A city break in Amsterdam is as chilled out an affair as its cafés. Want to ogle Vermeer and Van Gogh? They hang out in the Rijkmuseum. Fancy floating through riotously hued flowers? Between March and May, Keukenhof’s gardens are carpeted with tulips. Looking for a leather… Um, never mind.
However, when it comes to getting Neder-slammed, the list of Amsterdam’s best bars is as long as the Dutch word for ‘planning a children’s carnival procession’ (kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamhedenplan – trust us, it’s easier to pronounce after a few cocktails). Highly regarded bar Door 74 is a strong contender for the top slot, so we spoke to their award-winning mixologist Kevin Kroon to find out what Holland’s cool kids are drinking and where…
Proost, Kevin! So, how does Amsterdam’s bar scene stand out?
Amsterdam’s bar scene is like a small town where everybody knows everyone else. It’s something quite special; we’re a real community, and we hang out together and support each other. It helps that most bars are within walking distance of each other, so it’s easy to pop in and say hi, and – more often than not – stay for a drink.
Speaking of, which is Door 74’s most-ordered cocktail?
Some favourites stick around even after we switch menus (which has happened a few times over seven years of serving). The Meet Me in the Struggle Buggy is one; it’s palate-challenging, but uses familiar ingredients: a fruity gin (usually Biercée) blended with passionfruit, chili pepper, lime and ginger ale. It’s got a refreshing zing to it.
Sounds great, we’ll take five. Are there any drinks you discourage, and why?
Not really. As a bartender, your job is to look after your guest. However, certain drinks connect you to a certain time and place, for example a mojito on a beach break. We can make a mojito, but we prefer to rework those flavours into something new, better suited to the bar’s environment, because you can’t recapture that first impression without sunshine and a warm breeze. The same goes for a Manhattan accompanied by live jazz. We call this the ‘souvenir effect’ and try and steer guests away from it, if we can.
Got it – so what should we order? Especially if we don’t give a damn about the hangover…
I’m a huge fan of tiki drinks – a Zombie is one of my favourites. It has the longest list of ingredients; every bartender has his own recipe, but mine has between 19 and 23 elements, depending on my mood! I won’t serve it to everyone, but it’s delicious, with five types of rum and myriad other spirits. I love tiki bars, too – they offer an escape from the daily grind, and transport people somewhere tropical. Tiki bars are a great place to discover new rums too, alongside other fascinating ingredients, such as home-made syrups or strange tropical fruits.
We’re already packing our teeny umbrellas. So, if we’re still standing after a couple of Zombies, what other on-trend tipples should we look out for?
I love discovering new fortified wines. Madeira is a great cocktail ingredient; its long flavour pairs well with any kind of spirit.
Noted. What’s your maddest cocktail creation? We’re fans of the salt-beef sazerac at the Town Hall Hotel’s Peg + Patriot bar. Have you created anything equally avant garde?
One of the award-winning cocktails we created for the Cointreau best bar team competition was a drink with duck-liver pâté and orange confiture. It sounds odd but a lot of guests loved it. Savoury drinks can work really well, as long as you keep the flavours balanced.
Congratulations on your World Class Club award – how does a bartender become award-winning? And what’s the next award in your crosshairs?
To become really great at bartending and win something like World Class, experience helps. Develop your own style and an encyclopaedic knowledge of spirits and recipes. It’s no different to any other competitive field – attention to detail and practice are important. After winning the World Class Dutch final, I competed in the world final in Miami. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, but it wasn’t easy; over the course of the competition I designed and created more than 60 different cocktails.
Let’s move on from behind-the-bar craziness – what debauchery have you witnessed in Door 74?
What happens in the Door stays in the Door (ed. – boo, no fair…), but I can tell you that tourists in Amsterdam often treat it like Vegas, we’re one of Europe’s ‘sin cities’ and you definitely catch people misbehaving now and again.
What’s been your favourite night at the bar, and why?
The night I met my fiancée Libby at Door. It was my second week there, and I had a strange urge that night to do something a bit more spectacular than usual. Her brother ordered that night’s special, a tiki drink with pineapple and rum. I threw some powdered sugar on top then set it alight – it creates an amazing burnt-sugar smell that really enhances the drink. However, I may have added a little too much, because the fire was a bit larger than I’d planned. It worked in my favour; Libby remembered me every time she returned to the bar.
We’ll keep that trick in mind next time we crank up Tinder. Let’s talk food: what bar snacks keep you coming back?
I may be biased, but I think we have great suppliers at Door 74. I’m a big fan of our large queen olives and nut selection. In terms of hot snacks, the beef skewers and dumplings at Porem bar are unbelievable, and the chicken wings from Regular and Jack are also really good.
Thanks Kevin! Ready your shaker, we’ll be swinging by Door 74 very soon. We’ll also be taking a swig at these highly recommended Amsterdam spots…
KEVIN’S TOP FIVE BARS IN AMSTERDAM
This is one of my favourite hideouts. It’s really small, but the bartenders here are amazing, and because of the size, you can always chat to them and ask them for drink recommendations. They have a strong menu, with widely varying flavours, so there’s something for everyone.
2 Mystique Amsterdam
This is both a great bar and restaurant, and there’s also a – my favourite – tiki bar downstairs! Plus, there’s a small secret bar on the top floor, filled with some of the best whiskies in the world.
3 Tales and Spirits
This is an amazing bar with good food. Visit on a Sunday afternoon, when they serve their weekly punch. They also have a small boutique next to the bar, if you want a souvenir or two.
4 Wynand Fockink
One of the oldest bars in town, Wynand Fockink have their own distillery next door. They serve a range of unusual liqueurs, with great names like Hansje in de Kelder (Hansel in the basement).
5 Calle Ocho
This bar has the same opening times as Door 74, but here there’s a Caribbean kitchen and a great range of Mexican spirits. It’s the place to go to rekindle your romance with tequila or mezcal
Featured image is Door 74