Video: Amsterdam Nightlife

The Red Light District

No trip would be complete without at the very least a stroll through the Red Light District.  Before I begin, I’m going to say up front that I didn’t pay for any prostitutes.  Thought about it.  But didn’t.

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The Red Light District was relatively difficult to find at first because we weren’t totally clear on the “area” that all the guidebooks were telling us.  So when we arrived at a side street with only 4 or 5 windows, I was at first not all impressed and thinking to myself, “THIS is it?”  Then we turned the corner.

Up and down the canal were dozens and dozens of women in glowing red windows.  Interspersed with the actual prostitutes were several theaters showing weird sex shows.  The prices from what I understand are about 50 euros for 15 minutes, 100 euros for 30 minutes, and so on and so forth.  The price is however negotiated beforehand and varies based on the race, age, etc. of the prostitute.  Obviously taking pictures is a huge risk so I really couldn’t get that many photos in.

My biggest overall reactions/takeaways from the stroll through the Red Light District were this:

1) I was surprised at how clean it was.  Don’t get me wrong, plenty of dirty shit was going down on that street behind the curtains.  But in terms of walking around, I absolutely thought it was going to be like Bourbon Street in New Orleans — dirty, smell of vomit and beer, drunk people sloppily all over the place, lots of noise.   It was quite the opposite; it was clean, everyone was pretty reserved, and there was a general understanding of “don’t be that douche” atmosphere in the air.

2) The prostitutes were actually not that unattractive.  I’m not sure why I was picturing that they would all be relatively gross, but in general, these women were all pretty good looking.

Club Escape

For a more traditional night out, I would highly recommend Club Escape in Rembrandt Square.  Again, this was a suggestion from the bartenders at NJOY and it didn’t disappoint (though amusingly our first impression was one of “What the fuck?” because there was security guard putting a headlock on a clubber immediately as we walked through the metal detector).  The night we were there it was a 16 euro cover and the party really got going around 12:30 AM.

I’m not a huge clubbing guy, but this place makes it almost impossible not to have a good time.  The main electronic dance music hall (EDM) featured a phenomenally good female vocalist and saxophonist (be sure to scroll down to watch more video of those two) who performed center stage in the middle of the club.  It was awesome.  The music was a great mix of classic 90’s dance tunes, modern EDM, and a bit of 80’s hip hop thrown in.  There’s also a side, smaller room upstairs that’s dedicated purely to hip hop. (Note: depending on what’s on the line-up each particular evening these types of music are subject to change obviously).  And aside from the dude who got thrown out when we first came in, the crowd was the right amount of enthusiastic, but not out of control.  Club Escape’s a great place to go until the wee hours of the morning.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s easy to say that I’ve had a pretty good year of traveling in 2015 and my final trip of the year started off with a weekend in Amsterdam and then a week in Tuscany/Florence.  Amsterdam has always been on my bucket list and this city offers far more than its deviant reputation of the Red Light District and legal marijuana.  It boasts several amazing museums, canals and bridges that arguably trump those in Venice, and a great nightlife.  And it is all very doable in a 3-4 day weekend.

Our trip didn’t start off too well however.  I won’t get too much into the details so I’ll truncate it a bit.  First off, don’t fly United Airlines internationally.   Just don’t.   Secondly, if you’re going to use AirBnB be aware of a few things.  1) Their help numbers didn’t work when I tried to reach them in an emergency.  2) If you book an apartment through AirBnB, be sure that the apartment you’re choosing has been thoroughly reviewed positively.   It should have at least 15 reviewers give it a thumbs up.  We rolled the dice on a place and let’s just say our first morning of Amsterdam constituted of an unguided walking tour of the city with our luggage.  (In the end, we got into the apartment we rented, but it was completely unprepared, dirty, and smelly and the apologetic owner claimed that she had cancelled her AirBnB account the week prior…)

After that unfortunate morning, we put aside our frustration because we were set to explore.  The first thing you’ll notice in the city is how big of a biking culture it is.  I’ve never seen so many people on bikes in my life.  Be sure to be careful on the sidewalk, because unlike in the US, the bike lanes are part of the sidewalk and not the street, so if you stroll into one, you will most likely get in the way of the cyclists.

