Think of Amsterdam nightlife and chances are, the first thing that pops into mind is its famed red-light district - brothels, window-displayed prostitutes, sex shops and all. But the Dutch city is not just known for its kinky aspects.
As I discovered on a visit to the city last month, Amsterdam has become a hotbed for cool cocktail bars, from intimate speakeasies to loungey hotel bars that take pride in using fresh Dutch produce in their tipple.
At least six watering holes have popped up in the past year or so, proof that there is a burgeoning cocktail culture and growing bartending community there.
International bar consultant and veteran bartender Jarl de Vries, a fixture in the bar community in the Netherlands, thinks that the bar scene is booming, but that it is still "catching up" with Singapore. He was in Singapore about three months ago on a bar tour, as he was in South-east Asian for consultancy work.
Nonetheless, the quality and creativity of drinks at some of these Dutch bars, along with standards in bar service, have won worldwide recognition. Some have been ranked among the World's 50 Best Bars by British national newspaper The Sunday Times and received nods from reputable bar review website worldbestbars.com.
SundayLife! went bar-hopping in the city and discovered a few hidden gems and more.
The best part? These bars are all just a stone's throw away from one another, which is perfect for anyone hoping to do a cocktail bar-crawl on the weekend.
This bar is tricky to get into.
Located in the trendy De Pijp district, The Butcher is a hip joint touted to serve the best burgers in town.
But walk to the back of this casual eatery and you will find a freezer door with a buzzer by the side. Press it and someone will prompt you for a password.
I am told that you can get in only if you are a member of the bar or know a member in order to be able to make a reservation and obtain a password. But one can always try his luck in cold-calling.
Luckily for me, I am with a friend who is a member and he has a reservation.
The password changes daily and it is always related to meat.
The freezer door slides open, letting us into an anteroom where we are greeted by a model-esque brunette who takes our coats, welcoming us into the bar.
The speakeasy - a low-lit, intimate space - is packed to the gills with a stylish and affluent-looking crowd. The music is downtempo house.
The drinks I order pack a punch. Among them is the show-stopping Blind Pig cocktail (Irish whiskey, honey water and passionfruit), served with a passionfruit shot with 95 per cent alcohol set alight.
I also tried the Daily Ration, a mystery cocktail served in a small bottle concealed in a paper bag, Prohibition-era style; and the Spice Rum Fashioned, a twist on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail using overproof rum and a winter-spice shrub.
This is one of the stronger bar concepts in Amsterdam and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to dress up for an adventure and a fun night out.
While you are there, do not forget to try the burgers in the restaurant area or in the speakeasy (though at a heftier price tag of about €19 (S$33) for a burger; at the burger bar, they cost around €10 to €12).
Address: Albert Cuypstraat 129 1072 CS, Amsterdam
Hours: No details, although its website states that The Butcher's "secret" kitchen serves "dinner" from Wednesdays to Saturdays from 8pm till late. The burger bar opens Sundays to Tuesdays from noon till late; and Wednesdays to Saturdays from 11am till late
Prices: Average price of a cocktail is €16
When a cocktail compels you to watch the 1980s Dutch murder- thriller it was named after, you know the drink - and the bar - have made quite an impression.
I had the Amsterdamned cocktail at the nine-month-old bar, located in the InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam hotel. Inspired by the 1988 Dutch film directed by Dutch film director Dick Maas, about a serial killer who goes on a murderous spree in the canals of Amsterdam, the savoury green-coloured cocktail is a twist on the gin basil smash.
It uses Dutch WF Fadograph Bergamot Genever, green basil, fresh lemon and white pepper, with a light drizzle of olive oil on top. The basil gives this drink some bite and the drops of olive oil drizzled on top of the cocktail gives it a creamy, smooth sensation on the palate.
Iconic Dutch movies such as Amsterdamned form the inspirational backbone for a lot of the cocktails at A Bar, helmed by head bartender Rob Rademaker.
Genever, the juniper-flavoured national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands, features as a key ingredient for many cocktails on the menu.
Other must-tries include the Damrak Drizzle (V.O.C Edition Bols Corenwyn, orange curacao, almond, lemon and Condado de Haza red wine served with fresh fruit in an ice nest), named after Damrak, the main street in the heart of Amsterdam.
