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Our Five Favorite Coffeehouses

The official purpose of the Cannabis Cup is to judge the various new strains and flavors of marijuana and pick the best one. I, however, do not have the educated palate necessary to do this. It was all just smoke to me. I sampled a variety of strains during the week, but my rating system never really moved beyond noting the difference between "tolerable" and "makes me cough my lungs out".

However, there were other things to judge in this competition, and the one we latched onto was voting for the best coffeehouse.

I read somewhere that there are actually over 400 coffeehouses in Amsterdam, but the "Official Coffeeshop Guide", published by the Cannabis Retailers Association, lists just 29 of the best ones, so these are the ones we concentrated on visiting. Alas, a week just isn't enough time, and there were many that we never got to, so our judging was far from complete. It hardly matters though, since even among the ones we did visit, we had a hard time deciding which one we liked best. So, we settled on picking our top 5. Here they are.

The Bulldog Palace Coffeeshop

Imagine a typical American bar. It's three steps down from street level, and even though it's daylight outside, it's dim and smoky inside. You go in, and you take a seat at the bar.

Now, imagine you look up at the signs behind the bar and the first thing you notice is a sign that says "Drinks required - No Alcohol." What kind of bar is this? It looks basically like any normal bar... but no alcohol? If there's no beer or booze, what is there?

As a non-drinker, I've never liked bars. The floor is always sticky, the counter has beer spilled on it, and the people there are getting drunk and rambunctious as they watch the football game on TV. Nothing about that picture is appealing to me. Yet it's a popular setting all across America and the world.

This, however, was a bar that I really enjoyed spending time in. For the first time in my life, I've been able to see the appeal of a cozy neighborhood spot such as this.

But if there's no alcohol behind the bar, then what is back there?

Well, naturally, since this is a coffeehouse, there's a large espresso machine, but there's also a juicer and a hopper filled with oranges, and a milk shake blender, and a rack of candy bars and bottles of apple juice and mineral water, and a special device for making tostis, not to mention the sink and dishrack and the built-in stereo with large assortment of CDs. (There's no sports on TV here... instead, we're listening to an old Madonna album. After a while, one of the regulars strolls in and hands the woman behind the counter a CD of his own, requesting that she play it, and she does.) There's also an assortment of rolling papers and lighters and such available at the bar. (The actual marijuana is sold out of a little closet-sized booth in the corner.)

The key thing in all of this is that the proprietors truly understand the needs of the pot-smoking consumer. There are several different types of pot-smokers, and for those who reject alcohol in favor of the herb, this place is paradise. You can smoke your pot in peace and comfort here, the floor isn't sticky, and when you get the munchies, there's a cute Dutch girl who'll bring you all sorts of delicious stuff.

The Bulldog Energy Coffeeshop

The Bulldog is kind of the McDonalds of the Amsterdam coffeehouse scene, with several locations around the city. The branch called Energy is another of my favorites. Like the Coffeeshop at the palace, the Energy is alcohol free, although with a large menu of Smart Drinks and less emphasis on food. It's got great decor, though, reminding me of Planet X (a vegetarian coffeehouse here in the Washington DC area that could easily be a haven for pot smokers if it were legal in this country).

Lucky Mothers

Lucky Mothers has a small ground floor room with an alcohol-free bar, but the thing that makes me love this place is the basement. You go down a rather frightening flight of stairs to a room with a fireplace and throw rugs on the floor. Being in the basement of Lucky Mothers is like hanging out in someone's living room. This was the only coffeeshop we visited in which you could really sit on the floor, and since Kristin and I are floor-centric types, it won a lot of points with us for that. (Of course, floor sitting only ever works in an alcohol-free establishment.)

The Tea-Room in the Melkweg

If Amsterdam is the Stoner Disney World, then De Melkweg ("the milky way") is Pleasure Island. This large building (enormous compared to most of the normal coffeeshops) houses a variety of themed rooms and can be rented, in part or in whole, for parties. Most of the big events of the Cannabis Cup took place here, in either or both of the two big auditoriums on the ground floor. But there are more interesting and exotic rooms upstairs (which sadly were open only during the first night of the Cup). These rooms include a little movie theater (which was showing cartoons when we were there), a small chamber lit entirely with blue lights and with very strange stuff being shown on video monitors, and the Tea Room.

The Tea Room is a very cool space. The room is broken up into several seating areas, with couches surrounding low tables. Good table space is vital to pot smokers who prefer bongs and hookas over joints and pipes, and this place has great tables. Sitting here reminded me more than any other coffeehouse of the world of Alice in Wonderland.

De Rokerij

This place has really cool Moroccan decor, and the back area is lit entirely with candles, making for a wonderfully romantic setting. This one unfortunately was not alcohol-free, but the drinkers tended to congregate around the bar, so the spilled beer factor in the cool back area wasn't a problem.

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