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Amsterdam's top 10 cocktail bars

Words by Simon Difford

Amsterdam has long had a well-developed cocktail scene and this a grown exponentially in recent years. It used to be that all the good bars were in the centre of town but as bartenders started finding cheaper properties to open their own places, so good bars now scatter the city map.

Timo and Tess, our representatives in the Netherlands have compiled a comprehensive list of all the cocktail bars in Amsterdam but the following concentrates on my own top 10 favourites in the centre of town – actually 11 because I’ve slipped a members’ only bar in.

Door 74
Difford’s Guide rating: 4.5/5
Reguliersdwarsstraat 74, Rembrandtplein, Amsterdam, 1017

Hidden away behind an unmarked door, Door 74 follows the speakeasy theme so this former garage workshop now boasts what is purported to be Holland's first pressed-tin 1920s-style ceiling which hangs over secluded leather booth seating and an impressively stocked bar that seats ten. The extensive cocktail list is updated four times a year and if that were not enough, there is a cocktail of the day to choose from.

Being a pseudo-speakeasy you have to ring before 8pm and reserve a table on the day you plan to visit. And once outside there is no actual number on door 74 or much else to indicate that what looks like an abandoned shop is, in fact, a bar. Look for the “fietsen worden verwijderd” (meaning 'bicycles are removed) notice in the window and ring the bell to the left.

JD William's Whisky Bar
Difford’s Guide rating: 4/5
Prinsenstraat 5, Jordaan neighbourhood, 1015 DA Amsterdam
A self-proclaimed “speciality bar that focuses on whisky, whisky cocktails and gourmet Asian-inspired food.” That “focus” is pretty wide but add to that a great beer offering and a very relaxed, unpretentious two-tone café bar-like interior and JD William's has something to appeal to most. However, the name says “Whisky Bar” and the chalkboard menu boasts a wide selection of Scotch single malts, Japanese and American whiskies. The classic cocktails take a while to arrive but are balanced and well-made.

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Flying Dutchman
Difford’s Guide rating: 4.5/5
Singel 460, 1017 AW Amsterdam
Separate two but housed in the entrance to Supperclub, in a room that was the coat check, is a very special little bar by Tess Posthumus and Timo Janse, two of the most famous of Dutch bartenders who also represent Difford’s Guide in the Netherlands. Great bartenders attract other great bartenders so even if they are not there, standards remain high with great service and balanced drinks served in an intimate room.

The Dutchman may be small (just 35 or so seats) but it boasts a huge spirits selection and one of the best cocktail menus in town with drinks categorised “walk”, “run” and “fly”. The ice-cream drinks are crowd-pleasers and the “Bittered Rum” drinks superb, particularly the Fat Tire (Bacardi 8, Barcelo Imperial rum, Nandini amaro, orange juice and pineapple juices). However, the Flying Dutchman Cocktail remains the must-have drink.

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Hiding in Plain Sight
Difford’s Guide rating: 4.5/5
18 Rapenburg 18 (corner Peperstraat), 1011 TX Amsterdam

With the proliferation of speak-easy-style bars popping up in cities around the world, HPS has a moniker that might suggest such a venue. However, it indeed stands in Plain Sight on the corner of Rapenburg and Peperstraat with its tables falling out onto the street. What makes it hidden is its location in the far eastern side of Amsterdam's Old Centre, safely away from the tourists in a sleepy residential back street, across the other side of a bridge over a picturesque canal.

While HPS is not hidden, it's interior (with bare wooden floors, high tables downstairs and slouchy leather sofa seating upstairs) and cocktails are more in line with what you'd expect from a speak-easy. The excellent cocktail menu changes regularly but rarely disappoints. Classics are also lovingly executed.

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Pulitzer’s Bar
Difford’s Guide rating: 5/5
Pulitzer Hotel, Keizersgracht 234, 1016 DZ Amsterdam

This eponymously named bar sits within the Pulitzer Hotel but has its own entrance on Keizersgracht at the back of the hotel. The bar occupies a gaggle of small high ceilinged darkly painted rooms giving it a homely domesticated feel. At the time of our visit (May 2019) the excellent cocktail menu followed the story of Ernest Hemingway with each drink representing events in the great man’s life. Cocktails, both signature and classic are beautifully presented and faultless. As is the service.

