The trade in jenever, Dutch gin, has been a part of Amsterdam's culture for hundreds of years, giving rise to its own peculiar traditions.
Just outside the former city walls of Amsterdam is its oldest bar, dating to 1631, a place where Rembrandt used to drink. Café de Druif – in Amsterdam East – is a tiny, canalside place whose brown-stained wooden walls and tiled floors seem unchanged since the 17th century. The bar manager, Ron, comes to the table to take orders, writing them down in a ledger and crossing them out when it is time to pay, a quaint ritual that many local pubs still use. A group of older men stand around the bar, enjoying each other’s company in the warm light of dusk – a merry scene any artist might love to capture.
Casks line the wall behind Café de Druif’s bar, testifying to its origins as a distillery (Likeurstokerij). “It started by making medicines from herbs dissolved in alcohol,” says Ron, pointing out the casks still bear ornate names such as “Frambozen” (raspberry) and “Gember” (ginger). That’s one explanation. Other people say that the herbs just served to mask the taste of rough alcohol, rather than having any medical benefit.
Whatever the truth, this was the source of the jenever trade, which still thrives in various other local bars, such as Wynand Fockink, which has been sitting off Dam Square since 1679. The spirits here, with lovely names such as “Boswandeling” (a walk in the woods) are served in ice-cold tulip-shaped glasses, full to the brim. The combination means it’s traditional to bend down to take the first sip, rather than try to hold the freezing shot glass.
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