AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (June 22, 2006) — "Two beers or not two beers?" the grinning young American called out from the corner table by the bar. The bartender smiled indulgently. "Two beers?"
"Two beers!" the American shouted as his companions collapsed into hysterics. The bartender chuckled as she drew the brews.
So did I. It seemed pretty funny at the time. But then, many things seem pretty funny at Dampkring, one the Amsterdam's hundreds of amusingly euphemized "coffee shops."
Did you know cannabis is decriminalized in the Netherlands? Really! In coffee shops all over the country you can buy marijuana and hashish and spark up on the spot (although the laws on possession, sale and use elsewhere are, shall we say, hazy).
Tolerance does have its limits. Even the Dutch would probably acknowledge that golf and mind-altering substances don't mix. ("Have you ever looked at the 16th at Spyglass? I mean, really looked at it?") Much as it might grieve American college golfers, there are no joint carts plying golf courses in the Amsterdam-area, and the fairways are not sewn with a hybrid of bentgrass and sinsemilla.
Still, there's potential here for a very different kind of golf trip. Kennemer Golf and Country Club, a 27-hole links about a half-hour drive from Amsterdam, has been rated one of the world's top 10 courses by Conde Nast Traveler. And where else can you try another type of green without fear of legal or societal repercussions? Barring issues of personal morality or imminent urine test, when in Amsterdam, do as the Amsterdamaged.
The sheer number of pungent-smelling options is dizzying, from dank dives to neighborhood hangs to noisy joints full of THC tourists who haven't stopped inhaling since they piled off the plane. Some have names like Rastababy, Homegrown Fantasy and Pink Floyd; thankfully, most do not. On the plus side, everyone in Amsterdam speaks English, probably better than you do, and they are genially accustomed to temporarily bent foreigners.
Dampkring, cozily situated off a major shopping street, is a good place to dive in, catering nicely to cannabis-curious visitors (you won't be the only one here with a Van Gogh Museum gift-shop bag) with a fully stocked bar and a friendly vibe. Cool, vaguely Eastern fixtures disperse a relaxed red-green glow over woody, vaguely Eastern dÃ©cor. It's like a mildly psychedelic English pub.
The extensive weed menu is a trip in itself, with ornate, wine-bar-like descriptions of the provenance, flavor and likely effect of selections such as Stella Blue, NYC Diesel and Ocean's Twelve Haze. (A scene from the 2004 Clooney-Pitt caper was filmed here; a clip loops hypnotically on a mounted monitor.)
The adventurous, and flush, can sample pricey Dutch psycho-dope and hallucinate about winning the Masters. Wiser heads might opt for a chunk of Rifman hash, grown without chemicals or additives by non-exploited Moroccan farmers. You can feel good about smoking it. Well, better. Expend your extra sensory perception on the nearby Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market), a glorious explosion of color along one of the city's ubiquitous canals.
Follow the water west and north for a sunny-day meander through the Jordaan, a former working-class district turned upscale-elegant. At the sign of the slightly dazed-looking Van Gogh duck into La Tertulia for a refined snack or smoke.
The airy, split-level and (key point) ventilated interior tempers institutional furnishings with lush fauna, creating a homey space where two nice ladies of a certain age dispense your bud, available if you like in convenient brownie form. Head upstairs with a book or a board game, or people-watch with your spliff at one of the charming waterside tables. Dorm-room-with-a-towel-stuffed-under-the-door it's not.
A nightspot it's not either — La Tertulia shuts down at 7 p.m., leaving plenty of time to make the, um, happy hour at Hill Street Blues. Popular with tourists, the original HSB (named for its proximity to a police station) in the heart of Ould Amsterdam is a heady, bar-like scene with nightly drink discounts plus pool and foosball for the active, energetic, still-capable-of-concentrating stoner.
Its newer sibling, anchoring a market square at the end of a canal-side promenade of cafes and coffee shops, is a place to get up close and personal with your buzz: quiet corners, ambient music, comfy couches. Should you feel the need to rouse yourself you can relocate to the terrace looking out on the bustling Nieuwmarkt, but, as one of the dealer's-menu selections advises, don't make any plans.
But don't let anything, herbivorous or otherwise, keep you from hitting Amsterdam's main street market, sprawling three long blocks down Albert Cuypstraat in the funky, multi-ethnic Pijp neighborhood south of the center. Think twice about stoking up before plunging in: The sensory overload and sheer volume of things you will want to taste right now might cause your head to explode.
Should you want to chance it, YoYo near the market's eastern end is favored by locals for its mellow vibe and organic weed. It might mean blowing off your scheduled 18. But it will make the freshly baked, syrup-slathered waffle wafers available from that guy at the market the best thing you'll eat. Like, ever.