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Soho House Amsterdam (member’s only)
Difford’s Guide rating: 4.5/5
Spuistraat 210, 1012 VT, Amsterdam

Being a members’ club, strictly speaking, it should not appear on this list. However, we’ve slipped Soho House in as our 11th entry in our ‘top 10’ due to our liking its 5th-floor bar so much. This Dutch outpost of the global group is set in an architecturally important 1930s art-deco building with Soho House signature homely décor, a roof terrace complete with pool and views of the city, not to mention really tasty cocktails – some of the best we sampled in Amsterdam.

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Super Lyan
Difford’s Guide rating: 4.5/5
Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 3, 1012 RC Amsterdam, Netherlands

This Dutch outpost of Mr Lyan (also see Lyaness) sits to the left of and is connected to Kimpton De Witt Hotel smack in central Amsterdam. The pink neon-lit horseshoe-shaped bar that greats is part of a bold interior style juxtaposing modern and traditional.

As you’d expect from the Lyan family, the cocktails push boundaries but are flawlessly executed and simply but elegantly presented. The draught Bay Cosmo is light and almost fluffy, the Pearl Diver is buttery smooth, the Clover Club Royal marries champagne, citric acid with nutty raspberry whey syrup, while and the Negroni is reassuringly boozy. However, the main attraction is a ginger cat called Robin!

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The Tailor
Difford’s Guide rating: 4.5/5
Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, Dam 9, 1012 JS Amsterdam

A very civilised upmarket but relaxed bar off the lobby of the 5-star Hotel Krasnapolsky on Dam Square, smack in the centre of Amsterdam. Long tan leather communal sofas lie back to back up dissecting the dimly lit room in two with low round tables and generously proportioned chairs. The leather stools that line the bar are also voluptuous and surely the most comfortable in the city. Settle in for a well-conceived list of signature cocktails plus well-made classics on request.

Tales & Spirits Cocktail Bar & Restaurant
Difford’s Guide rating: 4.5/5
Lijnbaanssteeg 5-7 (on an alley btwn Singel (at No.85) & Spui (at No.60)), Amsterdam, 1012 TE

Set at the end of Oude Nieuwstraat, the main street in the Singelgebied Red Light District, T&S is a very different type of boudoir to its neighbours. Step inside, through the black drapes, and you are greeted by an intimate space with impressive chandeliers, antique cabinets, high tables and a chilled vibe. T&S was ranked 31st in the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2018 and has earnt its high regard with a combined food and drink offering allows you to craze on plates of food late into the night (one hour before closing).

The wooden bound cocktail menu allows each drink to tell its tale – literally, hence the bar’s name. Drinks are classic in their inspiration but very contemporary in their execution, many served with a good deal of theatre. Beware, a mere 38 seats (plus 24 outside weather allowing) and a no standing policy combined with its reputation mean you should make a reservation or be prepared to wait patiently.

Bar Twenty Seven
Difford’s Guide rating: 5+/5
Hotel TwentySeven, Dam 27, 1012 JS Amsterdam

This bijou high-end cocktail bar nestles on the 3rd floor of a historic and architecturally important building overlooking Dam Square. From the warm welcome to the back-lit onyx fronted bar, this elegant bar designed by Wim van de Oudeweetering oozes quality. TwentySeven is not just one of the best looking bars in Amsterdam, thanks to Eric van Beek, winner of Bacardí Legacy 2018, it also boasts some of the best cocktails. Try his winning Legacy cocktail but also try the mini cocktails – brilliantly executed gulp-sized renditions of classics.

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Vesper Bar
Difford’s Guide rating: 4/5
Vinkenstraat 57, Jordaan, 1013 JM Amsterdam

Located in the residential Jordaan area, between the Haarlemmerdijk shopping district and Brouwersgracht, this corner neighbourhood bar has established itself as a drink's industry must visit due to its drinks and relaxed local’s bar atmosphere. Named after Vesper Lynd, according to Ian Fleming's Casino Royale the only woman James Bond truly loved, it is fitting that Bond memorabilia not only dot the walls and shelves of this bar, but the cocktail Bond named in her memory heads up the well-written cocktail menu.

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