Drinking in Amsterdam: 200 year old bars, and a blossoming cocktail scene

Amsterdam.

Think Amsterdam, and inevitably you’re thinking about weed, and the city’s famous red light district. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

In fact Amsterdam is having a bit of a moment when it comes to its bar scene. It has long had a reputation for hens and stag dos — usually some chavs of the English variety skipping across to the continent — and, of course, it has been a popular place for those who fancy some of the green.

But cocktail bars? Yeah, not so much.

There began to change with the opening of Door 74. A speakeasy style of cocktail bar, the bar was founded by Irishman Phil Duff (he of the Old Duff Genever and Tales of the Cocktail education organiser) in 2009, and it has regularly been on world’s best lists. In late 2012, Tales & Spirits opened, a beautiful and old-world kind of bar in the old town area of Amsterdam. It too has seen its fair share of accolades — it landed at 31 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2018 — and its success has seen its owners, Boudewjin Mesritz and Lydia Soedadi, launch another bar (The Jitterbug Saloon).

And just this year saw London cocktailing royalty come to town, with the arrival of Ryan Chetiyawardana’s Super Lyan.

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So things are certainly looking up. We were in Amsterdam earlier this year attending the BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition finals, and managed to get around to a few of the new bars, plus a couple of bars that have been around far longer than that.

Super Lyan
Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 3, 1012 RC Amsterdam

Super Lyan is the newest of the bars on the list to have opened, having thrown open the doors earlier this year. It comes from the team behind Dandelyan, the London bar that was named the best in the world last year at the World’s 50 Best Bars ceremony (and which later was renovated to become a new concept from the team, Lyaness).

Super Lyan itself began life in London, when the brains behind it, Ryan Chetiyawardana, closed the influential White Lyan. He’s since shuttered the London branch to make way for a new concept (are you sensing a pattern here?) and reopening in Amsterdam.

Here, you can expect world class cocktails and service, but the emphasis is on fun and good times, not wankery. Cue the hot pink neons and rambunctious vibe inside — it’s must visit.

Tales & Spirits
Lijnbaanssteeg 5-7, 1012 TE Amsterdam

We sadly couldn’t make it to Door 74, the OG cocktail bar of Amsterdam (there’s but a few seats inside and we’d not had the foresight to book ahead), but were pleased with the next of the cornerstone cocktail bars in town. Here, there’s a great spirits selection, attentive table side service, and a cocktail list worth diving into.

Cafe ‘t Molentje
Singel 278, 1016 AC Amsterdam

This was a great find. Walking around the old town we found this little canal-side boozer, where the order is Amstel and the smart move is to grab a table across the road looking over the canal.

The place has been around since forever, the service was whatever, but the beer was cold and the highlight was the bitterballen: a scalding hot, crumbed and fried, ball of meat and sauce that is a Holland specialty and the best damn day-drinking sustenance money can buy.

Cafe De Dokter.

Cafe De Dokter
Rozenboomsteeg 4, 1012 PR Amsterdam 

Amsterdam has been an old trading city, its many canals giving traders access to the North Sea, and its bars providing refuge to all comers for centuries.

This is one of those bars that has seen it all. Cafe de Dokter began its life in 1798, and it doesn’t look like they’ve done much in the way of renovations since. 

It is the very definition of a small bar — you step through the door and bam, you’re at the bar, and any journey to the toilet on the upstairs floor involves a perilous descent back down the narrow, tight, and very steep staircase. 

It would not pass an Australian OHS check, put it that way.

The walls are stained brown from centuries of cigar and cigarette smoke, and veteran bar industry figure Jason Crawley told us that the ceiling had been chock  full of cobwebs — right until they banned smoking inside. (It seems the smoke was all that kept the webs bounded to the ceiling).

In short: this was a happy place.

De Drie Fleshjes.
De Drie Fleschjes
Gravenstraat 18, 1012 NM Amsterdam

The name of this place translates to The Three Bottles, like something out of a boozy fairytale. 

It’s where you realise that in Amsterdam, many of the bars have deals with one of the big breweries of genever makers — that’s the case here. It’s a genever bar, but don’t expect to see anything outside of the Bols portfolio (though they’ve got plenty of those). The neat thing with this bar is the oak casks that line the walls. They are there for punters to fill, drawing upon them whenever they drop by, and you can fill it with whatever you want — it’s like the 18th century version of a bottle locker.

Just skip the “cocktails” — they’re of the liqueur plus liqueur plus colourful liqueur variety.

Pulitzer’s Bar
Keizersgracht 234, 1016 DZ Amsterdam

Ah, the hotel bar. The refuge of the weary traveller, the hallowed destination for those who dare to Martini. 

Pulitzer’s Bar sits inside the hotel of the same name, and like the writing prize that it is named for there’s a literary feel to the menu (patron saint of the spiritous arts, Ernest Hemingway, provides a fair bit of inspiration).

For us though we were after a stiff Martini after a solid day drinking effort on the beers, and Pulitzer’s didn’t disappoint. 

For proper bitterballen, though, give their upmarket take a miss, and stick to the old man bars.

The Jitterbug Saloon
Bloemgracht 170, 1015 TV Amsterdam 

The latest bar from the guys behind Tales & Spirits, The Jitterbug Saloon is an a residential neighbourhood, and at that it does a damn fine job. The drinks lean to the tropical (they’re a dab hand at the Philadelphia Fish House Punch), and they have live music happening in the back room. 

There’s all that, and some warm and friendly service to boot. But be warned, it’s a late night party bar— things kick off at 8pm and go until the early morning.  

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