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World famous Amsterdam sex theater no longer threatened with closure

© DutchAmsterdam.nl — World-famous Erotic theater Casa Rosso, the most prominent landmark in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, will not be forced to close down.

Four other companies that belong to owner Jan Otten, including the iconic Bananabar, will also remain in business. The City of Amsterdam will provide Otten with renewed business licenses — albeit under strict conditions.

Amsterdam sex theatre Casa Rosso

Casa Rosso
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Last year the city announced that it intended to withdraw Casa Rosso’s license as part of a drive to combat the influence of organized crime in Amsterdam‘s downtown area.

The drive is part of an effort to clean up and re-purpose Amsterdam’s city center.

In the Netherlands, permits and business licenses can be withdrawn if and when municipal authorities, aided by investigation under the BIBOB law suspect that the service to be provided is being used — or is likely to be used — for criminal objectives. The law is also intended to prevent funds earned through criminal activity from being passed through the legal economy.

Casa Rosso

Casa Rosso, which has worldwide become iconic for the Red Light District, was opened in 1969 by Joop de Vries — also known as Joden Jopie (Jewish Jopie) and Zwarte Joop (Black Joop).

He’d made his money by, among other things, running jazz club Casablanca at the Zeedijk, on the outskirts of the Red Light District. In addition, De Vries augmented his income by loaning money to people throughout the district against exorbitant rates. Those who did not pay back on time would run into Zwarte Joop’s friends from various fighting schools.

Casa Rosso was the world’s first theater to show live sex on stage — advertised by the company’s touts with a phrase coined by Joop: “Real f*cky f*cky.”

Realizing that tourists formed his main source of income, Joop set out to market Casa Rosso and the neighborhood. He even organized and financed a street cleaning service for the district. Meanwhile a number of hired heavies kept the peace — in part by sweeping the area for drug addicts, pickpockets and brawling British louts.

His approach works. Increasingly tour companies organize walking tours through the Red Light District, and Casa Rosso attracts busloads of tourists from America, England, Germany, Japan and elsewhere. They plonk down 25 Guilders a person for a half hour show.

Amsterdam authorities did not quite know what to think, let alone do, about Joop’s new business — and many people figure the growing stream of tourists may have had something to do with that.

But Amsterdam’s easy-going policies (Gedoogbeleid) attracted the attention from the Italian/American mafia.

Joop befriends gambling big-shot Dino Cellini, and in the mid-seventies opens an illegal casino as well as two gambling halls — financed by the mafia.

It wasn’t until 1982 that authorities took action. Police closed down the illegal casinos Cabala and Club26, while tax authorities investigated Casa Rosso’s finances. A judge convicted him on charges of tax evasion and forgery, and De Vries was ordered to pay 42 million Guilders in back taxes.

Aided by prominent lawyer Max Moskowicz he managed to avoid a prison. Instead he and his girlfriend moved to Switzerland, operating his business emporium from afar.

Arson Fire Destroys Casa Rosso

On December 16, 1983 Casa Rosso burned out completely after fired ex-worker Joseph Lan set the place on fire. Lan entered the building with a jerrycan of gasoline, sprinkled it around — using a gun to set the fuel alight.

At the time Casa Rosso consists of a maze of interconnected buildings housing the theater, gambling clubs, massage parlors, fitness rooms and private homes.

Smoke soon filled the corridors and rooms, and hundreds of people exit the complex some by jumping from windows.

In all, thirteen people died and sixteen people were seriously wounded.

Devastated, Joop determines that Casa Rosso will not be rebuilt in the same spot, ‘as that place should no more be associated with fun.’ Apartments were built in its place.

Casa Rosso reopens

Five months later Casa Rosso reopened next door, at Oudezijds Achterburgwal 106-108.

De Vries dies of a stroke in July 1986, and Casa Rosso was sold to a company called Brouwersgracht BV.

It was long rumored that Brouwersgracht BV was owned in full or in part by Cor van Hout en Willem Holleeder, who together with others in 1983 had kidnapped Heineken Brewery owner Freddy Heineken. The Justice Department suspected that 8 million guilders (€ 3.6 million) — missing out of the 35 million Guilders (€ 16 million) in ransom money that secured the brewer’s release — was invested in the Red Light District and in the prostitution district of Alkmaar.

In response to the rumors the Heineken Brewery in February 1992 decided not to renew its contract with Casa Rosso.

In 1996 Brouwersgracht BV sold the sex club to Kobloei Beheer, a company owned by Red Light District bigwig Charles Geerts.

Jan Otten

Geerts in turn in early 1997 sold Casa Rosso to hs friend Jan Otten — the current owner, who forty years ago first worked at the theater as doorman.

But as Otten did not have enough money to purchase the business outright, Geerts provided him with financial backing.

It is this deal that inspired Amsterdam authorities to start a Bibop investigation. Bibop’s contentions that Geerts and Otten were somehow connected to the laundering of missing ransom money were quickly refuted. The investigation nevertheless took a long time because not all of of Ottens financial dealings were transparent.

Otten, who has always insisted he operates completely above board, refers to the city’s decision to renew his business license as ‘a victory for Amsterdam.’

Meanwhile he says his business has suffered — not just under the threat of closure, but also from Amsterdam’s efforts to ‘clean up’ the Red Light District. He is upset to see Casa Rosso’s name connected to stories about human trafficking or forced prostitution — activities with which he will have nothing to do.

The economic crisis has also affected visitor number in the entire district.

“My turnover has dropped by 50 percent,” Otten told Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

The fight for his business license has also cost him dearly.

“All those lawyers and advisers. It certainly cost a million euros. For a licence. That ruins a business owner,” Otten told the newspaper. “In retrospect I do have the feeling that they wanted to ruin me.” — © DutchAmsterdam.nl

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This post was last updated: Sep. 12, 2011