By Pier Paolo Polimeno
Translated from Italian by Steve Rickinson
Despite the fact that coffeeshops are now a commercial phenomenon, light years away from their original transgression and libertarianism, no country can boast a widespread and rooted subculture of cannabis like in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam.
Marketing has certainly made coffeeshops less original and unconventional than in the past, and the ease of travel has increased visitors, bringing a new public, often of non-smokers, mostly interested in the experience or some selfies at institutions like the Bulldog, Greenhouse or Barney’s.
Still, it is a mistake to think that coffeeshops “with soul”, those with original atmospheres, particular menus, and friendly staff are gone. We visited many of the 157 “cannabis bars” in the capital and compiled a list of the 10 that may be talked about less but which are absolutely worth a visit.
This guide is subjective and takes into account several factors (location, atmosphere, prices):
The Bulldog Port 26
The Bulldog Port 26 stands out from the other locations of the famous coffee shop chain. Opened in 2015, the Port is located in Coenhavenweg, northwest of Centraal Station, anticipating a possible expansion of coffeeshops in the future. Because of its isolated, almost hidden, position, the place looks like a shelter, especially for the locals, easy to reach by car and with an extremely relaxed atmosphere. In fact, the interior is reminiscent of a “living room”, the prices are accessible and products are quality. Moreover, being safe from the chaos of the center, the salesmen of the Bulldog Port 26 have more time to devote themselves to “customer service”. In fact, the most frequent visitors are given a “loyalty card”, which every 10 euros spent saves 1, and each product is delivered in glass jars. In particular, this initiative is part of the eco-sustainable philosophy of the coffee shop, which has decided to completely eliminate plastic bags and the use of tobacco. In conclusion, the Bulldog Port 26 presents itself as a peaceful oasis, a perfect place to escape from the city routine and be pampered with eco-sustainable, cheap and quality products.
If the “Port” stands out for its tranquility and customer care, the main characteristic of Roots is certainly its exclusivity. The last coffeeshop to open in Amsterdam, in Hoekenrode, next to the Bijlmer Arena station, is, in fact, the only coffee shop in Zuidoost and therefore enjoys a strategic position. At the entrance, the customer stands in front of 3 counters, often crowded with many buyers. The menu is not particularly suitable for marijuana enthusiasts, as it offers a great choice of hashish, but it is very convenient in regards to payment methods. Indeed, patrons can pay either with cash or credit card – an aspect that should not be underestimated given that many coffeeshops only accept cash payments. Once the product has been purchased, customers can then sit and eat in a pleasant smoking room with shared tables and sofas. The place is constantly full, but there is good ebb and flow, so there is no suffocating feeling. The Roots is a coffee shop mainly for Zuidoost residents. It is also a convenient stop for all travelers coming down to Bijlmer Arena and wanting to relax a little.
Katsu coffeeshop & gallery
Katsu, located in the very hip and bustling De Pijp district, 5 minutes from the metro station of the same name and next to the Albert Kuypmarkt, immediately strikes with its strong visual impact. The facade of the restaurant, in fact, is extremely artistic, colorful and, as the name of the coffee shop suggests, features an oriental perspective. In front of the entrance, three planters enclose a small space with tables and benches, where customers can consume products and enjoy a view of the neighborhood. Once inside, the atmosphere of the place guides the experience: warm, colorful and with multi-ethnic furnishings, but at the same time sober and intimate, due to the dim lights. At the counter, you are served almost immediately, and you are faced with an incredible choice of products, both in terms of quality and price. The varieties are quite common but there is always something new. The average price fluctuates around 10 euros, a feature that makes Katsu affordable for everyone. No credit card though. Although it is very spacious it is quite crowded in the afternoon: the best time to go is certainly in the morning when it is frequented by an older crowd.
If Katsu is immediately striking for its look, Siberië instead risks going unnoticed. However, it would be a shame to miss it, as the small Brouwersgracht club directly overlooks a canal and is only 5 minutes from Centraal Station. In front of its sign, there are no tables or benches, so consumption is only allowed inside. Once through the entrance, customers go directly to the smoking room, which is somewhat reminiscent of a diner with tables and large shared tables. The room is bright and punctuated by relaxing rock music, a pleasant atmosphere, making its first impression is very positive. Passing through a glass door, visitors then access the cash register which, unlike the smoking room, is immersed in a darker environment and has a counter similar to a pub. In taking a quick look at the menu, one immediately realizes that the prices are good and the quality is excellent, in particular in regards to ganja. Furthermore, the cashiers are fast and friendly and allow you to pay either in cash or with the card. The restaurant is, therefore, a trendy place but, at the same time informal, where a tourist can talk quietly with his neighbor, enjoy the view of the canal, or simply enjoy a joint while sipping coffee. The only flaw of the coffeeshop: the smoking room is not too big; it is, therefore, advisable to go there in the morning or late afternoon.
