Amsterdam's Leon Knoors shares how to act and eat like a local

Published On 12/13/2013 Published On 12/13/2013
Leon Knoors Act Like a Local Amsterdam
Elysia Brenner

If you’ve had a stupidly good cocktail in Amsterdam, the chances are it’s been made by The Fabulous Shaker Boys, the collective of mixologists staffing Amsterdam’s hottest bars and private parties, when not educating the drinking elite via workshops. We sat down with one of their top-level drink-smiths, Leon Knoors (who’s shaken his ‘tail-maker at hotspots around the city from Bar Italia, to Andaz Hotel, to Door 74), to walk us through his favorite things to eat, drink, and do in Amsterdam.

Cinema Paradiso

Favorite Restaurants
There are a lot of places with very good food in Amsterdam. I like the food in Cinema Paradiso, the food in BAUT, the food in Izakaya -- but these are all different. One is Italian, one is mixed, one is Japanese. What they have in common is that they’re places that, even in this time we live in, are full any day of the week. Then you know you really have a good restaurant. It’s important to have a lively atmosphere, to have nice people around you.


Cool New Restaurant
I’ve only eaten at BAUT once, but I liked it very much. It was on a Monday, and I thought, "Wow, it’s busy!" It’s very cool what they’ve done: it’s an office, you know; the owners took everything out, and they put a few tables in, very cheap, put a few napkins on them... and it’s nice, and it’s full. You can have all different kinds of international foods there.

Sebastiaan Olij

Best Lunch & Best Coffee
Mostly when it I wake up, it’s lunch time. De Wasserette has a really nice atmosphere. They do something different with their food, nice owner, busy... and they have very good coffee. It’s actually the thing most people come for. If I want coffee and I’m in the neighborhood, or I’m going to pass it, I go to De Wasserette. However, I live almost above the Coffee Company. It’s not the best, but then it’s everywhere; it’s always so close.

Bar Baarsch

Best Terrace
The terrace at Bar Baarsch in De Baarsjes is really nice. I like the couches. You can really lounge and have a good time. I like a terrace where you can just people watch while having a drink. (The crowd there is like me: working people, hospitality people.) But you can also order breakfast, have lunch, and have dinner.


Best Beer Bar
I recommend checking out the Bierfabriek. It’s really big and looks nice. Good beer, too; they make their own.

Cafe de Jordaan

Best Local Experience
In the 9 streets, the Café de Jordaan has the old Amsterdam guys really speaking "Amsterdams" dialect. It’s really cozy. Good to relax on a rainy day.

Bar Italia

Best Bar Snack
If there are bitterballen (breaded and deep-fried balls of floury meat gravy served at most Dutch cafés), it’s very nice. What’s also very nice is appertivo, which is served between 5 and 8p at Bar Italia. You order a drink, a cocktail or something, and you get an Italian buffet with it. It’s very popular in Italy. You pay, like, €5 for the food, and you can eat what you like. It’s all small Italian appetizers. "Italian tapas" is a good term for it.

SkyLounge Amsterdam

Best View
The SkyLounge at the DoubleTree Hotel has a really amazing view. The bar is pretty expensive, though. They have good products, but you pay for it. You pay for the whole experience.

Best Date Spot
If it’s nice weather, you can just sit along the Amstel river with a bottle of rosé.

Bar 22

Best Pick-Up Spot
I live at Waterlooplein, so I pick people up passing by my house. However, if you want to go to a bar, I think the easiest is Bar 22. It’s in the center, you can have a drink, and make plans for what to do afterwards. You can sit, there’s music, you can watch people. It’s easy to meet people there.

The Butcher

Best Speakeasy
The Butcher is very nice. The cocktails are great, but the concept is even better: you really are in a burger bar, and then you have to go through a fridge to get in. It’s hard to get in, though. If you’re a member, you have a name plate with a number on it, and then you can put people on a guest list.

Vesper Bar

Best Cocktail Bars
It depends on which neighborhood I’m in... If I am in the Pijp or Oud-Zuid, I go to The Butcher. But if I am somewhere in the center or on the West side, I go to Vesper. But when it is 4 or 5a, I know I can still go to Door 74. But, I have to be in the neighborhood. Otherwise it’s too much of a hassle to get in.

Favorite Cocktail
For a long time, my favorite cocktail was a Dark and Stormy. For a really long time. Then, I dunno, I got really over it. I was done with the ginger beer. Now my go-to is a Monkey and tonic. It’s like a gin and tonic, but a very good one using a new gin from Germany mixed with lavender bitters and a bit of orange zest to add refreshment. When I give a workshop, it’s what I recommend.

