“It’s like the European version of Bangkok – a very high threshold for bad behavior,” says Anthony Bourdain, strolling down the streets of Amsterdam. When you think of Amsterdam, you might have similar ideas in mind: the city is well known for its red light district, its green-friendly cafes, and as a place where travelers can come have experiences that aren’t legal in many other parts of Europe.
Anthony Bourdain visited Amsterdam to film episode 7 of season 1 of The Layover; it’s the only time he visits Amsterdam during his television career – though he readily admits that he spent part of his “misspent youth” in Amsterdam and has very stereotypical memories from that period.
Whether you’re heading to Amsterdam hoping to mis-spend some of your own youth or looking for a different way to see a historic, culturally-significant European capital city, there’s no better way than through food. And this guide to the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Amsterdam will lead you true. (Though I make no promises if you decide to pop into one of the MJ cafes on this list…)
Ready to sip, savor, and… well, smoke your way across the Dutch capital? Here’s a guide to everywhere Anthony Bourdain ate in Amsterdam.
Cafe Int Aepjen
Bourdain kicks off his “layover” in Amsterdam at Cafe Int Aepjen, locally called “Ape” because the owner used to accept primates as trade for his wares. The Cafe – which also serves beer – fits the definition of a “Brown Bar,” known for their dark wood, smoke-stained walls, and sense of gezellig – a Dutch word ‘conviviality’ and ‘coziness.’
As he’s starting his day here, Tony chooses coffee instead of beer, before setting out in search of breakfast.
Upstairs Pancake House
For said breakfast, Bourdain meets up with a local and heads to Upstairs Pancake House. Very appropriately named, they climd the stairs and tuck into traditional Dutch pancakes; if you’ve never had them, they’re ultra thin with a layer of toppings (kind of like a pizza).
Tony tries two varieties: traditional bacon and apple, and the daily special of rhubarb and apricot with homemade cream. These are a bit too sweet for Tony’s taste; most places I’ve been also offer savory pancake toppings.
Three Little Bottles
Known for his love of local spirits and drinks, Bourdain next heads out in search of a Dutch specialty: Jenever. Also called Hollands, this is a juniper-flavored neutral spirit, much like gin, and dates back to the 16th century. Today you can find modern distillers offering it throughout the city; Tony tries it at Three Little Bottles in the Centrum (central) part of the city.
After commenting on the strength of Jenever – 40% and 45% ABV – Bourdain then tries their bar food: meatballs, pickles, and mustard.
When you think of visiting Amsterdam, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the green stuff that’s legal there, which Tony has a great time repeatedly pointing out that he can’t partake of due to network regulations.
He does spend a fair amount of time – and make plenty of jokes about it – at Die Dampkring, one of Amsterdam’s many marijuana coffee shops. Take it as a starting point for your own journey through that part of what Amsterdam has to offer, should it interest you.
The Two Swans
As the first day of his layover winds down, Bourdain heads to The Two Swans for an evening drink; while he generally enjoys his time at this brown bar with a beer in hand, he’s quick to head out once some patrons break into song. Much like mimes and yodelling, karaoke is just not his thing.
To sooth himself after the trauma of The Two Swans, Bourdain sets out in search of a late night snack – preferably of the sausage variety (one of his go-to faves). He ends up at FEBO, a series of food vending machines; there are multiple locations across the city for all your snacking needs.
Tony chooses Frikandellen – fried sausages – which are definitely worth trying if you see them on any menu… or if you’re brave enough to try food from a vending machine too!
Café De Prins
For his second day in Asterdam, Bourdain starts out with coffee again; this time he heads to Café de Prins in the Jordaan area. As their website says, the cafe is close to the Westerkerk, Amsterdam’s largest church, and the Anne Frank House; Tony advises the latter as one of the city’s top tourist attractions but says that you should expect to queue up for it – and it’s not really his style.
Next Bourdain searches for breakfast, and chooses a very different but still traditional option than the pancakes of the day before. He visits Frens Haringhandel, a small food stall known for one particular fish – hint: it’s in the name…
Tony tries their vinegar-pickled and salt-cured herring with onions; it’s certainly not something I could eat for breakfast, but I can see how the strong flavors would certainly wake you up!
As the day wears on Tony heads out with his local guide to explore Amsterdam-Noord – North Amsterdam – which is only reached by ferry. The two visit Cafe Noorderlicht, which is temporarily closed for renovation (until October 2023).
After ordering a Bloody Mary to help chase away the remnant’s of the previous night, Bourdain is deeply uncertain about the menu: most of the sandwiches available are vegetarian and unusual combinations. In the end, he orders a ham and cheese sandwich that leaves him deeply disappointed.
(At one point in this scene, Tony explicitly states that he’d rather be at Spang Makandra, a restaurant listed below which he doesn’t visit.)
In part to soothe his woes from a sad lunch, Bourdain hops on a boat and cruises up one of the canals to Cafe Soundgarden. With his boating companion, he enjoys people watching and a beer before setting back out toward the central part of the city.
In De Wildeman
Bourdain’s next stop is In De Wildeman (called Wildeman Cafe in the episode), described by him as a “bar for beer lovers.” This is the perfect spot to pass an afternoon over a pint or two; if you get peckish as Tony did, you can order the smoked beef sausage and cheese plate. It’s a nice afternoon snack with local flavors – the menu lists options like smoked ossewurst, veal liver sausage, and Dutch cheese.
Tempo Doeloe (CLOSED)
For his final meal in Amsterdam, Bourdain explores the legacy of Dutch colonialism. Indonesia and Suriname were both colonies until the 1940s; this resulted in cultural transmission in both directions, and today you can find incredible Indonesian and Surinamese restaurants in Amsterdam.
Tempo Doeloe is the one that Tony visits during his trip. This restaurant is known for their Indonesian sampler platters – think of them like Korean banchan. With his dining companions, he tries the Rijsttaffel Istemewa, which includes dishes like chicken with coconut and tomatoes, pork with sweet soy sauce, and spicy been rendang and other small dishes, plus over 20 others.
Unfortunately, this beloved restaurant has closed permanently, so you’ll need to look for another spot to try Dutch-Indonesian food during your visit.
Other Places to Try in Amsterdam
As Bourdain was in Amsterdam as part of filming The Layover, there are some other restaurants, cafes, and bars he recommends but doesn’t directly visit. Here’s a list of those spots which are still open today, in case you want to visit them also.
- The Brothers Hartering for seasonal dishes and head cheese, a Tony fave
- De Pilsener Club, a 125 year-old watering hole
- Maloe Melo Club, a late-night dive bar for live blues, punk, and jazz
- Albert Cuyp Market for stroopwafel if you love breakfast sweets
- Spang Makandra, a Surinamese spot for roti, kebab, sandwiches, and soup
- Paradox Coffeeshop, another marijuana cafe
Amsterdam Food Tours to Try
If you’d prefer a more structured way to try the different flavors and dishes of Dutch cuisine – plus the other cultures that you can find here – a food tour is a good option to make the most of your time. Here are a few food tours that have similar experiences to those Bourdain enjoyed during his visit:
Have any other questions about these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Amsterdam? Let me know in the comments below.