For a more showy cocktail, try the Psychotropic Blazer, a tongue-numbing drink that incorporates a Sichuan pepper extract with Dutch rye whiskey, Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters and rosemary syrup.
This warm cocktail is prepared in front of you, with the bartender pouring the mixture "teh-tarik"- style to reduce the alcohol content to 20 per cent before it is stirred with a fresh rosemary sprig.
If cocktails are not your thing, try the Kopstootje, which is a shot of Genever mixed with cold draft beer - like the Dutch version of the Korean Somaek (soju and beer).
For a hotel bar, A Bar is rather casual and laid-back; a perfect place to sip on your cocktail while watching the sunset from the roof-top terrace, which offers a breathtaking view of the city and scenic canals.
Address: Professor Tulpplein 1, 1018 GX, Amsterdam
Hours: Mondays to Fridays, 4pm to 1am; Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 1am
Prices: Cocktails cost between €14 and €20; wine from €8 a glass
Walking along a stretch of road in Reguliersdwarsstraat, a popular area known for wining, dining and partying, I arrive at a shopfront that has its windows covered in white paper.
It has no signage, except for a little poster on the door that reads: "Fietsen worden verwijderd" (It means "Bikes will be removed" in Dutch).
I knock on the door and a man's head pops out from a tiny window, sussing out my friends and I, before he lets us in.
We are at Door 74, a six-year-old bar that touts itself as the first speakeasy-style cocktail bar in the Netherlands.
It is a Thursday night and inside, the low-lit and intimate space is filled with an after-work crowd of professionals.
The bar staff, led by head bartender Timo Janse-de Vries, are friendly and approachable, and within seconds of being seated, a bartender comes around to inform us of its daily special.
The night I visited, the cocktail of the day was the Drunk Presidents, a tease on the recent fiasco in Amsterdam where a few of President Obama's bodyguards were sent home after being found intoxicated in the lobby of their hotel.
It was a rather potent drink, which mixed Jefferson's bourbon, Seve Fournier cognac liqueur, Galliano ristretto liqueur, homemade raspberry syrup and fresh lemon juice.
If you are after creativity in cocktails, this is the place to be.
A stand-out cocktail for me was the award-winning Duc D'orange cocktail, which was presented at the Dutch final of Cointreau's best bar team contest (Door 74 took first place). The cocktail uses cointreau, lime juice, soda water infused with spring flowers and duck liver pate, which is used to fat wash (infusing the flavour of the fat in the liquor) the spirit.
Address: Reguliersdwarsstraat 74I, 1017 BN Amsterdam
Hours: Sundays to Thursdays, 8pm to 3am; Fridays and Saturdays, 8pm to 4am
Prices: Cocktails average between €13 and €16
Info: www.door-74.com. To get in, call and leave a voicemail or text with your details (name, number of people, desired time of arrival and phone number) and its staff will call or text you back later in the day to accept or decline your reservation. It accepts only same-day reservation requests, excluding special holidays.
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
Stepping into the cosy confines of Hiding In Plain Sight (HPS) in Rapenburg, the first thing that greets me are strange mathematical equations and drawings of pineapples scribbled on chalkboards pinned on its walls.
Decipher them and you could get a free round of shots, I am told.
It is all part of the cheeky persona of this tiny space that is dressed up as a gentleman's bar - think leather couches, bookshelves and antique trimmings.
Playful cocktail names, such as the Megalomaniac, Hand Of God and The Walking Dead, and an amusing little note informing patrons they can take the menu home for the price of €130 make for great conversation starters.
Concept aside, the place whips up seriously good cocktails.
No surprise, given that the two-year-old bar, started by Argentina-born owner Guillermo Gonzalez and his wife, was voted best cocktail bar in the Netherlands in 2012 by Esquire Magazine.
Here, I try the Haraam, a cocktail with Middle Eastern leanings (bourbon infused with with walnut, mint, date syrup and fresh lime juice), which is served on a cute, miniature carpet.
For a sweeter finish, there is the refreshing Plum-Rye Fix (Bulleit rye infused with plum, plum vinegar, ginger syrup, fresh lemon juice and peach bitters).
