Throughout the history of rock ‘n’ roll, bands from the Beatles to Metallica have played their early gigs in clubs and bars. We all know the story of the Beatles playing that long-standing residency in the red-light district in Hamburg in the early ’60s.
I’ve had the experience of playing some of these same clubs. The red-light districts in Hamburg, Amsterdam and elsewhere in Europe are also heavily populated with youth hostels and “backpackers hotels,” cheap and spartan places for young travelers with a Euro-pass to rest their heads. These hostels, and the culture surrounding them, has always intrigued me. Yet I have never stayed in or even been inside one of these places. Until this week. I’m currently on tour with a band that is trying to build an audience and fan-base throughout Europe. We are playing those clubs in those shady areas and red-light districts. (These tours put your mind-frame somewhere between Anthony Bourdain and Fight Club . . . but that is another story).
We played a place called the Winston in Amsterdam last Sunday. The club wasn’t configured to have a backstage room for the band, and on these ancient blocks and lanes, there is definitely no room for expanding these structures. The Winston is directly attached to a hostel (same owner), and our “backstage” room was a room with a bed, some chairs, and a shower—on the 3rd floor of this particular youth hotel.
I guess I’ve had preconceived notions of what these hostels were like, and instead of ripped up walls and urine-stained carpets, we found this hostel to be clean and actually rather arty and yes, almost classy! What the? The club fed us dinner there in the lounge of the hostel, and the Chicken Kiev and fresh chopped salad was ridiculously good. The music that was getting cranked through the system in the lounge was stuff like the Stooges and Bowie, and good and weird dancey stuff that I have no idea what it was.
I was completely intrigued at this point. What gives? These rooms are cheap, and their lounge was hipper than shit! The joint is clean, and the only rules posted on the room doors, was “have fun,” “don’t be an ass,” and “if you liked your stay, tell someone.” Very communal in the best sense of the word “commune.” I do believe that this place is as close to the punk-rock Utopian dream that us dumb-ass kids were pining for back in the halcyon days of 1981 or so (you know . . . “Fuck Reagan,” blah, blah, blah . . .).
I had the chance to have a chat with an English ex-pat gentleman who ran the joint. It turns out that this particular hostel is part of a chain called “St. Christopher Inns”; with locations all over Europe and the UK. They all have these nightclubs like the one I ate dinner in, and it is a place that I would recommend to anyone actually. Its cool enough for a business traveler, a sight-seer, a youth (I would have been completely floored to have been able to do this as a 19 year-old . . . but I guess I am doing it now sans the Euro-Pass), or just about anyone else.
There must be other chains like this, but for this “Raw Power” listening, poultry-loving, vagabond traveler, the youth hostel in Amsterdam, was a refreshing and energizing look into this whole world. I’ll suggest it to my own daughter’s when they come of age.
Duff McKagan is the founding bassist of Guns N’ Roses and the leader of Seattle’s Loaded.