AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but occasionally there's a cheap feast for the eyes.
Several topless bars, peep shows and sex show clubs in Amsterdam's famed "Red Light" prostitution district have declared an open house on Feb. 18, hoping to shore up their reputation with local politicians who are calling for a crackdown.
"You can come in, have a free drink, look around," said Bob de Maan, spokesman for the "Banana Bar," which is known for its live sex shows.
"People think that this is something dirty, but now — it's an open house. They can see for themselves."
Prostitution in Amsterdam boomed during the city's 17th century Golden Age, when prostitutes catered to sailors on shore leave.
With its lingerie-clad women and red neon lights, the area in the city center became a major tourist draw in the 20th century. The Dutch government legalized prostitution in 2000 with an eye to making it easier to tax and regulate.
But problems have continued as the area acts as a magnet for pimps, drug addicts, petty criminals and human traffickers. A recent study found that despite health rules, about 7 percent of Dutch prostitutes have HIV, the virus that causes AIDs.
The open house came in response to proposals by the head of Amsterdam's largest political party meant to discourage women from marketing themselves in windows.
Several of the best-known institutions are opening their doors, in an idea supported by the Prostitution Information Center, the Sex Museum, and the Salvation Army which helps the district's many downtrodden.