Early this year, news on the shuttering of Amsterdam’s oldest coffeeshop spooked smokers round the world. Many feared the fate of Mellow Yellow, established in 1972, would befall more Dutch cannabis dispensaries. Evolving national legislation has indeed forced closures, though often in connection to specific circumstances, such as proximity to a school. According to a report published in June by independent research bureau INTRAVAL, Amsterdam had 288 coffeeshops in 1999 and by 2016, only 173.
While the Netherlands was ahead of the curve in decriminalization and the fostering of an open, informative environment—coffeeshops often have signs and multilingual flyers offering tips for getting high safely—dispensaries here lag in one practice: specifying THC and CBD percentages. Rarely can dealers advise on the subject, and even the most detailed menus use emoticons, not chemical compounds, to communicate a particular strain’s effects.
Still, if there’s one trait the Dutch capital possesses in volume, it’s dynamism. Amsterdam has always been avant-garde of social progress. In this year’s national elections, the city cast most votes for the Greens – a leftist party so named for espousing environmental priorities, though inevitably also associated with their other verdant leanings. Notable, too, is INTRAVAL’s calculation that Amsterdam still has one coffeeshop per every 4,907 residents, and that the nationwide decline feared originally “has somewhat stablised.”
So while the outlook for dispensaries in the Netherlands is not cloud-free, the landscape remains fertile and varied, as the 10 Amsterdam coffeeshops below attest to. These are our picks for the best places to stop, sip a coffee, and sample both new and classic strains the next time you’re in the Netherlands.
One day Green House Centrum may be considered the Studio 54 of coffeeshops. Opposite the dealers’ bar, gold-framed photos crowd the wall, proving how many celebs have been proud patrons. Rihanna and Kid Cudi may not surprise, but older-school Hollywooders, such as George Clooney and Wesley Snipes, smile down too. Frequently appearing in portraits is Green House Seed Co. owner Arjan Roskam, now globally known as a Strain Hunter in the eponymous VICE/HBO documentary series. Alongside its three Amsterdam coffeeshop branches, the company does genetics development and purveys its own exclusive seeds. It has earned oodles of accolades, winning 42 Cannabis Cup awards to date. The slender chalice trophies all glimmer in their display boxes under dimmed lighting, fitting right in with the venue’s Egyptian-palace-meets-Vegas parlor vibe.
In Dutch, Tweede Kamer means “second room,” which is apt for a place providing cannabis users with a third space. Interestingly, it is also what folks here call the Netherlands’ House of Representatives, causing some amusing mix-ups in Amsterdam-centric conversations. Forget politics though, this coffeeshop attracts everyone—Dutch hip-hop heads, introspective Euro backpackers, sweet North American retirees, et al. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in style: Art Deco lamps, portraits of old Dutch royalty, and seafoam-colored walls that up the classiness level from legal to regal. Kind and easy to talk to, the dealers double as capable baristas, serving coffee from Australian micro-roaster Lot Sixty One.
In the heart of the Grachtengordel—Amsterdam’s canal ring, today a designated UNESCO World Heritage site—a bouncer can be found shepherding the line outside Grey Area. “You’ll get hit by a bike,” he gently warns tourists on the sidewalk. Inside, the shoebox-size coffeeshop feels part punk club, part Western Union office. Stickers paper the walls and queuing customers bifurcate the room: on one side, a small bar with a Volcano Vaporizer; on the other, a few tables and chairs. Despite the dust-covered behind-the-counter clutter, the buds are some of the freshest in town. It’s not for nothing Grey Area has won multiple Cannabis Cup and Amsterdam Unity Cup awards.
The olden-days apothecary aesthetic is new to Amsterdam. Most coffeeshops came on the scene between the late 70s and the early 90s, when design was heavy on synthetics and Bob Marley was still pot’s poster boy. But Boerejongens, this year celebrating a decade’s existence, counters that. Their three locations have lab-like interiors warmly offset with Art Deco furnishings, and staffed by affable white-coated dealers and doormen with the demeanor of bellhops more than bouncers. The company works with cannabis seed purveyors Amsterdam Genetics, who have helped Boerejongens gain repute for their high-quality menu, including a uniquely wide array of hash. Although the West branch prohibits smoking of anything on the premises, its hours, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., fulfill the walk-in-smoke-out desire of many locals.
