by Willard Manus
ago, the hip, civilized Amsterdammers decided to legalize the cannabis
trade. Two dozen of the citys 400 coffeehouses-better known
as brown cafes owing to their venerable, smoke-stained interiors-were
licensed to sell hash and grass over the counter. Actually, the pot trade
had been going on for years before that, but in an underground fashion.
Now coffee houses could apply to city hall for an official soft-drug permit
which allowed for cannabis to be dispensed openly, along with coffee,
tea, energy drinks, food and (occasionally) alcohol.
Amsterdams policy spread to the rest of the country. Today, there
are about 3,000 hash houses throughout Holland, the nation with the lowest
hard-drug use in Europe. The policy has worked so well that dozens of
other European cities and provinces signed the Frankfurt Accord to implement
tolerance in their communities as part of a drug-abuse reduction campaign.
The following guide has been compiled from recommendations by Dutch and
American friends presently residing in Amsterdam.
DE ROKERIJ (Lange Leisedwarstraat 43) is the flagship of a coffeehouse
chain. Unlike Starbucks, though, this shop not only sells several kinds
of high-powered marijuana (such as AK-47, Nepalese Cream, Stardust; approx.
$20 a gram) but offers exotic decor fashioned after a scene in Arabian
Nights. Indian murals grace the walls, the lighting is soft and sensual,
ragas play on the sound system, overhead fans disperse the fumes, cushions
and low tables are scattered around the private and communal rooms. On
weekends henna tattoo artists and tarot-card readers ply their trade here.
(Handboogstraat 29) is a much more yuppyish place, on the order of a modern,
brightly-lit British pub. To make up for its lack of atmosphere, the café
offers a huge range of things to smoke. Behind the bar are floor-to-ceiling
jars packed with 25 different grasses, 18 hashes, and various kinds of
pre-rolled joints. The Fair Smoke label identifies which product
was organically grown (biological nutrients, no chemical pesticides).
A menu not only describes the goodies on sale but rates them (clear
high, psychedelic high and so on). Prices range from
$15-$50 a gram, but the house-rolled Tbizia joint is $10.
Celebrity hounds shouldnt miss GREY AREA (Oude Leliestraat 2), if
only because numerous American and British rock musicians unwind here
when theyre in town. GREY AREA is a small, dim joint with nondescript
decor, but cannabis connoisseurs have praised its wares, especially a
hash called Grey Mist ($20 a gram), which won second prize at the Cannabis
Cup some years back.
The Cup, an annual competition (only authorized coffee-shops can enter
it), is a widely-promoted public event, another example of the Dutch experience-live
and let live where drugs are concerned. Not only is cannabis legal in
Amsterdam, so is prostitution; the red-light district with its famous
girls in the windows is sanctioned and policed by the authorities.
The Dutch have also licensed a brothel that caters exclusively to disabled
KATSU (Eeerste van der Helstraat 102) is a bit off the beaten track, but
has a cozy, unpretentious neighborhood feel (gezellis in Dutch).
The Supersage on sale here ($10 a gram) is what locals call a kopstoot,
a knock on the head.
BREAKFAST BAR (Haarlemmerstraat 102) is just that, a good place to start
the day. The menu is large and varied, with such American dishes as waffles
and pancakes as well. But the real specialty is Sweet Tooth ($12 a gram),
another perennial winner at the Cannabis Cup. It is like having your bell
rung by a kick-boxer.
The big winner at the Cup, year in and year out, is GREENHOUSE (Oudezijds
Voorburgwaal 191). The coffee-house has won some three dozen prizes in
recent years, all of which are proudly displayed in its showcases. Among
the famous brands are Shantis Holy Balls, Shanti Baba and King Hassan
Elite. The hash house draws big crowds, but they are scattered around
the spacious, spot-lit lounge with its comfortable leather couches and
chairs. The Big Bang (approx. $10 a gram) never fails to live up to its
Its not advisable to get too stoned in Amsterdam, if only because
its such a liquid city. Last year, for example, half a dozen people
died by falling into one of the citys swift-running canals and rivers.
All of them were pot tourists.