“Are you coming for sex or drugs, sir?” It’s what they used to ask you at customs as you came into Amsterdam. No, of course they didn’t. Don’t be ridiculous, but they might as well have as they were the two main reasons anyone went from the UK to Amsterdam back in the day.
Yes, there are picturesque canals and the world’s finest collection of Van Gogh paintings and the Anne Frank House to remind you that horror can happen even on very pretty streets and tasty doughnut-style street food called Oliebollen but back when sex and drugs were hard to come by in Britain, that was the main appeal of Amsterdam: sex clubs, where you could actually have sex right there on the premises without fear of arrest or exposure in the Sunday papers, and cafés where you could openly smoke a joint or have a space cake as if you were a grown up person in charge of their own lives.
Now that you can have sex in any number of clubs in the UK and hash is as readily available as cucumbers, why would anyone go to Amsterdam apart from the canals, the Van Goghs and oliebollen (we just like saying it)? For the hip hotels, maybe? The Hoxton, which opened a couple of years ago, or, if you have Beyoncé levels of cash to spend, The Dylan. Or, if you’re really clever and know what you’re talking about, the brand new Kimpton De Witt.
The first surprise about the Kimpton if you’ve swished in on Eurostar (and you really should swish in on the new Eurostar route as you don’t even realise the hack of air travel until you don’t have to do it, especially as it means you can swish with a suitcase full of your own booze, which you can even consume en route) is that it’s actually within walking distance of the station.
Our second surprise, seeing as we’d spent the journey watching Killing Eve is that the entire cast and crew of Killing Eve 2 are staying there and yet we still bag a junior suite in the attic so gorgeous with its free-standing bath, geometric tiling and pinpoint design that all the Van Goghs and oliebollen in town have to work damn hard to get us to leave it.
Then there’s the Kimpton group’s genius wine hour, where hotel guests are invited to step down to the spacious lobby and enjoy free wines of varying colours while they chat to each other. It might sound cringe to shy Brits but you actually do drink and do chat to the most unlikely characters who you can then say hello to in the lifts for the rest of your stay. Or in the restaurant, which is so hard to get into in the evening, you should book your table when you book your room. We can’t tell you how many people we saw turned away. We even had to sit up at the bar ourselves, and we have contacts.
Outside of the Kimpton, if you make it, you are in the downtown of those picturesque canals. Yes, there’s an H&M/Cos shopping district just round the back and some dodgy kebab joints, coffee houses and red-lit windows with grannies sitting on bar stools in bra and panties over there, but walk five minutes, maybe ten and you’re in Jordaan (ask your Uber driver for a cinema called The Movies), an area of independent shops and restaurants – so refreshing to Brits whose every high street is littered with the same combination of Boots, WHSmiths and
Costa Coffees – and, De Piijp, where you walk along canals to find little outdoor food markets and quirky little design stores.
Go to somewhere like Soho if you want a more regular night out with music and drinking and flirting, while the coffee shops where they’ll sell you hash to roll and puff right there on the premises are everywhere. But don’t think you can smoke an ordinary fag in there, mind.