- 15 December 1999
Warning: not for people under 21 years of age
15 December 1999 – We enjoyed an upbeat dinner with Peter Los, Jim’s former student. He suggested a local pub where we drank horribly sweet, local white wine. (The Dutch were wine producers before Napoleon destroyed the vineyards. They are trying to revive the industry but have a long way to go.) Soon I opted for a Heineken. The food tasted better though and we all began our meal with enormous grilled prawns in garlic. Then Jim ate hare and veal, Peter ate salmon and I enjoyed roasted duck with potatoes and beets.
During dinner Peter talked about his life and work with a local bank in Amsterdam. While talking about his Russian clients, he mentioned Yab Yum – the most upscale prostitution (it’s legal here) house in Amsterdam, of which he’d heard ‘much hype’ but never visited. We all toyed with whether to visit and if they’d let me enter. Since Jim and I are keen to experience the world and because we’ve seen varying conditions for prostitutes – most notably in Russia and former Soviet republics, I was eager to see how the oldest profession in the world exists and thrives legally in Amsterdam. Yab Yum accepted us with an entrance fee of a mere US$75 each! Absurd price, yes, but we were about to be educated on the unknown.
Inside the door of the club were two guards positioned beside metal detectors. In my handbag, I carry a Swiss army knife – great for cutting food, sewing and fixing – and of course the detector squealed. “I have a Swiss army knife,” I told one guard and he smiled, “That’s ok, I trust you”. “Why the detectors?” “Guns,” he stated. So I asked if he’d found many and he smiled, “Yeah, pretty often”.
Once we checked my coat an employee told us about pricing – the hefty entrance fee covered drinks but to hire a ‘lady’ for an upstairs ‘experience’ was 750 guilders per couple or 500 guilders for a single person. I stood listening in almost disbelief that I was inside a brothel hearing about the costs for prostitutes.
We were escorted into the lounge area – complete with a bar, several tables and a couple of semi-circular empty sofas. The atmosphere aimed for upscale, but it reminded me of a nightclub we visited in Moscow – decadent, gilt facade with aspirations of tastefulness and exclusivity but a bit too over the top to take it seriously.
Inside the lounge at least 10 women in skimpy dresses stood talking with each other and two men sitting at the bar. Most of the women’s dresses looked to be made of a polyester blend – one red, one silver but most black. Women had big, teased, sprayed, colored, long hair and wore bright make-up. They wore achingly high heels. One woman looked African, several looked to be Asian but most had fair skin just like mine. None of the women were thin, none had drop-dead figures and a couple were pretty chubby. There was no Julia Roberts Pretty Woman character to be found.
As we walked to take a seat on a sofa – I felt all eyes upon us. No doubt thousands of women like me have walked through the doors of this establishment but I felt out of my realm in a house of ill repute even though I was there to observe and learn not to pay for an hour of love! We ordered champagne, sat back in the sofa and tried to act like this was just another ordinary night in our lives. Since I was dying to speak with one of the ladies, I walked over to a couple of women seated at a small, round table and said hello. They barely spoke back to me so I returned to the sofa where Peter and Jim sat.
The bartender – a cheesy, 30-something, very tan-skinned man, who constantly clapped to all the 80s songs – came over and told us that ‘not all the women do couples’. My walking over and talking to the women made them and the bartender think I was interested in a three-way experience! I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised since I’d paid US$75 to enter this joint. Why else would the guy think I was inside Yab Yum? He pointed out a couple of ladies ‘who would do couples’.
Peter, Jim and I all shook our heads showing that we understood, I turned a bright shade of red and we all continued to sip our champagne as we watched the scene. Only three men besides Peter and Jim were paying customers in the lounge. Most of the women smoked and just talked to one another. I watched one man make a move on a woman at the bar and they then moved over to the sofa opposite us. The man talked to her for another 10 minutes before the couple left the lounge headed for a bedroom upstairs. The man had to pay in advance at the ‘Kasse’ (cash) office.