Chicago Social Club

Favorite Club
I like the Chicago Social Club. I go there too often. Every Thursday I think, "Oh yeah, I’ll go to Social Club." I dunno, it’s easygoing. For clubs like AIR, you need to buy a ticket sometimes a week in advance. I don’t do that. When you walk inside, you can walk straight back or go up to the mezzanine... both areas have bars. In the back is a big improv theater, Boom Chicago. It’s a good party place, especially for DJs. The sound is really good. I always bring a good pair of earplugs.

De Duvel

Best Area to Hang Out
Of course you can go to Leidseplein, but it’s very touristy. Still, you can have a lot of fun. However, I think the best place to go is the Pijp. You can do everything. There are a lot of restaurants, like the Duvel. You can have a nice drink on a terrace -- there are a lot there. You can really start your day there, and then go to the bars at night. But, once it’s 3a, you have to go to Leidseplein or the Rokin or Rembrandtplein.

Flickr user Javi Vte Rejas

Best Late-Night Food
Mostly, I don’t do late-night food. If I do, it’s not McDonald’s or Burger King or New York Pizza or Domino’s. They’re not healthy. If the Wok to Walk is open, I will go there. But mostly I wait until I get home. Or I’m just very tired and go to sleep.

Canal Company

Don’t Leave Amsterdam Without…
Taking a canal tour, like the hop on, hop off tours from Canal Company or Gray Line. It’s easy: on the canal tour you can visit all of the museums. You can just get off and on the boat at the Hermitage, the Anne Frank House, etc. You see a lot of the city, and figure out where things are.

Flickr user Qiou87

Most Uniquely Amsterdam
I think tourists think the Red Light District is really strange. For instance, the sexy stunts at the Bananen Bar, or the Casa Rosso sex theater. It is really Disneyland in Amsterdam, because all the tourists go there, and the girls are there, and food is there... All through the Netherlands, you have places like the Red Light District, only smaller. So you grow up with it a bit. For a lot of countries I think it’s different. Just like all over the Netherlands you can smoke weed. When you’re in high school, when you’re like 15 or 16 or something, they show you what it looks like, what it smells like, how it is. So you really get raised with it. Now I never go to coffeeshops (weed bars). I don’t think it’s very special.

Ten Katemarkt

Advice for Tourists
Tourists in Amsterdam go to places where Dutch people never go, like the Red Light District. Go also to the 9 Streets, check out the Pijp, and the Albert Cuyp Market, and the Ten Kate Market. Leave the Red Light District and go to the places where people actually go. Tourists who only go to the Red Light District think, "Oh, Amsterdam is like this." I was there one time and there were naked men dancing in the street and in the windows. I thought, "OK, that’s the view that Amsterdam gives to the tourists." So many people think it’s all strip clubs. Outside the Red Light District it’s different. Check out the Jordaan, the whole area; check out the Westerpark and the 9 Streets.

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1. Cinema Paradiso Westerstraat 186, Amsterdam, 1015 MR (The Jordaan)

This Italian resto serves an extensive menu of traditional dishes, including eight tasty pasta plates and a variety of pizzas.

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2. BAUT Wibautstraat 125, Amsterdam, 1091 GL (East)

Open seven days a week, BAUT is located in a space that was originally an office. The owners took out the desks, put in tables, and started serving up delicious international fare.

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3. IZAKAYA Albert Cuypstraat 2-6, Amsterdam, (De Pijp)

This Japanese resto may serve small portions, but every little bit is filled with flavor, whether you order sushi (recommended) or any other their other options, typically from the grill w/ South American influences.

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4. De Wasserette Eerste van der Helststraat 27, Amsterdam, (De Pijp)

De Wasserette has a pleasant, friendly, neighborhood atmosphere, but their best feature is amazing sandwiches for lunch and some of the best coffee you'll find in the city.

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5. CoffeeCompany Amstelstraat 5, Amsterdam, 1017 DA (South)

With numerous locations across Amsterdam, CoffeeCompany does a mean cup of joe that's widely available and pretty damn good, not to mention all the specialty styles you love.

