Amsterdam Red Light District: The city cleaned up its sleazy center
It was raw and in-your-face, sleazy yet seductive, but Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District has been cleaned up and a new character is emerging.
Behind the permissiveness, the brothel windows and the cannabis coffee shops lurked rampant criminality — a world of of sex trafficking, forced prostitution and money-laundering — and authorities decided enough was enough.
In 2008 Mayor Job Cohen launched Project 1012 (named after the postal code of the area), a 10-year plan to improve the district and attract a different type of visitor.
A host of disreputable businesses, such as the famous sex club Yab Yum, were closed down as the municipality tightened its grip.
Sex workers have been replaced by young artists who showcase their paintings, sculptures and clothes behind the windows, where once millions passed by to glimpse the forbidden fruit.
Not all of the brothel windows will disappear. Out of 470, about 150 had to close their curtains indefinitely. Other landmarks such as museums celebrating the area’s sex and drugs trade are also likely to remain.
As a local, born and raised in Amsterdam, the Red Light District has always been a favorite place for me to hang out. I liked the roughness it gave to Amsterdam, but its old character is disappearing at a rapid pace.
In its place is emerging a new, cleaner area popular with students and hipsters, with better-quality bars, restaurants and one-off clothes and trinket shops.
Slow-dripped, light-roasted coffee served by trained baristas is found at several new coffee shops, replacing the coffees shops that once sold marijuana.
It’s become a great place to wander around, but I worry the secrets and the strange will slowly be replaced by the average. I wonder if the new venues are in the right place, and risk ruining Amsterdam’s soul — her red lighted, stubborn, fearless soul.
Here’s where to drink, eat and shop in Amsterdam’s new Red Light District.
This is one of the best-located coffee places in Amsterdam. It’s hidden inside the Oude Kerk — the city’s oldest parish church — in the middle of the Red Light District.
Around the corner from De Koffieschenkerij. The cheeky name of this coffee shop is French slang for the activity that made the district famous.
Koko Coffee & Design
This is a coffee place combined with a store selling a range of hand-picked Scandinavian and Dutch fashion designs.
Want something stronger?
Besides the lager, stout and Jägermeister shots you will find at any old-style red-light district bar, there are some places where they put just a little bit more love into making the drinks.
Cut Throat Barber Brunch & Bar
A barber, a coffee shop, a brunch, lunch and dinner bar and a place to sip craft beer, all under one roof.
Not exactly a newcomer, but too much of an icon not to mention. This local brewery works with people facing obstacles in the work market and gives them a chance to excel.
Top-notch cocktails mixed, shaken and stirred by equally top-class bartenders in a cross between a traditional Amsterdam brown café and a quality cocktail joint.
The neighborhood is famous for its little Chinatown and the heart of this area is the Zeedijk, a small street full of brown cafés, gay bars, coffee shops and a host of Asian restaurants with a modern twist.
Dum Dum Palace
Located on the Zeedijk, dim sum central Dum Dum Palace competes with some of the established Asian restaurants like Nam Kee. The place is packed every night.