The gay scene in Antwerpen has been evolving enormously over the years and venues now are spread out over the old city. The once notorious gay ghetto of dance clubs, bars and rent boy places is now completely gone. Instead a number of cruise bars have sprung up and the legalisation of pornography has seen a growth in porn cinemas.
KINKY'S (Lange Beeldekensstraat 10 - tram 12): A terraced house in a popular neighbourhood adapted to function as a small-ish cruise bar and sex club. Its main advantage is that it is open weekdays only (Tuesday to Thursday from 2:00pm and on other weekdays from 7:00pm). There is little organised sex club life in Antwerpen during daytime, so this is a handy, even sociable, venue.
The ground floor is a cosy bar (they serve alcohol) with a separate smoking room which includes a sling for those cigar-smoking fisters. After being buzzed in you get a key to a locker which is at the back of the ground floor. There are also two showers and a toilet for douching, if you need to do so. Upstairs via a rather small staircase - mind your step, especially in descending, it can be slippery and it is a long way down - is a whole floor given over to backroom activities. There are only two very small cubicles in which you cannot stretch out. Two slings, a bath tub, a glory hole wall and- rather novel this - a lazy susan-style revolving circular ottoman where you can exhibit and share and show off to your heart's content. The lighting, subdued but excellent, bathes everything in red. The music soundtrack could be a little louder for my liking.
The cruising is standard naked but you can wear underpants and footwear is compulsory. It's just easier to have your clothes safely locked away (you settle your bill when you leave). The sexual activities are all in the open, private sessions are difficult to organise. Informal rules to partake apply (i.e. don't join in a session unless you are invited and take no for an answer!). It's customary to socialise or sit or stand around in the bar downstairs naked too. It makes for a friendly atmosphere and facilitates making new friends. There are also two large porn screens if the conversation slacks.
Monday nights are usually fetish nights, where they encourage you to dress up in your favourite costume. Some Fridays are water sports nights where the whole top floor gets very wet and slippery.
The owner usually mans the bar in the afternoons with a few young sidekicks taking over evening duties. They are all marvellously hospitable and we were happy they chatted to us about the history of the gay areas in Antwerpen, especially the big changes that have been happening over the decades. Many punters know each other and treat the place as an afternoon pub for a well-priced drink and a free-and-easy shag before heading home.
THE BOOTS (Van Aerdtstraat 22, Noord - Bus 1): A well-established leather/rubber/fetish club going for almost three decades. I remember going there when it first opened and was refused entry because I was wearing jeans instead of an expensive leather suit. I hadn't been back since and when I mentioned this to the very enjoyable and chatty doorman he was almost apologetic and said of course they could not uphold that dress code and survive commercially. You can now wear other things than leather: rubber, skin gear, sportswear or going naked, even wearing sneakers, are all good. It's only open at weekends late, but Sundays have late afternoon sessions.
The reception area, where you have to fill in a registration form as if you were applying for a benefit, has a coat check (there are no locker room facilities) and a bathroom, including showers. Then it's upstairs into the converted warehouse.
Floor 1 has a roomy bar (drinks are pricey, you settle your bill at the end of the night) with porn screens all playing the same material and a separate smokers' room.
Floor 2 has several sling rooms, a little maze, glory hole cubicles and a large bathroom areas with several bath tubs and urinals for water sports play. It's handy that your sexual tastes get catered for by various areas in the club.
Floor 3 is the main SM area including a St Andrew's Cross, stocks and slings, one of which, startlingly, is situated over a tomb including a Christian cross. It may be a not-so-subtle warning to stick to safe sex, but with the rather casual attitude towards condom use these days this may be doubtful. I could also not see any condom stations around the place.
The friendly doorman said around 200 men turn up a night with special events even attracting 500, but he said the more crowded it was the less enjoyable - something you know I agree with. On the Sunday I was there about 30 men were present, and as far as I could see everybody had a swell time.
CINEMA ROYAL (Koningin Astridplein - Metro Astrid): A two-screen cinema playing gay and straight porn in large tiered seating theatres which can easily sit 150 to 200 each. There is a staircase link between both and the traffic to and fro is considerable. The gay theatre has a backroom toilet with glory hole cubicles. Most of the action is in the straight section (I did wonder whether any straight men were there though): mostly solo masturbation, mutual wanking and blow jobs. It gets frequented by all sorts of men of all ages and sizes. There are no clean up facilities except in a small toilet. So you need to be very much into that kind of scene, but the place looked clean. An entry ticket doesn't allow pass-outs to return later.
The cinema is on the main square near the Central Station so you obviously cannot mind that ordinary citizens will see you go in.
GAYRON (Van Wesenbekestraat 54 - tram 12): A gay DVD rental store on the ground floor with three storeys of cinemas (with different porn streams), private lockable viewing rooms which you can hire to watch a movie selected downstairs, and a backroom on the top floor where most of the action is. There are no coat check facilities so take care of your belongings on you. It's customary to stay dressed during cruising but in the upstairs backroom there is enough space to shed them. The lack of safe storage is a downer on naked cruising there. The seating isn't the most comfortable with couch covers well worn out.
The place gets frequented by rent boys although wall signs say prostitution is prohibited. Some young Moroccan asked me for €20 to suck his cock but I told him I do it for free. But punters are a varied bunch on a lunchtime or after-work cruise.
'T HERENHUIS (De Lescluzestraat 63, Berchem - trams 7 and 15): Some way out from the city centre in the inner-city suburbs of Berchem stands an 18th Century former merchant family home in a very residential street. It has been transformed into a sauna complex but they have kept most of the building's historic features including a sweeping staircase, a servants' staircase, stain glass windows and a grand ballroom. A place where queens could reign, and they do: the bar area, which also serves food (a nice touch, but no vegetarian options are available) sometimes gets transformed into a traditional raucous singalong, which brings a smile to all punters' faces no matter what floor they are on or what they are doing.
The basement area is magnificent: a swimming pool, plunge pool, very effectively heated dry sauna and a huge steam room complete with maze. The showers are marvellous too because they are those tropical downpour ones which envelop you completely. All is well-lit, and there is only one unexpected down step when you take in the view for the first time.
Apart from the bar area on the ground floor, there is an ante-room where normal TV is played (the soccer was on when I was there) before you enter the piece de resistance of the venue: the grand ballroom complete with wooden floor, chandeliers and low lighting. A few high tables and chairs are dotted around but the main features are the relaxation mattresses surrounded by sheer translucent fabric hanging from the high ceiling, to give you some decadent privacy. All have a view of the (too small for the space) porn screen for inspiration. It's customary to join in, when invited of course, for either massage, slumber or full-on shagging. That was a splendid feature and they should increase the number of little boudoirs (there are only three) because of demand.
On the first floor are the lockers and bathroom facilities. The second floor is the least traditional area of the house, with a modern laid out maze, hard bench cinema and lockable cubicles, including one sling room.
A lovely place where you can spend more than a few hours on a rainy chilly day.