The Nes, who doesn’t know about it? Who hasn’t seen a play here, drank beer, eaten dinner, kissed someone or even voted? The narrow, somewhat ugly street hidden in the inner city runs parallel to Rokin and Dam Square. However in terms of atmosphere, it feels kilometers away from both places. It doesn’t have a continuous road or open square, but it is some kind of alley where cyclists and pedestrians fight with each other for the passage and where almost every door tries to lure you inside with cosiness.
The name Nes, indicates that it was a swampy area in the past. In fact, a paltry six centuries ago, you only encountered some sheep and geese on a mudslide of wetlands, which was called a “Nesse” in central Netherlands. The current Nes started way back in 1342, when it became a part of the Amsterdam.
In 1406, some women decided to establish a monastery on this ground called the St. Margaret Convent or the Margaret Convent. The monastery complex was gradually expanded and eventually covered the entire area between Nes, Enge Lombardsteeg, Oudzijds Voorburgwal and Sint Pieterhalsteeg. In 1473, the monastery had a total of 41 nuns, who brewed beer and made mustard.
The Margarets apparently had a sucking effect, because around 1500, the last small piece of the Nes counted at least a quarter of all twenty monasteries in the city. The people of Amsterdam also called this part of the street “prayer without end”. Now there is also a side alley with this brilliant name.
After the Alteration of 1578, the monastic complexes received other functions. This is how, for example the Binnengasthuis was built on the site of the Old and New Nonnenklooster. During the following centuries, the Nes would develop into an area full of shops and businesses. And as many cases in history, it also applied here: where there is bustle, cafés will follow. Therefore, from the 19th century on, the Nes would gradually become more well-known for its entertainment center.
In addition to brothels, there were also café-chantants, “tingeltangels” (choirs of lower value were named after tingeltangels, for example pub pianos), the Salon des Variétés, Tivoli and artist cafés. Until the thirties of the 20th century, there was also an establishment of one of the earliest gay pubs called The Empire. And in 1824, Frascati coffee house even opened a salon with fountains, trees and space up to 1500 people!
Everything was well until around 1900. This is when The Nes fell into disrepair and was avoided by the public. Where once pleasure prevailed, was now replaced by tobacco offices, which gave the street an extinct impression at night. The Nes changed in an instant, from “fun street” to a trading center. Even Frascati was affected: It was bought up and served as an auction house for tobacco. In that position it was even called “The Hell of Frascati”: “Hundreds of tobacco buyers rolled over each other and did not hesitate to climb onto balcony edges, on chairs and across bulkheads trying to get the best tobacco leaves.”
The Second World War put an end to the position of Amsterdam as an International center for the trade of Tobacco, and with this, also to the Nes as a tobacco empire within Amsterdam. It would take several decades but bit by bit, the fun and variety returned in the Nes. Especially theaters were able to find the Nes to settle themselves, among which: Frascati, the Comedy theater, including Tobacco Theater. With this, the Nes was saved without an end.