“We have a saying in Dutch: ‘In de aap gelogeerd’ or ‘You slept in the monkey house’ – which means you’re in trouble, having a bit of bad luck. That comes from here.”
I’m in the In ’t Aepjen (In the Monkey) pub, just a few minutes north of the Dam in the city center. This is one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam and one of only two still with a wooden façade. Inside, there is barely room for an ancient oak staircase and a tiny bar backed by shelves full of Dutch gin, glasses and curios that heavily feature monkeys in recognition of the pub’s name.
“A lot of seamen would drink here always,” says Frits, the only barman as well as the owner’s son. “It was also a hostel. When they couldn’t pay cash, they would pay with monkeys. Real monkeys. There were always monkeys on the ships as rich people wanted them for their homes. So the hostel became full of monkeys in cages and when the seamen came back on their ships, they were scratching themselves from the fleas.”
The story does not really stand up to research – the name appears on maps long predating this building, built as a private house around 1550 – but there is no doubt a truth lost somewhere in the retelling and embellishment over the centuries. What is certain is that the street it stands on marks the original edge of the city, as its name reveals: Zeedijk. This was where a sea dike protected the growing city from the tides that once flooded this low-lying land as they swept up the River IJ from the Zuiderzee.
Zeedijk was once very respectable – Amsterdam’s first street lights were put up here in 1544 – but fell onto hard times when the wealthy merchants moved to smart new addresses along the Herengracht in the 17th century. The many bars, a remaining ship chandler’s and the sex trade nearby hint at the story of its decline.
A few steps away from In ’t Aepjen is the Oudezijds Kolk, a narrow mud-brown canal that passes under the street. Wooden winches stand beside a pair of lock gates – this was one of the city’s sluices, used to flush out the canals, and I can also see a cast iron lift bridge. North, towards the harbor, the back of the Basilica of St Nicholas, Amsterdam’s largest Catholic church, looms over a row of typical leaning Amsterdam houses lining the other bank.
Their varied gables all bear hooks that were once used to haul goods to the secure upper floors and remain essential for house removals. The canal is lined with gas lamps whose elements have been replaced by electric ones that still throw the same warm light. Take away the bicycles chained everywhere and a few modern shop signs and it is a view that seems little changed for centuries.
That's right... don't sleep with the monkeys. We think you'd be much better off sleeping at this Truly Wonderful hotel. It's right near Zeedijk – and free of monkeys, as far as we know!