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6. Bar Baarsch Jan Evertsenstraat 91, Amsterdam, 1057 (West)

This pub/cafe pretty much has it all, comfortable couches to lounge on, a breezy terrace to people watch while having a drink, and great menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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7. Bierfabriek Rokin 75, Amsterdam, 1012KL (Red Light District)

This massive beer bar has comfortable mood lighting and tons of space to sit, which makes it perfect for groups. And the kicker? They make their own brew and it's otherworldly.

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8. Café De Jordaan Elandsgracht 45, Amsterdam, (The Jordaan)

Head to the Cafe De Jordaan if you want to soak up some of the local Amsterdam culture. It's a small, but cozy spot to enjoy a drink and listen to the locals speak "Amsterdams".

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9. Bar Italia Rokin 81-83, Amsterdam, 1012 KJ

Head to this Italian bar/resto between 5 and 8p, and when you order a beer or cocktail, you'll also receive what amounts to an Italian buffet for only five bucks. Head there any other time, and it's still a pleasant experience.

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10. SkyLounge Amsterdam DoubleTree by Hilton, Amsterdam, 1011 DK (Medieval Center)

A lounge perched atop the balcony of the Hilton near Amsterdam's Centraal Station, SkyLounge lives up to its name. This bar is pretty pricey, but the food and drink (not to mention the view: killer floor to ceiling vistas of the entirety of Amsterdam, hello!) are definitely worth it. Globally influenced small plates and craft cocktails round out the menu.

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11. Bar 22 Wolvenstraat 30, Amsterdam,

With its central location and quality drink menu, Bar 22 is definitely a decent spot to wet your whistle while people watching or trying out some of your better pickup lines.

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12. The Butcher Albert Cuypstraat 129, Amsterdam, 1072 CS (De Pijp)

This is a tasty burger bar, but if you want to have some REAL fun become a secret member of their secret speakeasy located through a refrigerator in the back.

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13. Vesper Vinkenstraat 57, Amsterdam, 1013 JM (The Jordaan)

This award-winning, unpretentious cocktail bar usually has a fair amount of people in it (without overcrowding), enjoying a long list of specialty cocktails including their signature drink, the Vesper cocktail.

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14. Door 74 Reguliersdwarsstraat, Amsterdam, 1017BN (Rembrandtplein)

One of the best-kept secrets in the city, Door 74's 'tenders concoct what may be the very best craft cocktails in all of Amsterdam, and they're open 'til super-early in the morning.

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15. Chicago Social Club Leidseplein 12, Amsterdam, 1017 PT (Leidseplein)

The Chicago Social Club is one part nightclub, one part comedy club (Boom Chicago, located in the back), with a distinctly international vibe. Once the laughs end, the music and dancing begins.

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16. AIR Amstelstraat 16, Amsterdam, 1017 DA (Rembrandtplein)

The name might be very unassuming, but you'll probably find that there's not much air inside the this award-winning club, only because it's one of the hottest (i.e. most popular) clubs in all of Amsterdam.

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17. De Duvel Eerste van der Helststraat 59-61, Amsterdam, 1073 AD (De Pijp)

Located in the Pijp, this resto/bar is a lovely spot to hang out on their patio and have a few drinks during the day.

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18. Wok To Walk Kolksteeg 8, Amsterdam, 1012 (Medieval Center)

This Thai/Asian fusion spot is open late, and all other options considered, is much healthier, not too mention that it's damn tasty.

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19. Hermitage Amstel 51, Amsterdam, 1018 DP (East)

Located on the banks of the Amstel River, the Hermitage the is a branch of the Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg, Russia, and houses two permanent art exhibitions.

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20. Anne Frank House Prinsengracht 263-267, Amsterdam, 1016 GV (The Jordaan)

Located on the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam, this is a museum dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank.

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21. Bananenbar Oudezijds Achterburgwal 37, Amsterdam, 1012 DA (Red Light District)

Located smack-dap in the middle of the Red Light District, the famous Bananenbar is one of the most fun and surprising bars in erotic Amsterdam.

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22. Casa Rosso Theatre Oudezijds Achterburgwal 108, Amsterdam, 1012 DS (Red Light District)

One of the most recognizable and well-known strip clubs in the Red Light District, this theatre with the pink elephant on its facade is basically the mascot of the area.

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23. Albert Cuyp Markt Albert Cuypstraat, Amsterdam, 1073 (De Pijp)

The Albert Cuyp Market is a street market where you can find a wide array of items, from food and vegetables to wares and trinkets.

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24. Ten Katemarkt Ten Katestraat, Amsterdam, 1053 BV (West)

The Ten Katemarkt is an open-air farmers market in Amsterdam.