In the West, in the Overtoom district, the real gem is the Kashmir Lounge. Jan Pieter Heijestraat’s coffeeshop is immediately recognizable from its stylish environment. Once inside, in fact, you find yourself in a sort of bar-bazaar, colored by its furnishings and decorations yet, at the same time, immersed in darkness. The product offer is very wide and the prices are absolutely affordable, for both hashish and marijuana. After buying, you can then decide whether to smoke near the counter, where there are chairs and a few tables, in a small colored room overlooking a garden, or directly at the tables in front of the entrance. But that’s not all: if you want to smoke in a bigger place, you just need to cross the street, where the Kashmir Lounge Bar is located, a ‘smoking friendly bar’ open to allow customers to eat, drink and smoke ganja at the same time.
The Stud is definitely an essential stop: located in Oost, a beautiful area that many tourists may not know or have visited superficially. The entrance is striking for its strong brightness, deriving from the massive use of white color. The menu is extensive, the quality excellent, the prices good, and the service fast and kind. The place does not stand out for anything in particular but for those wishing for an alternative tasting, off the usual routes, it would certainly be worth a stop. The smoking room, in the back, is composed of two small communicating rooms, equipped with shared sofas, plasma TVs and Ajax shirts hanging on the walls. The place is mostly frequented by locals and our experience was excellent with them: we were welcomed as if one of them.
Moving towards the center-east, at Roeterstraat, Weesperplein, one of the 9 oldest coffeeshops in Amsterdam is located: Het Ballonetje. In addition to being active since 1978, the ‘balloon’ is also found in one of Amsterdam’s greenest neighborhoods, 5 minutes from the Weesperplein metro station, the Artis Zoo, and the University of Amsterdam. Once inside, you find yourself in front of a narrow corridor leading to the cash register, where you can see a great variety of products, an excellent quality-price ratio, and very friendly service. After purchasing, visitors can access a pretty wooden room with shared tables, a bar and a window overlooking the street. However, if the location is not intimate enough, you can always look for a little relaxation upstairs, where another small smoking room is located.
Another place that risks not being appreciated as much as it should is the La Tertulia of Prisengracht, located just 10 minutes from the Anne Frank house. The restaurant, in fact, does not have a sign that identifies it as a coffeeshop and therefore, for a tourist, it is not easy to identify. However, once found, one cannot but be fascinated by this place. The first thing that strikes you is the colorful outer wall, where customers can sit at tables, consume drinks and smoke while admiring the opposite canal. Even the interior of the restaurant is a pleasant surprise. The atrium is crowded with plants while, on the right, a staircase gives access to a small room. Once arrived at the counter, located on a lower floor, the real peculiarity of La Tertulia emerges. In fact, the restaurant is run exclusively by women, who run it like a delicious tobacco cafe. After the customer has perused the menu, the cashiers take the goods from large bags placed under the coffee machine and, after having delivered it, serve the drinks directly to the table. Furthermore, although the place is very popular, the service is fast and the owners very helpful, the prices are fair and you can pay with cash and credit.
The 1e Hulp of Marnixstraat, is a stone’s throw from Jordaan and De 9 Straatjes. The sign and façade do not have distinctive features but, once entered, you feel at home. The cash desk room on the ground floor is very colorful and, taking a look at the menu, one remains astonished in front of the enormous variety of products that the house has on offer. The name of the coffeeshop has to do with the “medical” orientation of the proposed herbs and hashish, common amongst those who consume for therapeutic purposes. The prices are not very low but the service is fast and very friendly and the quality is excellent. Once you have passed a glass door, you have two options: go to a quiet, informal room downstairs or go upstairs, in what looks like a raised lounge. If you choose the second option, you will find yourself in a sort of private room, with soft lighting, shared sofas, paintings with bright colors and chilled music. The upstairs room is therefore relaxing and pleasant: you can smoke, have a drink, listen to music, talk or simply admire the colorful surroundings. The restaurant is, therefore, like a private room at a disco or a modern discopub. By letting yourself be lulled by the soft musical vibrations, you can really spend a few hours in tranquility.
The last coffeeshop of our guide is the Centraal, located in Prins Hendrikkade, a stone’s throw from Centraal Station. Although it lacks the dimensions, and therefore the comfort, of the other 9 coffeeshops the venue can boast an enviable feature: it is the closest to the station and one of the few open by 7 AM, providing an incredible opportunity for all the tourists who arrive at the station in the morning and don’t want to wander. Once inside, you find yourself in a small and claustrophobic environment with a few chairs, a few tables, and a chest. Quality and prices are excellent, but the service is behind many people, and therefore is not overly attentive to “customer care”. In conclusion, the Centraal is more useful than beautiful coffeeshop; attending Centraal in the afternoon means going against a huge crowd, which often extends outside the door. It is therefore advisable to go and visit it in the morning when, in addition to avoiding the crowds, you also have a good chance of finding a place to sit.