As I watched the couple walk up the stairs I felt sorry for the guy but perhaps I shouldn’t have felt this way. I hate passing judgment on others when I have no idea about their lives or experiences. The man was obviously lonely – he’d spent 15 minutes talking to a woman he was going to pay for sex. But again who am I to judge the actions of two consenting adults – he, a middle-aged adult, and she, a 20-something woman?
Then Jim, Peter and I asked the club to order us a taxi and they made it seem like forever would pass before the cab would arrive so we waited in the bar. Yab Yum didn’t want to lose us or our money. Instantly more drinks that we didn’t order arrived for us. The establishment was working an old trick – the more they drink, the likelier they’ll be to hire a lady for an hour or two or three. Finally we tired of waiting and I suggested going outside the club to hale a cab on our own. As I picked up my coat I asked a handsome, well-dressed, middle-aged man if I could ask him a few questions about the place. He said, ‘Of course you can.’ This man, 50 year old Theo Heuft, founded Yab Yum over 20 years ago and continues to manage it today.
Theo told me legal age for the prostitutes in Amsterdam is 18 and his oldest worker is 41. Tonight Yab Yum had 14 women working but according to Theo, “It’s a slow night since football is on this evening”. Theo employs 80 prostitutes and all of them receive weekly check-ups with a doctor to ensure the women are ‘clean’ or healthy. He told me that the previous night, he’d had 22 women working and the ‘place was packed’ with men almost queuing for one of the 11 available rooms upstairs. The women make a percentage off drinks and ‘upstairs fees’.
But to my surprise Theo said most men come in, have a few drinks, talk with the ‘lovely ladies’ and then leave – opting not to hire them for sex. They pay US$75 for drinks and conversation. He said most are looking for banter and conversation they do not receive at home. One man spent a week upstairs – at 500 guilders an hour but received a discount and was charged for only 15 hours in a day (and ‘went through seven or eight girls daily’). Another customer hired a lady to accompany him to the South of France for a week but he also received a reduced rate. Theo says this is common for men to ‘need a companion for a few days’, hire one of Yab Yum’s ladies, buy her expensive clothes so she ‘looks right’ and wine and dine her. I said, “If only those men would wine and dine their wives once in a while maybe the men wouldn’t ‘need’ a companion for a few days”. Theo laughed and said, “You’re wrong. Men of all kinds will always need my women”.
When Theo offered to show me a room, I couldn’t believe my glee. Imagine getting a tour of this place – I said sure. We walked up the narrow, beige carpeted stairway and entered the huge room at the top complete with a Jacuzzi, television, bar and enormous bed. I was in shock over how nice it was since my vision of a brothel was never anything like this. I turned to Jim, “This sure is nicer than the brothel house in Pompeii. Maybe we could spend our honeymoon here”! Theo loved my excitement even though I’m quite sure he knew I was talking big for his enjoyment. Finally after one more viewing of a smaller room, our car arrived to take us home. By now, Theo knew we weren’t going to hire a lady for the evening or for an hour.
Oh, what a night! As we travel the globe and I’m exposed to the world, I find myself feeling more and more like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: ‘Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore’. Except for me, the feeling is, ‘Rocky Mount, North Carolina sure didn’t show me much of this’. I’m simply amazed how much sex is sold just like a commodity. I’m also stunned by the varying degrees of circumstances women find themselves offering their bodies and the act of sex for money and profit. Remembering the prostitutes of Uzbekistan who draped themselves over fine furniture in the lounge of a five-star hotel to the young girls of Russia who sat on cement blocks outside the tired, old Communist built cinder-block hotels – sex sells in any place. Rich, poor, sleazy or glitzy. The conditions for the transfer of goods may vary, but transfer happens legally or illegally. Tonight seeing a little behind the scenes at Yab Yum sure made me question my black and white view of prostitution.