What comes to mind when you hear the word “Holland”? Tulips? Windmills?
Well, yes, but if you know your spirits, you might also think genever, the grandfather of modern gin, but a spirit in its own right. Rudimentary genever production dates back to the 1500’s in the Low Countries, of which Holland was historically a part. But Holland isn’t just for sipping genever. There is a vibrant bar scene there, starting with the ‘brown cafes’ evolving with renowned mixologist Philip Duff’s foray into the bar biz with Door 74 in Amsterdam and including Rotterdam, just a short distance from Schiedam, where the National Jenever Museum is. We reached out to some Dutch experts, asking for their opinions of where to sip, see, and be seen. And we won’t fault you if you want to visit a few windmills as well.
In the Words of Anthony Pullen, LucasBolsUSA Brand Ambassador.
In this small canal-ringed city of indulgence the bar scene is as varied, historic, and concentrated as any major city in the world. Choosing a top five from a seemingly endless list of places to imbibe is no easy task but this is my best shot.
On my list are two places that I have actually worked in, so I am somewhat bias, but they absolutely deserve a mention for different reasons. Let me introduce first:
After spending years judging competitions and consulting for brands, a guy named Phillip Duff (you may have heard of him) took the plunge and opened his first and, to my knowledge, only bar right in the tourist center of Amsterdam. The co-founder Sergej Fokke, a man for whom I have an unparalleled respect and love for, was no stranger to owning and operating bars, another one of which features on this list also.
Door 74 is a speakeasy style bar that was opened before speakeasy bars were cool with the mantra “Every bar needs a gimmick, ours is to be nice to people.” On top of having one of the best spirit and cocktail selections in the city, this place excels in hospitality. The staff rotate between bar-backing, hosting and bartending which means you always see the best of all worlds. The current chief is Timo Janse, a legend in the Amsterdam bar scene for good reasons. If you find yourself in Amsterdam, make the effort to go find out those reasons!
Mirror Bar at House Of Bols
The House of Bols is located in the heart of the Museum District right across the street from the Van Gogh Museum. Since opening in 2007, it has established itself as one of the top tourist attractions in the city. That fact may deter some people but when you throw in an internationally recognized design award, an interactive walk through 440 years of manufacturing alcoholic beverages, and the only bar in the world that stocks every spirit / liqueur manufactured by the world’s largest liqueur brand all available for tasting, well, then you have a perfect storm.
What most people don’t realize about the building is that within the five floors it houses the corporate offices and the lab where a lot of new products and flavors are developed. Some of which occasionally trickle down to the Mirror Bar for some lucky visitors. Oh, and as the name suggests – every single surface is mirrored!
A feijoa is a fruit that grows in New Zealand that mutated over many years from a species introduced from South America. In this case, however, it is a bar, and like the fruit that bears the same name, when this place opened its doors, nobody “got” it. When Feijoa opened, Amsterdam was a place of traditional drinking (read “beer, shot and perhaps a rum & coke”). This is one of the original, if not the original, what us, US residents, would refer to as a craft cocktail bar.
This place was way before its time and the majority of the industry in town thought Sergej (see Door 74) was nuts to insist on fresh juice and service which requires that extra step. How wrong they were! Feijoa is always packed, the bar team turn out amazing cocktails at an incredible rate, and will still happily serve you one of those traditional drinks I mentioned.
This is the kind of place you pop into on the way home from work and the next thing you know it is 2am. If I am honest this is one of my absolute favorite bars in the entire world; I don’t think there has been a trip back where I haven’t popped in.
Cafe de Dokter
Photos do not do this place justice because it was operational some 30 years before the first photograph was ever taken in 1827. As the name suggests, it was opened by a doctor, a surgeon to be specific, by the name of Beems in 1798.
Six generations later the bar is still run by the same family, and you will find Jannie or Jan Beems behind the bar on the regular. At the start of its life Cafe de Dokter was a small hang out for the staff and students at the local hospital which used to be located nearby. By small I mean probably the smallest bar in Amsterdam! At just under 200 square feet, it is known by locals as “Het Doktertje” which translates to ‘the little doctor’.
This bar, obviously, has a huge amount of history, but it is the authentic charm that makes this place unique. How many bars in the world do you know have been opened and run by the same family for well over 200 years?
I saved the most traditional drinking hole till last. If you want to experience Dutch drinking culture in the form of the famous ‘brown cafe’ this is the place to do it. Follow these steps:
- Step 1: Go to the barrels on the wall filled with genever and pour yourself a ration of genever for the evening. The barrels are owned by the local businesses and are padlocked; getting access is only a problem if you are antisocial. If the worse happens and the place is empty – you can always order from the bar.
- Step 2: Take your ration of genever to the bar where you will be given a tulip glass. At this point you should also ask for a cold draft beer to accompany the genever and, perhaps, a plate of traditional Dutch pickles and cheese.
- Step 3: Sit outside at the Dam square and experience the best people watching anywhere in the world (it is stumbling distance from the red lights)
- Step 4: Don’t miss your flight home!
In the words of Carl Nolet Jr., owner of Nolet’s Gins and Ketel One Vodka. Carl Nolet Jr’s favorite bars in Rotterdam, which is just east of the small town of Schiedam, offer both old school drinking and new school cocktails.
You might not think of visiting Roterdam on a trip to Holland, but the bustling city is just east of Schiedam where you will find the Genever Museum and where the Nolet family has been distilling spirits for 325 years. It’s basically ground zero for historic genever — the most accurate recipe for Scheidam genever can be sampled only at the museum, in fact.
This Dutch hotel group delivers an inviting, fun atmosphere for guests to enjoy a great cocktail experience in their contemporary, design-savvy property. With an outpost now in New York City as well, it is easy for me to relive my favorite citizenM experience while traveling domestically within the US.
Hidden away in Rotterdam’s formerly notorious Scheepvaartkwarier is a dignified townhouse that used to be the place where rowdy sailors dwelled. It has been transformed to a safe haven for distinctive drinkers from all around the world.
Level is a very relaxed environment with, as they describe it themselves, killer cocktails. A great place to start off your evening, away from some of the major crowds.
Ballroom is located on a cultural and culinary hotspot and their motto is: “Everyday is Ginsday.” The perfect serve is the Ballroom serve.
A old fashioned Dutch snack bar with a modern twist. Tante Nel sells high quality fresh fries and snacks combined with the finest alcoholic beverages.