Amsterdam: Totally Smitten

Hard to believe it has been almost twenty years since I was last in Amsterdam, and it’s crazy to think that Pink Martini has never played here until now, considering we have played almost every major city in the world! We have a great fan base (so we learned on this trip), which makes our switch of allegiance from United Airlines to Delta, a perfect choice. They have a direct flight from our hometown, Portland, Oregon, to Amsterdam, a now indispensable first stop on our regular European tours.

My favorite cities in the world are all very different from one another, but they have one specific thing in common; an exhilarating, thriving restaurant and bar scene. Not only can you smell it, but you can feel how in-tune the people are with food and drink. Amsterdam, however, is inching towards the top of my list.

At almost every turn, Amsterdam is more picturesque than any other larger city I’ve seen.  (I found myself overwhelmed with photo ops during the day, so I decided against trying to capture The Perfect Photograph, and, instead, to take it all in, and commit it to memory; hence, the lack of- good daytime photos.) The pretty canals, the tiny cobblestone streets, the narrow, centuries-old homes and storefronts squeezed tightly together side-by-side, are renowned; there is no way for me to describe the beauty and do it justice.

But, when it comes to the deep and serious buzz, I won’t hesitate—it’s electrifying for a food lover like me (no, I’m not referring to the famous “coffee shops” on every street, where marijuana is sold and served legally from special menus, though I can recommend two, Abraxas and de Dampkring B.V., where I went with a couple of guys from the band). I’m talking about the restaurants, cafes, bistros, coffee shops and delis that line every street, all with people braving the Autumn chill at outdoor tables. (What is it about Americans that keeps them indoors when the temperature gets below 70 degrees, anyway?) One cool place that my friend, Annemieke, took me to, called de Balie (www.debalie.nl), stands out.  She refers to it as a cultural space, with a café, where creative types hover over steaming coffee and beaming laptops, a restaurant with a delicious lunch menu, an art gallery, a lecture hall, and a cinema. I wanted to spend the entire day there!!

When I’m on tour, I almost always seek out food and drink specialties of the region, leaning on locals for advice.  My Dutch friend Annemieke poured cold water on my wishes in Amsterdam when she said in her cute little Dutch accent, “Most of our specialties you don’t want to eat in a restaurant…they’re things you only want my mother to cook for you: mashed potatoes, roasted meats, foods to warm you up.” Since the invitation to Mum’s house never came, I did a little research online, and found a gem of a restaurant that opened just last week…

Called W36 (short for the street address, Warmoesstraat 36H), the restaurant (www.W36.nl) sits on a curving, cobblestone street mere blocks from the main train station, and is billed as a “BBQ Grill,” though it’s not what anyone who has been to an American BBQ restaurant would envision. Still, meat is art here, as evidenced by the meat hooks lying on one of three artfully lit chopping blocks behind glass, in full view of guests as they are guided into the beautiful dining room. (See my full review of W36 here.)

There seems to be a surge in swanky cocktail bars in Amsterdam. That is a great thing because in the middle of most overseas tours my palate gets weary of the wine, beer and Jack Daniels (our guitarist, Dan Faehnle’s, drink of choice) the venues provide us as aftershow medicine, and most of Europe is not into mixed drinks like Americans are, so it’s nearly impossible to find a good cocktail bar. The ones I checked out in the city center were a relief. They all seem to have figured out that dramatic lighting is one of the keys to an inviting ambience: NJOY (super lame name, but lots of design elements to keep your eyes busy, and great cocktails), Mystique (great cocktail menu, warm and inviting leather-bound couches), and Bar Oldenhof (the most American-like whiskey bar of the three, with knowledgeable bartenders). Be prepared to fork out way more money for cocktails in Europe. It’s astounding what they get away with!! If you know of any great cocktail bars outside of the US that have reasonable prices, please leave a comment, and let me know!

A few notes about the show–it’s always interesting to do a first show in a city because we have no idea what to expect from the crowd. Will they be into it? Will it sell out? Will the first five rows of people (usually the ones I use to gauge the audience reaction, because they’re the only ones I can see) sit there with their arms crossed, frowns and looks of confusion on their faces? Because of my re-discovered love for this city, I was hoping it would be a big success, because a first show makes a huge impact on whether we come back, and how soon.

If the show didn’t sell out, it was pretty darn close. Whew! Smiles and bobbing heads in the first few rows were aplenty, and there was no shortage of enthusiasm from the balcony, which kept our jet-lagged bodies energized throughout the show! (This, despite a few annoying delays on stage because of microphone and sound monitor feedback issues.) When we announced our next number, “Song of The Flying Squirrel” and said they should feel free to get up, and dance, the place quickly boiled over in a frenzy as the explosive drum opening began! We feed off of that kind of energy; we LOVE it!

Thomas (Lauderdale, leader of the band/pianist) asked me to do a short video of the audience during the last song, “Brazil,” with my phone. You will see many great photos from my perspective onstage during shows, backstage, after shows, and more in most of my subsequent posts, but this (poor quality) video gives an idea of the fun we had during the show. The fun continued backstage when I peered into the after-show sandwich to see what it was, and discovered raw ground beef, what the Dutch call “Filet Americain,” between the buns, so I had to shoot it. Keep in mind, I have no idea how long that sandwich had been sitting there, or when it was made, but, yes, I ate it. Thomas grabbed a sandwich, scarfed it down, like he always does, then, upon hearing it was raw, he literally looked sick…it was priceless!! Good times.

It appears Amsterdam is as smitten about Pink Martini as I am of the city! We will be back for more!!

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