You know when you’re getting old when rather than getting your kicks in a coffee shop or the Red Light District on a visit to Amsterdam, you’re drooling over the 17th century canal side houses with their stunning gabled facades. That’s not to say that you don’t want some night life. You simply prefer it in a more salubrious setting.
Thank goodness for its cocktail bars, then. Cool enough that they attract the youngsters; chilled enough for oldies to bagsy a seat and still feel like part of the crowd. Bonus points for the fact that everything is close enough to navigate by foot. Or bike if you want to be like the locals and you’re feeling particularly adventurous. But why make things hard for yourself? Save any serious thinking for choosing what to order from the following menus.
The sexy one: Pulitzer Amsterdam
Prinsengracht 323, 1016 GZ pulitzeramsterdam.com
In-keeping with the luxury theme of this issue, and to prove that in addition to its many hostels and backpacker-friendly hotels Amsterdam does have a glam side, we stayed at Pulitzer’s, which when it opened in 1960 was the first five-star hotel in Amsterdam. Clever us. First, it meant that we could get inside those majestic houses that overlook the canals and secondly, its central location is the ideal base from which to explore all the major attractions. Yes, that includes the bars…
Cor, is it gorgeous. Be prepared: Pulitzer’s is a glorious higgledy-piggledy, maze of a place sprawling over 25 historic houses – make things a little easier on yourself by just accepting that you’ll get lost at least once navigating your way around. Mind you, that’s an adventure in itself – everywhere you look you’re faced with Insta-ready set-ups; from the sometimes quirky but always striking artworks, to the basket swings in the courtyard, and the designer-style furniture carefully and artfully dotted around.
If you really want to embrace the luxury mood, upgrade to one of the 19 suites – not for nothing do five of them come with an Extraordinary Suite status. Each is uniquely themed to tell the story of the previous owner of the house (music, book, antique and art collector, for instance) and is accessed from its own front door. We won’t lie, we would have stayed in one if our budget allowed but as all of the rooms, even the entry level ones, are thoughtfully kitted out with a munchies- friendly pack of Stroopwafels (Dutch cookie waffles with an extremely moreish, thin caramel filling) for each day of your stay, a bicycle repair kit and – joy-oh-joy – a bespoke drinks cabinet, complete with shaker, ice bucket and fancy glassware, we didn’t mind too much.
We restrained ourselves from cracking the mini bar open to shake up our own drinks and instead took the much wiser option of heading to the Pulitzer Bar downstairs. Dark, sexy and seriously stylish, it oozes glamour even if you’re sitting there nursing a coffee or celebrating your mini holiday with a glass of fizz at 3pm. As it gets later, the mood gets slinkier – which is perfectly in- keeping with the mis-matched velvet and handsome wing-backed leather chairs positioned in the two rooms (there’s an ante room with board games to the front too, should the idea of playing Snakes & Ladders while you sip on your Martini tickle your fancy). We opted for the best seats in the house, propped at the bar where we could watch and engage with the knowledgeable and extremely affable bar team. Take your time to chat to them about the drinks list and ask for their suggestions for your particular palate. The new menu has launched since our visit but if the Jack Rose is still listed, we urge you to give it a go.
The serious drinkers one: Bar TwentySeven
Dam 27, 1012 JS. hoteltwentyseven.com
Dodging the tourists on Dam Square, then taking the lift up three floors and stepping into Bar TwentySeven is like entering another world. With its ornate decor, boudoir-esque velvet lounge seats and the fact that it’s listed as a six-star bar, you’re never going to find anyone chugging back beers here. Good job too, there’s some seriously fine cocktails to get acquainted with. If you’re on a big date by all means find yourself a quiet corner and lose yourself in Wim van de Oudeweetering’s smouldering interior but if you’re a bona fide cocktail lover, you’re advised to book yourself a spot at the glowing onyx bar.
If the probiotic drinks list sounds out of your comfort zone, we urge you to give it a try – the Cariño is an absolute treat. There are other gems too; we loved the fresh and earthy Beet Me Up (fermented beetroot, cocchi, lemon juice and honey), as well as the Flower Bomb (St- Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Chartreuse Yellow, Ocho Blanco Tequila, dash of salt and topped with tonic), easy-going, light and refreshing it’s one we could order again and again.
The freelancers one: Lotti’s at the Hoxton
Herengracht 255, 1016 BJ, Amsterdam thehoxton.com/amersterdam
Anyone who knows the format at the growing number of Hoxton Hotels around the world will know what to expect at Lotti’s. There’s the customary retro living room vibe with lots of break out spaces for beautiful people to lounge around, either catching up with friends or work on their laptops.
The bar tucked away at the rear of the open plan lounge/restaurant/bar space is pretty low key in the scheme of things – whispering quietly about its presence rather than shouting to be heard. Like most places, you get a different experience when you perch on the stool and interact with the bartenders. Go for one of the Hoxtails or if you’re starting your evening, the Aperitif O’Clock (Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, Pekoe Supreme Ceylon Tea Liqueur, Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, Copperhead Energeticum Bitters and sesame oil), it’ll set you up very nicely.
The foodies one: The Duchess
Spuistraat 172, 1012 VT. the-duchess.com
First and foremost this is a restaurant, and a bloody good one it is too. But if you don’t have the time or appetite for the Nouveau-Niçoise Cuisine (a delicious mash-up of the flavours of Southern France and Italy, in case you’re wondering), which is the specialty here, then be sure to at least call in for a swift one at the bar.
