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Cafe culture: Amsterdam's 7 coolest hangouts
Nobody does it like the Dutch: Whether for late-night snacks or relaxing in the afternoon, here's where the locals chill
If you’ve been to the capital of the Netherlands, you’ve seen those joints -- the ones we want to avoid. Overpriced big plaza cafés packed with loud customers -- easy to find, but nothing to do with the real charm of Amsterdam.
If you want to meet “Amsterdammers” and experience the city’s café culture you have to look beyond the ubiquitous coffee shops and English pubs.
Think not miserable potheads and trustifarians; instead we’re on a quest for the city’s easygoing waterside terraces, singing bartenders (no, really) and high-class cocktail bars.
Here are seven favorites, out of scores across Amsterdam, that'll give you a pass to tell friends back home that you “really” visited the city and, maybe, made some friends for life.
A bonus: most of Amsterdam’s cafés offer lunch and dinner with simple, good food. There’s an excuse to order another one for the road right there.
There’s a chance you’ll be caught off guard by the co-owner of this charming suburban café.
That’s because Peter, your bartender/songwriter for the evening, tends to burst into song at the drop of a (Dutch) hat when he’s in the mood.
Figurantenbar is a small café in the popular west side of the city, a family-friendly neighborhood close to the city center and Amsterdam’s biggest green space, the Vondelpark.
Inside on any given night you’ll find regulars, locals, students, the odd Dutch celeb and pretty much whatever other variety of café-goer we failed to notice last time in its cozy recesses.
Late-night relaxing aside, Figurantenbar serves a simple lunch of toasted sandwiches (prices from around €4, US$5) every Sunday and there’s live music on a regular basis -- just don't ask the barkeep to chime in.
Figurantenbar, Rhijnvis Feithstraat 9, 1054 TT Amsterdam; +31 (0) 20 337 3529; open Monday-Thursday 4 p.m.–1 a.m., Friday-Saturday 4 p.m.–3 a.m., Sunday: noon–1 a.m.;
Walk at night in the NDSM-werf waterfront district and you can’t miss Noorderlicht because of the glow it spreads. The whole building lights up like a beacon thanks to its transparent greenhouse-like structure.
During summer days you’ll find people relaxing on the mixed grassy and sandy terrace that accommodates wooden chairs, tables, fire pits, sofas and benches.
People you’ll meet at Noorderlicht are likely to be a mix of artists, craftsmen or media types.
Noorderlicht (“Northern Light”) is situated across the IJ, the stretch of water that separates the north of Amsterdam from the rest of the city.
A free ferry runs to and from the vibrant NDSM-werf, where the café is located. Don’t worry about directions at night -- as we mentioned, this glowing spot is impossible to miss.
Noorderlicht, NDSM Plein 102, 1033 WB Amsterdam; +31 (0) 20 492 2770; open daily from 11 a.m.; www.noorderlichtcafe.nl
Hiding in Plain Sight (HPS)
Just a few canals away from the red-light district, cocktail lovers can find a classy little bar hiding -- as its name suggests -- in plain sight.
Unusual for a café or bar of this quality, HPS isn’t front and center in a buzzing part of Amsterdam, nor in a high-end hotel.
This atmospheric café will transport you back to the Roaring Twenties and make you feel like breaking out a Foxtrot ... well, maybe after a few classic drinks, such as The Walking Dead (€16) -- a flaming zombie-themed cocktail served in a glass skull.
British cocktail guru Simon Difford, founder of “Class Magazine” and diffordsguide.com awarded HPS five stars out of five, so you’ll be in good company.
HPS, Rapenburg 18, 1011 TX Amsterdam; +31 (0) 20 737 1890; open Monday-Thursday 6 p.m.-1 a.m., Friday-Saturday 6 p.m.-3 a.m.; www.hpsamsterdam.com
More on CNN: Dutch to ban foreigners from pot shops?
This Amsterdam favorite distillery was founded in 1679 by the titular Wynand Fockink and is now open to the public in a little alley at the back of the crowded Dam Square.
If you have the resolve to sidle past the Dam-ensconced crowds paying way too much for drinks, you’ll find a full range of samples on offer inside this ancient and charming building, where you can sit down and taste at your leisure.
Drinks include several kinds of handmade jenever (Dutch gin) and more liqueurs than you’ll likely find anywhere else in the capital.
Found something spicy you want to bring home? No problem -- buy a bottle at the store (liqueurs from €11 for 350 mililiters to €18 for 700 mililiters).
Don’t know what to order? There's a full tour of the distillery, with tastings along the way.
Every Saturday there's a 45-minute, English-language tour starting at 12:30 p.m.
Wynand Fockink, Pijlsteeg 31 and 43, 1012 HH Amsterdam; +31 (0) 20 639 2695; open daily 3 p.m.-9 p.m.; (distillery and shop have different opening hours, check the website); www.wynand-fockink.nl
This being Amsterdam, there’s no shortage of quality beer -- hey, Belgium’s a stone’s throw away, as well -- so it could be time to skip the Heineken (Amsterdam roots and all) in favor of another local brew.
Specialist suds seller Arendsnest (Eagle’s Nest) usually has around 30 Dutch beers on draft and more than 100 in bottles, with prices from €2.50.
You can find the café easily on a walk along the Herengracht, close to Amsterdam Central Station.
Bring a map in case navigating back to the hotel isn’t as simple after an evening “researching” Dutch culture.
Like many who love the fine art of brewing, Arendsnest's expert crew is happy to answer questions about Dutch beers and breweries.
Arendsnest, Herengracht 90, 1015 BS Amsterdam; +31 (0) 20 421 2057; open Monday-Thursday 4 p.m.-midnight, Friday 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Saturday 2 p.m.-2 a.m., Sunday 2 p.m.-midnight; www.arendsnest.nl
This relatively new café (opened in 2011) has quickly become one of Amsterdam’s most popular places to hang out any time of day.
With its 1960s-vibe, Hannekes Boom attracts mostly hipsters, designers, creative people and students.
Expect lots of V-necks, bead necklaces, pilot glasses and Birkenstocks.
It's possible to visit Hannekes Boom by boat, so you can experience the complete Amsterdam feeling on a round-trip.
Boats are for rent all across the waterfront -- www.boaty.nl hires out boats powered by "green" electricity for around €179 a day.
Hannekes Boom, Dijksgracht 4, 1019 BS Amsterdam; +31 (0) 20 419 9820; open Sunday-Thursday 10 p.m.-1 a.m., Friday-Saturday 10 p.m.-3 a.m.; www.hannekesboom.nl
De Jordaan is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Amsterdam.
It was a poor working-class district until relatively recently, which produced in a close-knit community with cozy bars, cafés and Amsterdam’s history writ large everywhere you look.
Rooie Nelis, 75 years old in 2012, its best cafés. Inside you can feel the past seeping through pictures, tablecloths, bar stools and, especially, owner Blonde Sien, who is even older than the bar.
Amsterdammers of a very different kind to those found at, for example, Hannekes Boom, drink their jenever shots alongside cold beers -- a roughly €3.80 combination called a “kopstootje.”
As the night goes on, there’s always music involved.
Sometimes happy songs, occasionally sad songs, but always songs about their beloved De Jordaan -- Amsterdam’s real beating heart.
Rooie Nelis, Laurierstraat 101, 1016 PK Amsterdam; +31 (0) 20 624 4167; open Monday-Thursday 2 p.m.-1 a.m., Friday-Saturday 2 p.m.-2 a.m., Sunday 2 p.m.-midnight; caferooienelis.com
More on CNN: Best of Amsterdam