So here you are, walking the streets of Amsterdam, curious about the celebrated coffee shops that legally sell small amounts of marijuana and hash. The problem is, where do you go? I was astonished at the number of coffee shops that can be found in the city. There seems to be one on just about every other block... sometimes more. That means you could easily find yourself overpaying for poor-quality product in a place that’s barely worth visiting, even just to use the bathroom.
But never fear: Mr. Wonka is here to guide you towards respectable joints (no pun intended) for smoking, um, joints. But first, let’s cover a few odds and ends, shall we?
- If you see the words "coffee shop" on the outside of a building, that means they sell pot and hash. Now, that does not mean that’s all they sell; as you might imagine, folks sitting around smoking might want something to eat or drink while they’re doing it, so most coffee shops sell assorted beverages and snacks. If you’re just looking for a cup of coffee, and don’t want anything to do with smoking, look for the word "café" on the outside.
- Ask to see a menu when you walk in. Yes, just like at a restaurant. Marijuana is sold either by the gram or in pre-rolled joints, most of which also have tobacco in them. If you don’t want any nicotine with yours, ask if they have any "pure joints." Hash, both the black and blond variety, is sold by the gram. Prices vary based on the quality, but you can expect to pay between 5 and 15 euros for 1 gram.
- You aren’t required to sit and smoke anything you buy at a coffee shop. You’re more than welcome to buy it and leave, but keep this in mind if you’re thinking about smoking it elsewhere: don’t assume you can smoke pot anywhere in the 'Dam. Okay, you mostly can, but don’t light up in restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores, etc. Use your head. If you’re in a bar or club, ask the bartender if it’s okay. If you’re outside, it shouldn’t be a problem, but don’t brazenly smoke it near little kids or little old ladies. In other words, be respectful.
- Just like when you’re drinking alcohol, exercise moderation when smoking. There’s nothing more embarrassing than watching someone smoke until their eyes are practically bleeding, and then make an ass out of themself. This is why Amsterdammers get irritable towards so-called "drug tourism," which refers to those people who spend all that money to fly halfway across the world just to get high. If that’s your only reason for coming to Amsterdam, you might be disappointed.
- Holland government should be proud of themselves for making such a liberal, progressive policy work. If you didn’t visit the coffee shops, you probably wouldn’t even know they were there. No burnouts hanging out on every corner, no one begging for money outside the coffee shops... it’s contained very well, definitely better than alcohol is in the United States. By the way... leave it in the ‘Dam! Chances are that marijuana and hash are not legal in your home country, so don’t bring it back.
- And finally, have a blast! This is an Amsterdam institution, and is something you should try at least once. I met a lot of good people and had some great conversations in some of the coffee shops I visited, and I’m sure you will too. Read on for details.
Now that we’ve got that business out of the way, join me for a whirlwind tour of some of Amsterdam’s coffee shops. Keep in mind that I did not necessarily stay very long in some of these places, or test out any of their product, but just jotted down a few notes that I thought might be helpful. Isn’t that thoughtful? These are in no particular order:
De Tweede Kamer. This "brown" little spot tucked away in a small alley off Spui is one of my favorite coffee shops in the ‘Dam. Downtempo soul, drum n bass, and reggae tunes abound, with a variety of newspapers and flyers to read/look at while you’re there. They have a friendly, helpful staff—one of the guys, a sneaker-collecting fanatic, helped me find a bar that showed NFL games on Sundays, and was more than happy to make recommendations for their product. Excellent selection of pre-rolled joints, as well as by the gram. Make sure you close the bathroom door when you’re done. Helsteeg 6.
Kadinsky. Another one of the 'Dam’s most celebrated coffee shops, mostly for its excellent coffee, delicious chocolate-chip cookies, and reasonable pot prices. There was a nice mix of jazzy hip-hop and Brazilian samba playing as I grabbed a seat at the long bench in the front, which looks into the street. From here, I watched as a bicycle cabbie pulled over, ran in to grab a pre-rolled joint of "AK-47," then hopped back in his "cab." As he pulled back out into the street, one of his fellow cabbies rode past, teasing him the whole time. You probably had to be there, but it was pretty damn funny. Rosmarijnsteeg 9 or Zoutsteeg 9.
Grasshopper. There are two locations, and the one near Albert Heijn has a pretty funky touch-button menu and outside terrace, but I can’t recommend this place. It’s somewhat touristy, the pot is overpriced, and if you want to sit down and smoke, you have to buy something to drink—my bottle of water cost 3 euro! Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 57.
De Rokerij. Dimly lit with Hindu idols everywhere, this was a pretty sweet, entirely busy spot near Leidseplein. Decent selection of pot, and it’s one of the few coffee shops in the 'Dam that also has an alcohol license. I met some very cool guys here from Australia, and I definitely recommend stopping in. Lange Leidsedwarsstraat 41.
Rookies. This is just your average coffee shop. It’s billed as the king of pre-rolled joint selection, but they only had one available when I visited. If you do find a joint, they come in very cool carrying cases. This place also has an alcohol license. Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 145.
De Dampkring. This was another of my favorites. It reminded me of what a raucous hobbit bar might look like, with decor that aimed to turn this joint off of Spui into a cave. Lots of locals frequent Dampkring, which also serves alcohol, shakes, fruit drinks, and other beverages. I listened to a group of American businessmen, obviously nervous about doing something that’s illegal back home, indulge in a few joints. I couldn’t help but overhear some of the things they talked about after getting high. The highlight was when one said, "Ya know where this should be legal in the States? On the Indian reservations. I mean, why not, ya know?" Sigh... Handboogstraat 29.
Katsu. The best thing about this downstairs locals’ hangout is the NBA Fast Break pinball machine in the back. What a treat! The only thing I didn’t understand is why it wouldn’t let me enter my initials for scoring highest for the Detroit Pistons... c’mon now, I was kicking some major ass! De Pijp.
The Bulldog. Meh... these are all over the city, and I stepped in one for a minute. Not bad, and a few people I met swore by their pot selection and prices, but Bulldog seemed pretty touristy to me. It’s like going to Paris and eating at McDonald’s. Leidseplein 15.
Free I. I stopped here after an excellent meal at Shiva next door, and I had a blast. There was a small group of Amsterdammers intently watching their local fútbol team play in the European World Championship Tournament—this was a big game—so I pulled up a stool and joined them. Then this American guy came in, and I don’t know what he was on, but he wasn’t with it at all. First, during the game’s action, he loudly asks everyone—in English—where they’re from... where they’re from? Most of the guys just started laughing; one lazily muttered, "The'Dam, the 'Dam." Then this guy starts asking them about the rules of the game, who’s the best player, what just happened... he even asked, totally out of the blue, "What do you think about the Yankees? Think they’re gonna fall apart?" At this, a Major League Baseball question... in Europe... during the middle of a SOCCER game, I slunk a little lower in my stool, hoping he wouldn’t figure out I was an American, too. Reguliersdwarsstraat 70.
For more coffee shop reviews, please see my second guide to Amsterdam coffee shops.