Mr Gonzalez and his team are an affable bunch and when my friend tells them we are moving to another bar after theirs, they introduce us to a game that they started to bolster camaraderie among bartenders - "the boomerang cocktail".
The bartender at HPS - it starts from here - fills up a bottle with a mystery cocktail, which my friend is instructed to pass to the bartender at the next bar we visit. The bartender there has to guess the contents of the cocktail.
He will then refill the bottle with a new cocktail for someone else to take to the next bartender he meets. Eventually, the bottle is meant to make its way back to HPS - a process that might take weeks.
So, if you ever pop by HPS and are headed to another cocktail bar, let them know. They may just let you be part of the "boomerang movement".
Address: Rapenburg 18, 1011 TX, Amsterdam
Open: Mondays to Thursdays, 6pm to 1am; Fridays and Saturdays 6pm to 3am
Prices: Cocktails are between €15 and €17
IZAKAYA ASIAN KITCHEN & BAR
Although this snazzy restaurant-bar is better known for its food than its tipples, the Asian-inspired cocktails are decent enough to warrant a visit.
The drinks here tend to be on the lighter side to go with the Japanese-style tapas, with offerings such as the Shisomomo (cardamom seeds, gin, sauvignon blanc and Japanese shiso leaves) and the airy Lycheeshu (shochu, lychee liqueur and yuzu juice).
I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected pairing of bourbon and umeshu plum in the Ume Runner, a fruity drink that combines the two spirits with fresh passionfruit, served frappe over crushed ice.
For those after a stronger drink, a good after-dinner choice would be the Vote Pedro (bourbon, dry vermouth, PX sherry, lemon and a touch of maple syrup).
Opened in November 2012, Izakaya Asian Kitchen & Bar is the brainchild of London entrepreneur Yossi Eliyahoo, who also owns two other trendy eateries in Amsterdam: Momo restaurant, bar and lounge, and casual burger bar The Butcher.
It has an open-kitchen concept and guests can check out chefs preparing dishes on a traditional Japanese robata grill at Izakaya.
For a light snack, I munch on popcorn shrimp tempura (€14.50 for a small bowl) and crispy rice topped with what tasted like a tuna tartare (€9.50). Both are yummy and pair well with the cocktails.
Izakaya attracts a well-dressed clientele in their late 20s to early 30s, grooving to the down-tempo deep house music spun by the DJ who comes on at 10pm. It is a place to be seen.
Call to book a table, as this restaurant is known to be fully booked two months in advance.
Address: Albert Cuypstraat 2-6, 1072 CT, Amsterdam
Hours: Sundays to Thursdays, 10am to 1am; Fridays and Saturdays, 10am to 2am
Prices: Cocktails from €13 to €14.50
TALES & SPIRITS
Vintage and contemporary charm resonate through Tales & Spirits, a restaurant and cocktail bar that has been getting consistently warm reviews since it opened 16 months ago.
The 63-seat antique-furnished bar is housed in a preserved building dating back to 1575.
The bar's owner, Mr Boudewijn Mesritz, tells me the historical building was one of the things that inspired him to name the bar Tales & Spirits.
He says it is a bar with many stories to share with its patrons and jokingly adds that it is a place where you may even chance upon a lingering spirit.
Thankfully, the only spirits I encounter are in the cocktails I am recommended, such as the Viuez Carre cocktail, a Dutch take on an American classic that originated in New Orleans. Two types of genever (Dutch gin) are used in the cocktail mix instead of the usual whiskey and cognac.
If you want something to impress your date with, order the Smoke & Mirrors (Ketel One vodka, Martini Gran Lusso vermouth, Pierre Ferrand dry curacao, strawberry basil shrub, olive oil and rosemary). The bartender serves the cocktail in an encased glass jar that has been smoked with rosemary.
Fans of the Old Fashioned cocktail will be pleased to know that this bar serves variations of this classic.
If you are feeling peckish, there is a sophisticated food menu that includes duck liver lollipops coated with white chocolate and served with brioche and white chocolate pearls; truffle risotto and momofuku pork buns (crisp pork belly in a steamed bun).
