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