Naturally, with its foodie focus, it’s heavy on pre- and post-dinner drinks, although its à la carte section has a few treats in store for the cocktail curious. Look out for the new menu, a full-on food pairing number with one, maximum two flavours at the core – zoning in on the likes of tomato, apricot and truffle. Launching on 2 October, each of the 12 drinks have been designed to pair easily with lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. We’ll be back to try it.
The bartenders one: Tales & Spirits
Lijnbaanssteeg 5-7, 1012 TE, Amsterdam. talesandspirits.com
Although distinctly Dutch in flavour, T&S reminds us of an Edinburgh bar, both in looks and feel. It’s local but in an in-the-know kind of way – you’ll find it off the beaten track down a centrally located alley. Once inside, the room itself is like a friendly hug, cosy, warm and unpretentious with pumping music and amiable, knowledgeable bar staff. Their energy is infectious – seeing them buzzing around smiling and joking, you feel like you’re a guest at a very cool party.
The cocktail menu offers up an array of great choices including House Specials and T&S Favourites that have been hits ever since the bar opened in 2014. Mostly though we love the fact that they’ve devoted a whole page of their menu to the Old Fashioned. Take your pick from 11 riffs on the ultimate nightcap, including The Nutcracker (Zacapa 23 Rum, hazelnut-honey syrup, Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters and honeycomb) and the less traditional Orchid (Porter’s Gin, pink peppercorns syrup, Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Dandelion & Burdock Bitters and lemon zest). And if you’re feeling peckish, there’s also a full dinner menu. Result!
The proudly Dutch one: Flying Dutchmen Cocktails
Singel 460, 1017 AW, Amsterdam. flyingdutchmencocktails.com
Tess Posthumus and Timo Janse are big deals on the Amsterdam cocktail front. And their latest bar, which opened at the end of December, has the makings of being the same. It’s a beautiful room, all modern stained glass and rich, deep green walls. Their focus is the average cocktail drinker which, Tess explains, most home-grown drinkers are. So they’ve picked things that people might have heard of, like the Martinez for instance, with the aim of guests discovering new flavours and making connections to the common ingredient.
Hence the menu is divided into three sections: Walk (for entry level cocktails from the 1800-1900s, essentially the grandmother of the drink); Run (the drink that replaced it, mostly from 1940ish), and Fly (the modern-day interpretation). For example, The Evolution of Genever Cocktails goes like so: Walk: Martinez (Notaris Bartenders Choice Genever, Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino, Luxardo Maraschino and Boker’s Bitters); Run: Holland House (Bobby’s Genever, Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, lemon juice and Luxardo Maraschino), and Fly: Flying Dutchmen Cocktail (Bols Genever Barrel-Aged, lemon juice, Speculaas Gum syrup, orange bitters and orange flower water).
The contemplative one: Rosalia’s Menagerie
Kloveniersburgwal 20, 1012 CV, Amsterdam. rosalias.amsterdam
Our test is always, if this was a neighbourhood bar, would we use it as our local? In this case the answer is a big, fat yes. The drinks are great, the décor – with its collection of curiosities and novelties – is cool and the overall mood is incredibly welcoming. It’s the sort of place that you won’t want to rush, and while walk-ins are catered for, it’s a one-man operated bar with table only service, so if you want to guarantee yourself a spot, bookings are advised. They’re worth it.
Forget the craziness outside (you’re in the thick of party central here and that’s why the bartender will make sure guests know they’re entering a cocktail bar, rather than a rowdy pub) and enjoy the welcome drink that’s given to you as you peruse the menu. The one we got was inspired by mythical creatures, starting with Highballs and building in intensity – the scarier the creature got, the more intense the flavours. Trust us, thanks to the expert skills of Wouter Bousch there isn’t a dud in the house.
The out-and-out fun one: Duke of Tokyo
Reguliersdwarsstraat 37, 1017 BK, Amsterdam. dukeoftokyo.com
You can go to any of the bars on this list for fancy, sit-down cocktails, but if it’s some innocent, all- out, sing into your hairbrush fun that you’re after, Duke of Tokyo wins hands down. Except this isn’t about signing into props – it’s about letting your hair down and seriously rocking out. Two and a half years ago, it was a festival concept with mobile karaoke wagons and a shipping container transformed into a bar. After getting plenty of positive feedback and noticing a gap in the market in Amsterdam, Ben Warren and his team decided to create a permanent karaoke-plus experience.
Imagine that you’re walking through the streets of Tokyo, then translate that into a bar. The main room is decked out with neon lights, Japanese signage and a large bar with a DJ booth to the side, while the karaoke rooms to the back are themed on different Tokyo neighbourhoods. The whole place is pretty convincing, thanks to the fact that a film set designer worked on it. Cocktails probably won’t be your top priority here but should you wish to have something more exotic than wine, beer or sake, they’re actually pretty good.
AND TO EAT? Jansz, Pulitzer Amsterdam
Prinsengracht 323, 1016 GZ pulitzeramsterdam.com
If you’re after somewhere that’s grown-up, relaxed but elegant and not overly bonkers on the wallet, Jansz fits the bill perfectly. It’s open for lunch and dinner but we went somewhere in the middle and plumped for an earlyish sitting, after Martinis in Pulitzer Bar and before hitting up the second lot of venues on our list.
Recommended: starters – diver scallops or cauliflower and mushrooms – both cooked to perfection. For mains, the salmon, black rice and bimi came recommended and we’re glad we listened to our host – it was delicious; failing that, push the boat out and go for lobster risotto. Fully sated, you’re ready to take on the world.
This Amsterdam round-up first appeared in The Cocktail Lovers magazine, Autumn 2018. Please check with venues for latest details.
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