The House of Bols Has Renovated – But Is It For the Better?

My husband and I have now been to Amsterdam over half a dozen times – we’ve actually lost count. And it has become tradition to do three things on every visit – have beer at “our local,” get food out of the wall at Febo, and go to the House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience. For my original review on the House of Bols, go here: House of Bols 2015

Well, the last time we went to Amsterdam back in September 2016, there were some noticeable changes to the House of Bols. Some we liked, and some we didn’t. Here’s what we noticed:

Free audio guides – this was new, at least I don’t recall being offered one before. But all great museums have audio guides now. And since the House of Bols was always a self-guided experience, the audio guide was a great addition. It gave more background information on Bols and the creation of genever than the previous signage had offered. You just aim the audio guide at these signs around the rooms to play the audio in each section.

The first room, which used to have a huge glass display of antique Bols bottles and distilling instruments in the center, is now rearranged. Here is the display before and after the changes:

Before:

And after:

The wall display is now much sleeker and tidier. Placing the display against the wall also opened up the room so they could put in a large digital display. The new screen set-up is a nice modern update, even though it makes the room feel a little bit empty.

The room with the delft blue ceramic houses given out to business and royal class passengers on KLM has remained untouched. It makes sense; I’m not sure how they could improve on the current layout. Having the display in the center of the room gives the ability to walk around and see the little ceramic bottles from all sides.

The Senses Room though…it used to be all shiny and dimly lit, covered in mirrors and cool signs like this one:

Here are the before and after, side by side. Gone are the mirrored walls and counter, replaced by one solid color. It looks very tidy now. Almost too tidy though? I kind of liked it the way it was. Maybe it was a little bit much, but now it’s a little too little, know what I mean?

Before:

And after:

Luckily, the Sniffing Room (I’m clearly just making up these names. This room is officially called the House of Taste even though you’re not actually tasting anything…yet) is still intact, for the most part. I never get tired of testing my sniffer to see how many Bols liqueurs I can identify. I’m still usually under 50% correct, even though we’ve gone five times now!

House of Bols liqueur wall

Ok whoever created this display needs to come decorate my house.

The only real change here, is that on the opposite side of the room, there used to be a cabinet. You could actually slide out the drawers to smell different ingredients that go into making genever, such as star anise and orange rind. Most visitors didn’t seem to be aware of this little hidden gem though. We only discovered it by accident on our second visit. So it makes sense that they replaced it. But they replaced the beautiful wood cabinet with a smaller display, just designed to showcase their newest liqueurs. This is their display for their Pineapple Chipotle liqueur. The other newest flavour was a date liqueur. I do love their moody use of lighting though.

Also gone: the round advertisement lounge (again, my own description). This was a big round room with screens all around the wall showing ads for Bols, with a round couch in the center. This was a room that we used to poke our heads into, go, “huh,” and walk out. So, what did they replace it with?

This. Is. Cool. This room walks you through the genever process, and you get to sniff, touch and play a bit. This is a huge improvement over the advertisement set-up. The whole point of the House of Bols, I think, is its interactive quality. And this really stepped up their game. It’s just a gorgeous room:

I love the new wall display too. So many pretty colours and flavours:

After the tour we went to the most important room: the Mirror Bar! We had our fingers crossed that this remained intact, and we weren’t disappointed. The bar is still slathered in mirrors all the way up to the ceiling. BUT.

The cost of your entry ticket no longer covers what it used to. Previously, your ticket came with two vouchers attached to the bottom. One was for a cocktail, and the other covered two shots of any liqueur/genever they had. Now, they have this sign on the tables:

Indeed, the cost of admission no longer covers the two shots of liqueur. Just the self-guided tour and one cocktail. I can’t recall whether the entry fee was €16 on our last visit, as it is now, or whether it was a bit less. But regardless, the admission fee wasn’t so bad when you knew it covered three drinks at the conclusion. Now though, €16 for one cocktail included doesn’t seem like such a great deal.

At least the bartenders still make the drinks with flair. There’s shaking, tossing, flicks of the wrist, etc. which I hope they never lose. We struck up a conversation with one of the bartenders and asked about the changes. She said they are planning to add another room to the experience, though she didn’t say what the theme or concept would be. We asked about the “flair,” namely the previous use of a blowtorch on occasion. