15 May 2011

Admiral Benbow Inn

In ‘t Aepjen is a remnant of the time when Zeedijk was a sea wall, protecting Amsterdam from the Zuiderzee. The sea is now long gone, but the old sailors’ tavern survived where even sea couldn’t.

Upon entering, one cannot help but scan the inn for Long John Silver and his parrot…
Fifteen men on the dead man's chest
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

Everywhere, there are references to monkeys (aepjen is an old Dutch word for 'a monkey'). In its sea-faring days, the tavern was swarming with monkeys that the sailors brought from their voyages. Monkeys were the seamen's currency: this is how seamen, when down on their luck, paid the inn-keeper for the lodgings.

And seamen certainly were down on their luck. To enlist on the ship headed for the East Indies was tentamount to suicide. “The recruiting of hands for the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) ships,” writes Geert Mak, “was usually carried out by so-called zielverkopers or ‘soul merchants’. These plucked men off the streets and provided them with food and shelter until such time as the VOC made it known, amid much drumming and trumpeting, that it needed men. The soul merchants then put down the names of their ‘guests’ as crew and pocketed most of the premium as payment for their lodging.” Between 1700 and 1800, a total of 671,000 men set sail for East Indies. Of these, only 266,000 returned.

In ‘t Aepjen is one of precious few reminders left to us of that old, sea-faring Amsterdam. At Zeedijk number 1, this is the first inn that the seamen would stumble against, on their way from the harbour. Every single one of them, ever since 1560, must have walked in for a drink at least once.

On the odd Saturday, old sea chanties are still being sung here. An adventurous soul can still take up lodgings in the rooms above (via the Barbizon). If traveling with monkeys, please contact the inn-keeper for the exchange rate.

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