While many coffeeshops have an unshakable bro-y ethos, La Tertulia is, refreshingly, run by a mother-daughter team. Now in its 35th year of operation, the place is bright, well ventilated, and plant-filled. It is situated in the picture-postcard neighborhood of the Jordaan, on the same canal as the Anne Frank House and a stroll from some of Amsterdam’s most beloved open-air markets. Accordingly, the venue attracts a more mature, artier clientele and, um, some occasional Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. There are two levels of generous seating, and bistro-like chairs and tables are set up outside, where an homage-to-Van Gogh mural serves as the backdrop.
Like its canine mascot, The Bulldog brand is spirited, tenacious, unmistakably present in its wide stance, and cutely butch. Established in 1975 in a former sex shop, The First was not only the business’s original location, but also one of the earliest incarnations of the modern-day Dutch dispensary. Company owner Henk de Vries claims coinage of the word “coffeeshop,” saying it came from trying to capture the “coffeehouse feeling” that his space offered residents of the surrounding Red Light District. Today the company has a whole litter of coffeeshops and gift stores, a restaurant, a pub, and a hostel, all in Amsterdam, plus a hotel in British Columbia, Canada.
De Pijp, once a predominantly residential neighborhood, has become an Airbnb hotbed, rife with trendy lifestyle stores and social-media-shutterbug-conscious cafés. But through all the changes, the zip code’s coolest coffeeshop, Katsu, has stayed true blue—a real winner, as its name means in Japanese. With a predilection for reggae and a kindly commanding veteran woman dealer, Katsu attracts many local clients—think Larry David-meets-Willie Nelson-esque gents, Rastas, and contemplative artists—while small groups of chill younger folks gravitate to the booth seating backlit by ode-to-Amsterdam wall art. Others come in for the changing 5-gram deals or give the De Verdamper vaporizer a whirl and a waft.
Five types of weed and three types of hash make for a small menu at The Dolphins, but the big draw here is the ambience: acqua-core. The coffeeshop opened 21 years ago, when interior décor evoking a Lisa Frank folder was à la mode. But the seapunk sensibility emerged in earnest from the owner’s interest in diving and longstanding eco-friendliness. The coral colonies that line the walls are made from repurposed paper and disposable cups, explains a staffer with Windex-blue lowlights in her blonde braid. Other unique attractions include a submarine parts-accented basement hospitable to tobacco smokers; six De Verdamper vaporizers; and hash muffins with rainbow nonpareils, frosted in pink and, of course, blue.
Bi-level Bluebird is a fixture on this broadway, which wraps around Waterlooplein’s famous flea market and is the site of the Rembrandt House (where the Golden Age master once lived and worked). Since its beginnings in the early 80s, Bluebird has cultivated a reputation for being welcoming and relaxed. This coming March, the coffeeshop undergoes a brief renovation to create a comfier lounge area and better bar, expecting to expand its food and drink menu beyond toasties, juices, and hot beverages. The reopening is scheduled for the start of April 2018, and the manager assures no azure avian artwork will be harmed in the process.
Amsterdam’s milieu is seesawing between its own late 20th-century kaleidoscopic diversity and the neutral-toned, less-is-more cosmopolitanism currently washing over Western cities. Nearly 20 years old, Kashmir embraces the former. While the coffeeshop is a fine, friendly place to purchase cannabis, its sister business across the street (at numbers 85–87) is an even finer spot to smoke. The Kashmir Lounge has a bar, serving spirits and thus permitting a rare confluence of consumption in the Netherlands since laws prohibit simultaneous vending of cannabis and alcohol. At night, the DJ booth brings in a mix of Afro-funk, reggae, Latin, jazz, and house. The low-to-the-ground seating, mirror-work tapestries, and Hindu deities painted on the stucco walls transport visitors elsewhere—if not to some pre-hashtag-era hash den in northern India, then at least to a conspicuously vibrant vintage Amsterdam.