Amsterdam may be world famous for canals, skinny gabled buildings and top flight museums, but it's the liberal attitudes to things deemed slightly dubious in other places that brings many to the city. As far as the last category is concerned, the Amsterdam Red Light District has evolved into a siren street carnival that almost every visitor to Amsterdam strolls through at least once during their trip.
But what if you want a quality cocktail in and around the Red Light District? Well, there's no question that you have to sift through some tourist traps to find the fresh-shaken gems, but in the end, that makes it all the more worthwhile. To make your search a little easier, here are some of the best bars near the Amsterdam Red Light District, all within just a few minutes' walk.
Hiding behind an unassuming door on the Geldersekade - and with no evidence whatsoever that a bar exists behind it besides a small and shiny sign adorned with the word Porem - lies a serene world of world class cocktails just steps from the craziness of the Red Light District. Porem is both smart and stylish, yet still a comfortable space to sip drinks created by a staff with years of experience in the Amsterdam cocktail scene. The 15 Minute Limit I sampled was a rosy and subtly tart mix of bourbon, jenever, cognac and raspberry while the El Jefe deliciously pushed the envelope with smoky mezcal, lime, banana and white beer, with the latter offering just the perfect bit of effervescence. While there is a bit of a hidden entrance, Porem is not a speakeasy per say, it's just simply a great cocktail bar that's fun to find.
Tales & Spirits
Long the 'capital of the cocktail' in Amsterdam, Tales & Spirits resides on a cobblestoned alley just a few minutes' walk from the Red Light District, but offers the ultimate antithetical experience. Anchored by dangling chandeliers and exposed brick, Tales & Spirits presents guests with a stunning cocktail menu painstakingly filled to the edges with variations of classic concoctions like the Old Fashioned, alongside custom cocktails found nowhere else in town. The house classics are can't-miss delicious while also being budget friendly and the highly recommended T & S Favourites are essentially a 'greatest hits' of the best specials since they opened their doors. One example, the Smoke and Mirrors, dazzles the eye and the nose with vodka, vermouth, dry Curaçao, and strawberry-basil shrub, all presented under a cloud of rosemary smoke.
In ‘T Aepjen
In the absolute eye of the Red Light District hurricane, In ‘T Aepjen is located in one of only two remaining wooden buildings in the entire city. Dating from the 1500s, a bar on the premises used to be a favorite haunt of sailors, and the alleged story behind the name is that sailors would sometimes bring back monkeys from their exotic voyages to pay for their room. Whether or not that's entirely true is up for debate, but what isn't up for debate is that In T' Aepjen pays an homage to this era with dark brown woods, antique ape statues, antique bottles, and barrels of true Dutch character that can no doubt be lacking on some of the surrounding streets.
Nestled down a tiny alley directly off the jam-packed Oudezijds Voorburgwal - one of the brightest buzzing and busiest of the Red Light District's neon streets - Wynand Focknick is a historic tasting room dedicated to Holland's signature liquor: jenever. Dating back to the 1600s, the atmosphere of Wynand Focknick is definitely 'Old Amsterdam' yet still manages to be a very lively place, as glasses of the traditional Dutch tipple in many flavors are poured over and over again to an eager crowd full of tourists and Amsterdammers. Jenever is distilled and sold on-site, and don't be surprised if you find yourself leaving with a bottle or two as souvenir for your trip.
Written by Scott Hartbeck
Brought to you by Havana Club