The Hedonist: Amsterdam
Saturday 27 November 2010
The hedonism begins with a smile and strong drink. A grinning female face appears from behind a plain, black door to welcome me from the neon-infused giddiness of central Amsterdam to modern speakeasy Door74 (00 31 6 3404 5122;
Inside, there's no natural light, just gently glowing orange lamps, and the barmen wear waistcoats, bow ties and have slicked-back hair. Outside is Reguliersdwarsstraat, a strip of gay bars and townhouses known, in the bluntly jovial Dutch style, as Rue de Vaseline.
My drinking buddy and I are shown to a booth and presented with a drinks menu. When we have questions about how one drink is made, our gracious hostess calls over a barman to explain the difference between an "old-fashioned" Old Fashioned and the newer variety (which adds a splash of superfluous soda).
This slick drinking den is dedicated to the consumption of well-constructed cocktails and nothing else. The small lounge, with its large armchairs and dark wood finishes, is around a quarter full, with a dozen punters intently imbibing. A preppy Dutch couple at the next table look like they may have just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren advert. We test the talents of the mixologists for a couple of rounds, and are thus suitably fortified for dinner.
It's a hop along cobbled streets to the serenity of the Amstel River and its namesake hotel, a grandiose five-star spot that hosts Michelin-starred La Rive and its tastefully traditional dining room (00 31 20 520 3264; restaurantlarive.com). The seven-course tasting menu matched with wine won't leave much change from €200, but with that comes the guarantee that each plate brings exquisite flavours of modern European cuisine.
We opt for mains only, and my hare with quince, gingerbread and mushrooms is the kind of gamey delight that could convert a vegetarian on the spot. Ted Bunnik, possibly the most affable and unpretentious sommelier in the history of the business, offers gentle and knowledgeable guidance on wine. This is fine dining with a friendly face.
But this being Amsterdam, a night of hedonism wouldn't be complete without a dip into the murkily kitsch adult Disneyland of the red-light district. So with dinner done, we head for the old town.
The spiel from the Bananen Bar's ( bananenbar.nl) doorman promises all the booze we can quaff in an hour, for €45. Behind the bar is a raised, red, velvety banquette with five blondes sitting at beer taps. In front of them, the game: giggling patrons on bar stools.
We enter. Save for one wide-eyed couple in their twenties, all the clientele are male. The performers dish out the drinks and banter, with each one offering a different performance for €50. First to do her turn is a Dutch woman with a vibrator... We drink our hour's worth of beer, politely decline shows of our own and leave. It's a Friday, approaching midnight, and the RLD is buzzing with giggles, gasps, and garrulous banter in a dozen different languages.
Ten minutes of slightly unsteady cycling later we're in Leidseplein, another hub of hubbub. At Suzy Wong (00 31 20 626 6769; suzy-wong.nl) the décor is east meets west – a tad Parisian, but heavily done up with the atmosphere of the Orient. It's all very slickly put together, and attracts a suitably hip crowd. We sample the mojito menu, and admire the pretty people gently moving to chilled-out funk. It's a healthy slap of sophistication after the RLD, but we're edging towards the wee hours, and it's time to jump about somewhere with a stickier floor.
As we enter Melkweg (00 31 20 531 8181; melkweg.nl) there are two large rooms: hip-hop to the right, indie and big beat to the left. Amsterdam's club scene is better known for its house and techno, and spots such as Club NL (00 31 20 622 7510), Club Home (00 31 20 620 1375) and Panama (00 31 20 311 8686; panama.nl) rarely fail to deliver, the latter typically pushing on until 5am. But given our diminishing coordination, Melkweg feels a better match.
After a couple of hours of bouncing around we head off, my drinking buddy to his home, and me to the lavish loveliness of The Dylan (00 31 20 530 2010; dylanamsterdam.com), a 17th-century building on the Keizersgracht, one of the city's grandest canals.
A Hedonist's Guide to... (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com
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