Getting around the city center is easy by walking and almost all of the locals speak impeccable English.  With words like “flüggåәnkб€čhiœßølįên” (for you EuroTrip fans) you’d think getting around Amsterdam would be more challenging, but the Dutch are all very fluent in English (at least the ones we met) and it came close to feeling like we weren’t even in Europe at various points because of how comfortable we felt.

 

One other thing we were told is this, and you should know it going into your trip.  GET ALL TICKETS IN ADVANCE.  It’ll save you a ton of time waiting in line for the museums.  They offer package deals as well that include various combinations of canal rides and museums that I would highly recommend you take advantage of to save some money.  Also, apparently the locals don’t go out on the weekends because they don’t like dealing with tourists, so their “going out” nights are Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Here are a few of the things we did on the first day:

Heineken Experience

This is worth checking out, especially if you’re a beer drinker who’s done a few brewery tours in the U.S.  This is like a U.S. brewery tour on steroids.  No need to get an audio guide because the whole thing is in English.  The tour itself begins with a pretty standard history of Heineken, the beer making process, and then a tasting.  Then it gets a little wild.  First you go on a “Star Tours” like ride where you’re in a room that moves and sprays mist and stuff at you while a movie plays showing the beer making process as if you were in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”.  Then you walk through an Epcot Center like multimedia chamber with all sorts of random games, light things, music, etc.  The end of the tour consists of a lounge area that looks like a nightclub where you can get two fresh, cold Heinekens as part of your ticket fee.  Be sure to check out the tables with the electronic table tops.  You’ll notice that wherever you set your beer, an electronic “coaster” pops up underneath it.

NJOY Cocktail Bar
Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 93
1017 PX Amsterdam, Netherlands

Be sure to grab a drink at NJOY.  We actually just chose this place randomly to get a quick drink before exploring for the evening and it paid off.  First off, the drinks were amazing.  Expensive, but amazing.  If you’re lucky enough to get the bartender we had, order an Envy (it’ll be a flaming cognac drink) or a “Rum Old Fashioned” which isn’t on the menu but a libation that our guy put together himself.  Secondly, the bar looked like it was owned by Prince.  Everything was in purple.  For the people in DC, imagine if Little Miss Whiskey’s on H Street was actually a classy place — that’s NJOY.  What really set the place apart though was the staff.  The staff were friendly and sociable enough, but what put them over the top was that they went out of their way to put together a full two page list of things we needed to see, do, where to eat, drink, etc.  And we utilized this list to a great degree throughout the trip and never came across anything on it that wasn’t a very good experience including where we went to dinner afterwards…

Castell BAR-becue Restaurant
Lijnbaansgracht 252-253-254
1017 RK Amsterdam, Netherlands

Which brings me to Castell.  In general, Danish food isn’t anything to write home about.  In fact, they love American hamburgers in Amsterdam so much, there was practically a burger joint on every block.  But this place Castell could arguably be the best meal of the trip (it was definitely my buddy’s favorite, though I reserve my favorite for a Tuscan place I’ll blog about later on).  The place was packed when we got in, so make a reservation.  We just happened to be lucky enough to grab two open seats at the bar.  Castell has a dive bar vibe, but at the same time hip, trendy and classy.  The bar area ended up being pretty awesome because it had really, really comfortable bar chairs, and the counter was cushioned on the end to put your elbows on comfortably.  The steaks, oh my god the steaks.  Perfectly done.  Can’t say anything else about it, just perfect.  Now admittedly, we were drunk when we ate here, but I’m fairly confident the food is amazing there no matter what condition you’re in.

Next up: I’ll get into what Amsterdam is notorious for — The Red Light District.