Things are not the way they used to be when I moved to Amsterdam seven years ago. There are more tourists and less squats, more Nutella shops than used bookstores, and what were once mobility vehicles for the infirm are now playthings for the teenage daughters of yuppie families who would rather not get their hair ruffled by the helmet they’d have to wear if they had to drive a scooter like they did in the old days. But it’s not all bad. Nowadays when we tell winemakers where we live and they ask whether that’s a part of Belgium (because that’s where they’re sending their wine) we’re not so embarrassed. Now you can actually drink natural wines in places other than restaurants BAK and Choux in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. We even have some exclusively natural wine bars! Five, to be precise, or maybe only four if you listen to the owners of the one which they insist is not a ‘natural wine bar’ but a bar with natural wines. But I’m not listening, sorry guys. People like lists of fives.
So here’s mine, on the eve of the day I leave this once fair city (to France, to learn to actually make wine): your list of five of where to go and why, and what you can expect if you do. And do! And you can do them all one after the other, too. Amsterdam is still a cycling city — as long as you have a bell to warn off all the tourists.
The Netherlands’ first and only natural wine bar during its first two years of operation. If Amsterdam still had secrets, then Glouglou would be amongst its worst kept. It’s been packed ever since it opened in April 2015, even if at the beginning this may have been due more to humanity being wired to want to sit in corner cafes that look like Paris than for the wines. Go here to raise a glass of Radikon to Amsterdam’s recent vinnatur history and for the disco lights in the toilet, and on your way out pick up a bottle at the shop in the back. They knock 15 euros off the list price so you’ll walk away with something you can actually drink at that dinner at your friend’s place, and that golden glow of what feels like a bargain.
Glouglou’s little brother but I always got more of a big sister vibe what with girls being cooler than snotty little boys. And Bar Centraal — neon-lit climate cabinet, black-matte wallpaper, technicolored Instagram feed and sharing plates that you can taste are delicious but which you won’t necessarily understand — is cool (but dead hot on a summer’s night), and certainly the only place on the Ten Kate market where anyone’s made wine in the kitchen sink. Sit in the window (at the table for two in front of the bar) and have a glass or three as you wait for its two definitely not Peruvian chefs to think up yet another crazy combination of flavours to go with their famous burrata. Then go through to the kitchen and tell them it’s good — it will be, so maybe it’s better to just get it all and take the chef’s menu — and that you’re from table six. They’ll understand.
The ‘definitely not a natural wine bar’-bar where you can also drink other stuff — just no tea and if it’s coffee you want, then it’s either filter or espresso or both plus a vodka: just do what makes you happy because that’s what “BV’s” all-blonde, mostly-in-black bosses set out to do, and they play all the nineties hip hop, funk, soul and disco they want to prove it. Go to this new-wave Amsterdam stamcafé for a bottle (or glass: house at 4.50) and bite from the chef’s weekly dinner menu (soon there’ll also be lunch on weekends) or a hardboiled egg with your beer, an Amsterdam tradition (remember those?) that signals you’re in the right kind of cafe, stained glass windows not optional. Come late and you’ll likely bump into a big percentage of Amsterdam’s left-field restauranteurs and sommeliers. Come summer and you’re practically guaranteed six hours of sun on the terrace — I was told so.
Commonly known as what could have been Amsterdam’s coolest natural wine bar if it hadn’t also wanted to be a cinema and a restaurant, FC Hyena is still the place to go if you want to drink good wine in a slightly surreal interior with an obscure name on the water in what used to be a warehouse in Amsterdam’s industrial fringe-scape (or indeed in the cinema where you can also eat your wood-fired dinner). There’s nothing fringy about the area anymore, with people first flocking across the river when Hotel de Goudfazant opened ten years ago to eat and, now that the city centre has become so expensive, to live. But then natural wine can be elitist, so maybe it’s fitting there’s now so much of it available to drink this far north – Local restaurants Café Modern, Coba, Skate Cafe and “de fazant” all have natural lists.
An impossibly sophisticated slice of Scandinavia on a dank street in the shadow of a hospital in Amsterdam Oost, 4850 is the only place to drink a glass of grower Champagne on a Monday morning while doing your taxes last minute, and/or a barista-poured coffee late on a Friday night. Or maybe you want your Riedel Veritas glass topped up with a startlingly sour geuze or a half glass of Bini from the Coravin list (because you’re worth it) — or that tip-top Burgundy you just read about in Noble Rot’s issue 16, because you can. Whatever your relatively-not-so-poison poison of choice, rest be assured it’ll go well with the food; cooked as it is to compliment the wine and not the other way around. What’s on the menu? Steaming cardamom buns and dry-aged steak tartare with foie gras and oysters, breads, cheeses and probably also something with bone marrow — like oysters. Small plates, at any rate, with “Good fats. The stuff we like to eat while drinking wine” — or coffee, or champagne. Did I mention they have three open by the glass at any one time? And oysters to go for €1.50.