Amsterdam, to go or not to go? Hands down, GO! —INGRAIN, Winter/Spring 2020
STORY / Erika Wojno
It’d been a few years since my first visit (since college, if you’re counting), and the only thing I’d heard about Amsterdam recently was that I had to make a stop there. I used the capital of the Netherlands as the kickoff to a quick six-day European jaunt, dedicating two nights to the city known for its beautiful canals, efficient cyclists, “coffee” shops, and of course, the Red Light District.
After an uphill battle with public transportation (don’t ask*), I made my way to my hotel, located on the oost, or east side, of the city. I dropped my bags and dove right into the city. I quickly found myself perusing the canal belt. With its beautiful bridges and the classic canal houses, it’s hard to not enjoy the picturesque scenery surrounding every turn. Not far from Centrum (Amsterdam’s city center) is the Rijksmuseum (Museumstraat 1), the largest art museum in the country. Although I skipped a tour due to my short visit, it’s worth walking around the area. When approaching, you’ll be greeted by one of Louise Bourgeois’s giant spider sculptures as well as by local buskers.
From here, I walked down Kerkstraaat, a street in one of the city’s popular LGBT+ neighborhoods. Many buildings have living walls, there are rainbow pennants beautifully strung above the street, and you’ll be greeted by the smell of cannabis (legal in the city).
Next, I headed over to Singel Street, which runs alongside the canal, to check out the many stalls selling the city’s famous tulips and cheese.
But I had little time to linger over Rembrandt tulips and Gouda. I was on a mission, determined to find some fresh seafood and oysters at a restaurant called Stork (Gedempt Hamerkanaal 201). To get there, you’ll need to take the ferry to Noord, a neighborhood separated from the city center by a body of water, like Brooklyn. (It’s a short trip and worth it—and free!) It’s a very walkable area filled with warehouses and shipping containers repurposed into a multitude of structures, including home additions and art pop-ups. After winding through the streets, I arrived at Stork, a great place to relax and look out at the river while enjoying your fresh fish. If they are in season, get the plump and incredibly briny French oysters to start; they were quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. As it was fall, the weather was wet and chilly, and the brothy mussels with clams that followed were just what I needed to continue my mission.
Insider tip: Don’t forget to pack your lightweight rain jacket!
Unbeknownst to me, Stork is located adjacent to one of Amsterdam’s most popular local breweries, Oedipus (Gedempt Hamerkanaal 85). This isn’t the place to find traditional Belgian styles; the brewery is heavily influenced by American craft beer. The ales and lagers included many dry-hopped beers brewed with hops we commonly see in the United States. After landing on the Oedipus pilsner and sampling several other beers, I ended up in conversation with brewer Nathan Swulinski, who kindly showed me around the brewery. What struck someone like me who works for a brewery back in the States was the relatively small brewing space, which was filled with barrels and a coolship (a vessel used during spontaneous fermentation to cool the wort). Nathan sent me on my way with a bottle of their latest “wild microbe” ale. The brewery sourced the yeast used for fermentation with the help of ARTIS-Micropia (a local museum dedicated to microbes) and the Amsterdam Royal Zoo (Plantage Kerklaan 38-40). Together, they found suitable Saccharomyces yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria in the zoo’s fruit garden.
After the brewery visit, I caught the ferry and returned to Centrum to hit Het Elfde Gebod (Zeedijk 5), a craft bar with a wide variety of European beers. I shared my recently acquired bottle with the bartender (always share when traveling!) and in turn was treated to various tastes of dubbels, witbiers, and tripels, before moseying the couple of miles back to Hotel Arena (’s-Gravesandestraat 55).
*It’s not that public transit is so challenging in Amsterdam; it’s actually very efficient. You just need to read and pay attention to the signs. (The symbols for trains and trams and buses all look quite similar to the newcomer, so it wasn’t entirely my fault.) Soon, you’ll find your way and realize that the easily accessible trams are your friend.
Determined to see more, I grabbed a quick bite and walked east of my hotel. The first objective: popping into We Are Vintage (Kinkerstraat 193) along Eerste Van Swindenstraat to see what a thrift store off the beaten path had to offer. The shop is unpretentious and has an eclectic selection of trendy vintage wearables that are typically less expensive than some of the more frequented stores in the city center. I must have bought myself about five bandannas before continuing along the street to find Dapper Markt (Dapperstraat), an open-air emporium with everything from lamb kebabs, produce, and bulk nuts to clothing.
Afterward, I checked out Brouwerij ’t IJ (Funenkade 7), which is maybe the oldest craft brewery in Amsterdam. It’s famous for both the old windmill adjacent to the brewery as well as Ijwit, a fantastic full-bodied wheat ale with citrus and coriander (which you’d never guess would come in at 6.5% ABV). My other favorite beer on the menu was Zatte, the first beer out of the brewery’s kettles in 1985. The bright tripel has a creamy mouthfeel and notes of fresh fruit. (Their pale ale, Flink, came in a little catty, possibly because of the use of Mosaic hops; I suggest sticking to the Belgian styles influenced by the region.) Sidenote: If you’re ever bored, call Stef, who talked to me nonstop and gave me his number (email me). He’s open to drinks if you’re in town for a visit.
After my afternoon beer, I made my way back to the Mseumkwartier. There I visited the Moco Museum (Honthorststraat 20), which is known for its contemporary collection (when I was there, the majority of art on display was by Banksy, like the gummy bear sculpture above). You don’t need much time to peruse the artwork; the museum doubles as a modern reprieve from some of the older (and beautiful) architectural facets of the city.
Winding down, I had my hopes set on going to Pesca (Rozengracht 133), the Jordaan restaurant known as “the fish theatre.” Truth be told, I was unable to weasel my way into getting a table. (Hey, shit happens when you fly standby, make no reservations, and have no idea if you’re going to make it somewhere until you’re actually there...this is the adventure of travel!) Right up the street, I found myself in Koh-i-Noor in Negen Straatjes (Westermarkt 29), a truly great little Indian spot. I ordered the tasting menu for one, which easily could have fed my date (IF I'd had one). The meal was absolutely delicious. I’d recommend ordering one of the lamb dishes, followed by the rice pudding, which boasts a hefty and delicious cardamom flavor.
After dinner, I stopped at In de Wildeman (Kolksteeg 3), which Nathan, the brewer from Oedipus, had recommended. With its variety of Belgian and Trappist-style beers, this was the traditional-style “bruin café” (it’s actually located in a former distillery) that I’d been hoping to find. As I sipped on a few different pilsners (my current style of choice) and admired the menu, I noticed that the bar even had a few Goose Island beers on the menu. One, Brewery Yard, is the tricky-to-find collaboration with beer historian Ron Pattinson and (of course) Matilda, our brewers’ take on a Belgian-style ale fermented with wild yeast.
My night ended with an Oude Jenever, the Dutch gin (neat!), before I made my way through the Red Light District and back to my hotel. All in all, definitely put Amsterdam on your bucket list. AND make a reservation for Pesca!
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