"The rent is already €5,500 per month," the owner said. "Then we also have the loan for the purchase worth €200,000, which must be repaid with 6 per cent interest within five years."

This results in fixed costs of €10,000 up to €12,000 per month.

"We can't keep this up for long," he went on. "January and February will be a real struggle and after that, something just has to happen."

To receive financial support available to businesses struggling to weather the COVID storm, an overview of previous months' income is necessary but that's data that Koudijs is unable to provide, due to the takeover a few days before the lockdown.

"Maybe I could use the previous owner's figures, but he's no longer in the country," he explained.

Protest name change

In December, Koudijs and Adamer decided to cover the name of the Spijkerbar with the IKEA logo. At the same time, a crowdfunding campaign was launched, which has already raised almost €15,000 of the €60,000 needed.

Koudijs claimed that it has not been their intention to avoid the lockdown by changing the name. Instead, he wanted to create awareness for their difficult situation.

"When we put up the sign, only the hospitality industry was closed. Large stores like IKEA were open, with numerous customers without any distance. I don’t disapprove of the owners, but if you think a lockdown works, then it has to apply to everyone," he argued. "The second reason is that the city centre is already changing because of too many Nutella shops or stores of famous brands. I would find it terrible if we were unable to protect such crazy, cozy, and special places as the Spijkerbar."

Legal consequences that might come from IKEA do not seem to worry him anymore. "You can’t pull feathers out of a chicken that has already been plucked", he said, quoting a Dutch saying.


Saving a symbol of freedom

"There will be no legal consequences from the municipality of Amsterdam for the Spijkerbar," Eva Plijter, spokeswoman of the municipality of Amsterdam, said.

"All non-essential shops are closed, so is IKEA. The renaming of a café does not warrant opening under lockdown orders from the government. The only possibility to avoid closure because of the lockdown is to change the business into a new business. During the current lockdown this would mean a bar or restaurant would need to become a store that sells food, such as a supermarket. In that case, they would need to apply for a different operating licence," she added.

Take-away, however, is allowed, says Plijter. But according to Koudijs, this is of little use to the Spijkerbar.

"Our guests come to us for the contacts, to have a beer and play pool. Most of them are local regulars. The Spijkerbar is their living room and coming here is a big part of their social life," he explained.

Saving the Spijkerbar is a matter of the heart for him.


"Since 1978, this bar has been a symbol of freedom. Here, canal boat owners, artists, and prostitutes come together and everyone has the freedom to be what they want to be, without fear of exclusion, judgment, or rejection. Now I wish for the freedom to continue this tradition," he concluded.

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