Amsterdam is a city where just about anything goes. American rules and a considerable list of things you’ve always been told are illegal are perfectly fine to do there. If you want to smoke marijuana, you can walk into a coffee shop and pick anything you want off the menu. If you’re looking for psychedelics, there’s smart shops. If you want some company for the evening, there’s lots of women waiting behind glass windows (with red lights coincidentally enough) eager to discuss an arrangement with you. If you’re into these sorts of things, you can figure it out on pretty easily on your own. This article is for those who would like to not get so…immersed in the culture or for those who need a break from the previous night.
A few years ago I ran into a magician while sitting in a bar on the fringe of the district. I’ve gotten to know a lot of wizards, hypnotists, mentalists and card guys over the years, but Geoff Diamond is a performer who works clubs in the red light district almost exclusively. He was very entertaining and had a few tricks up his sleeves (literally) that I hadn’t seen and we became friends immediately. He took me out of the boring bar I’d been sitting in and took me to what is now one of my favorite places in the world, The Pint.
Big Franky runs the bar at The Pint and has been doing tours with the Rolling Stones for years when he’s not in Amsterdam. He’s got tons of photos and memorabilia with Mick and Keith and is happy to tell you a story or two about rockstar life. He’s got pictures with Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Neil Young and lots of other artists who drop by the pint after playing a concert in Amsterdam.Hanging out at his bar is like being in a Cheers episode on steroids. You can never be sure who’s going to be walking through the door. Early in the evening, it’s a nice relaxing pub. Later, things get crazy. The Pint is where I usually start and/or end my evening when I’m in the RLD. It’s often open until 5 am. Yes, 5 am.
The RLD is kind of a big community where everyone who works there knows each other and Geoff has been my tour guide whenever I’m in town. If you’d like someone who knows everyone to take you around, tell you the history of the area, do magic tricks and get you free drinks, he’s the guy. He charges 50 Euros a person to do his 3 hour tour. Not only is that a ridiculously cheap price to have your own magic guide, but you’ll probably get it back in free drinks. You can visit these bars on your own, but knowing a guy who knows a guy…..well… that’s priceless. Our first stop after saying hi to Big Franky, was a stop at the Black Tiger.
Black Tiger Bar. One of the coolest bars in Amsterdam, located right the middle of the Red Light, the Black Tiger has two levels and is located in a former converted merchants house which is over 400 years old. The décor is hand painted murals of famous music stars and the Black Tiger is always fun, with giant screens to watch the European soccer and USA major sports games. Highly recommended and a super cool place to hang out in Amsterdam. Free entry.
The Excalibur Bar. Home of the Amsterdam chapter of the Hells Angels and a magnet for bikers from all over the world, The Excalibur is run by Zad the man, who welcomes everyone with hilarious impressions of superstars like Borat and others and will make sure you have a good time. There are classic Indian and Harley Davidson actual motorcycles adorning the walls and during certain times, you will see amply built ladies baring their charms slightly covered with Excalibur stickers to preserve their modesty. A great place to hang out with a pool table upstairs and a great mix of customers and locals. Free entry.
The Old Sailor Bar. An institution in the Red Light, the Old Sailor Bar is decorated with all things nautical and is a must see location. Ken and the guys behind the bar are always friendly and welcoming and the Old Sailor is a must go destination for soccer fans who watch both the UK and Dutch international games here. The Old Sailor is always good to meet up with both locals and tourists, especially later in the evening when the excellent sound system pumps up and really gets the crowd going with sing along classics. Free entry.
The Casablanca. This is the premier Karaoke Bar in Amsterdam located on the Zeedijk just one block over from the Red Light district. This is a historic place, with the occupying WW2 troops from the USA and Canada partying here after they kicked the Nazis out of Amsterdam. Decorated with art and musical instruments donated by actual artists who played at the venue, there’s musical equipment from the Benny Goodman, Glen Miller bands and others. The Casablanca is free to enter and the Karaoke is also free if you just buy a drink, but be warned on busy nights you can be waiting a while to sing. The quality of singers is sometimes world class as many of Amsterdam’s professional and semi-professional singers hang out at the Casablanca.
Pace yourself, enjoy the sights, talk to some locals, keep track of your wallet and you’ll be fine. Amsterdam is one of the most carefree cities in the world and a splendid time is guaranteed for all.