Amsterdam has long been one of my favorite cities. I love the misty beauty of its historic canal-laced center; its tall, gabled brick houses that are at once elegant and homey; and its polite and good-humored inhabitants.
Amsterdam is a city that was conjured out of the marshy banks of the Amstel river.
I’m also unfailingly fascinated by the city’s remarkable ingenuity. Originally a fishing village next to a dam on the Amstel — hence the name — it required some of the most remarkable hydraulic engineering ever undertaken to become the center of a commercial empire in the 14th and 15th centuries. During its golden age, Amsterdam was the most important mercantile city in Europe, a role spearheaded by the Dutch East India Company — Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie in Dutch, which is often abbreviated to VOC.
The VOC was a publicly traded company that prospered initially as a result of a 21-year monopoly on the country’s spice trade. It was also the precursor of today’s multinational corporations, since it had operations in India and Southeast Asia and issued bonds and shares to the general public. It also ran a remarkable web of trade routes that required cutting-edge logistics and navigational skills, along with shipbuilding skills. A glimpse of the company’s might can be found at one of Amsterdam’s most interesting small museums, the Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum).
Roughly the same size as Boston, Amsterdam continues to thrive as an international business and cultural hub. Today it is also a city that appeals to travelers of all ages and interests. Recently, it has emerged as a gastronomic destination. And it is also a center for shopping, with charming concept stores that provide an antidote to the global brands that line the streets of most of the world’s great cities.
This year saw the opening of the 16-room Hotel TwentySeven, in an art nouveau structure overlooking Dam Square. The building originally housed the Royal Industrial Club, a prestigious meeting place for Dutch manufacturers and entrepreneurs. Recently, the club decided to lease the top two floors to a local developer to convert them into a hotel.
On arrival, we were slightly confused, since the hotel’s signage is very discreet, but eventually a friendly doorman directed us to the reception area on the third floor. Here, a pleasant young woman checked us in and showed us to Restaurant Bougainville and the hotel’s bar, the latter a striking space with an onyx-faced counter and fine views over Dam Square.
A butler brought us upstairs to our suite, an elegant, high-ceilinged room with a large bed and a velvet-upholstered sofa. The rich and sensual colors of the décor — teal blue, cream and burgundy — were complemented by textured wallpaper, oak parquet floors and a contemporary starburst chandelier. The butler explained that almost everything — lowering the blinds, adjusting the temperature and selecting the lighting mood — could be controlled from a wall-mounted tablet. Amenities included a small wine fridge and an elaborate Italian coffee machine. A white-marble bath with a gray mosaic floor contained a walk-in rainfall shower and a large whirlpool bath.
That evening, we enjoyed well-mixed cocktails by charming young bartender Eric van Beek before going out to dinner. The bar has quickly become popular with the stylish locals, who give it a sophisticated and vibrant atmosphere.
The hotel also offers an array of bespoke services, including private tour guides, personal trainers, nannies and personal shoppers. But ultimately what we most liked about this property was its intimate character, despite a location in the very heart of Amsterdam.
The sumptuous décor; the great location; the lively bar.
Some of the staff needed more training to deliver the level of service to which this property aspires.
Ask the butler to show you how the coffee maker in your suite works, because it is unusually complicated.
In contrast, the Kimpton De Witt, which opened last May, will appeal chiefly to fitness-oriented and style-conscious younger travelers. Kimpton was founded in San Francisco 37 years ago. Today the company is owned by InterContinental Hotels Group and has 65 properties in North America. The De Witt is its first European hotel.
I wondered if a hip San Franciscan brand could translate to an Old World city, but I was immediately impressed. The light-filled lobby has a vertical garden wall and blue-and-cream floor tiles, the latter making a witty reference to the motifs of Holland’s famous Delft pottery. Beyond the lounge area, Wyers bar and restaurant is run by an American chef, who serves dishes like barbecued flank steak, wood-grilled octopus, and a Dutch-accented Caesar salad garnished with delicious nutty shavings of Reypenaer V.S.O.P., one of Holland’s most distinguished cheeses. The hotel also has a moody cocktail bar, plus a coffee bar that serves freshly made beignets.
Our King Studio with Terrace came with a raked roof and skylights. Furnished with modern Scandinavian-style furniture, it was quiet, light and extremely comfortable. Faced with black, blue and white tiles, the bath was equipped with a walk-in rainfall shower, custom Frette terrycloth robes and Marie-Stella-Maris soaps and lotions. (The Amsterdam-based lifestyle brand has a small shop downstairs too, so guests can buy their favorite products to bring home.)
At breakfast the following morning, we sat next to three generations of a Chicago family. All of them — grandparents, parents and teenagers — seemed unanimous in their praise for the hotel. (The teenagers were especially keen on the complimentary VanMoof bicycles that enable guests to scoot around town like a bicycle-loving Amsterdammer.) Though not a true luxury hotel, the De Witt is a very pleasant and reasonably priced address in an excellent location.
Friendly service; a strong sense of place; a high level of comfort at an affordable price.
Poorly located electrical outlets meant I had to crawl on hands and knees to plug in my computer.
The No. 2 tram, which stops just across the street from the hotel, is the fastest and easiest way to get to the Museum Quarter, where the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam are located.