A narrow wooden staircase leads you to the restrooms, but also to a separate private bar - with a special cocktail menu - but only for "close family and friends". When I ask to venture upstairs for a peek, I am told that it was not possible as "the lady of the house" was "entertaining guests".
Mesritz tells me to return another day to visit the private bar. I just might.
Address: Lijnbaanssteeg 5, 1012 TE, Amsterdam
Hours: Tuesdays to Thursdays, 5pm to 1am; Fridays and Saturdays, 5pm to 3am; closed on Sundays and Mondays
Prices: Cocktails are between €10 and €15. House specials cost €8.50
In Amsterdam's east-side on a Friday night, a little bar in a corner of Oosterpark, a large park in Amsterdam's Oost borough, is a hive of activity.
The packed atmosphere is loud and vibrant and the people are friendly and make you feel right at home.
Henry's Bar, which takes its name from American poet and novelist Henry Charles Bukowski, is one of the trendiest nightspots in town.
Last year, men's magazine Esquire named this bar the best new cocktail bar in Holland.
The place, which opened last June, operates as a sister cocktail bar to restaurant-bar Bar Bukowski next door from Thursdays to Saturdays. The rest of the week, the 1,400 sq ft space is utilised as a smoking room for Bar Bukowski.
When you are there, sidle up for a spot at the bar counter, where you can have a chat with the friendly bartenders and watch them in action.
I tried the Bar Bukow, its signature tequila cocktail with fresh chilli peppers and ginger, and When Life Hands You Lemon, a creamy delight with the 3 Ls: Licor 43 Spanish liqueur, limoncello and lemons.
The drinks - nothing too fanciful - complemented the vibe of the bar well. The bar menu also boasts a generous selection of gin and whiskey.
Of all the cocktail bars I visited in Amsterdam, Henry's Bar was the most affordable - most of their cocktails cost just under €10 each.
If you are feeling peckish, try the Dutch bitterballen, mini deep-fried potato croquettes with minced meat, or the truffle mozzarella and ham pizza.
And if you are tired of cocktails, you can always pop next door to the restaurant-bar for a beer.
As Bukowski wrote in his 1978 novel Women: "If something good happens, you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens, you drink to make something happen."
Address: Oosterpark 11, 1092 AE, Amsterdam
Hours: Thursdays to Saturdays, 8pm to 1am
Prices: Cocktails cost between €8.75 and €9.75. Bar bites from €2.50 to €8.50. Credit cards are not accepted
Nightspot Dvars feels like a commercial dance club, with a vibe akin to the restaurant bars and club lounges one would find at Singapore's Clarke Quay.
But this 360-seat bar serves up cocktails that can easily rival any bespoke cocktail bar in town. It has head bartender Andrew Nicholls to thank.
The South American native is a veteran in the bar scene, having worked at other popular cocktail bars in Amsterdam including Door 74 and Vesper bar.
The 33-year-old bar consultant and bartender trainer is also Holland's ambassador for liquor brands Tres Generaciones Tequila and Geranium Gin.
He creates perfectly balanced cocktails, as tasted in his Tennyson's Beast (Kracken spiced rum, beast syrup of pineapple, cloves, amaretto and honey, lime juice and ginger ale).
There is a seasonal cocktail menu and when I visited at the end of last month, there were several winterinspired cocktails still being offered.
These included Hot Buttered Rum, which tasted like a buttery Hot Toddy with Appleton estate 12-year rum, hot water and spiced butter; and the Winter Flip, a dessert cocktail for fans of Christmas pudding (cognac infused with Christmas pudding, shaken with a fresh egg yolk and PX sherry).
Other favourites include Dvar's Ultimate Bloody Mary, which uses fresh tomato juice that takes two days to prepare, and the feminine Susurro cocktail, which mixes ocho blanco, cherry and pear liqueurs, and fresh lime juice.
I recommend this place to anyone who wants quality drinks in a club-like party environment.
Address: Reguliersdwarsstraat 44, 1017 BM, Amsterdam
Hours: Tuesdays to Thursdays, 11 to 1am; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 to 3am; Sundays, 11 to 1am, closed on Mondays
Prices: Cocktails cost between €9.50 and €10.50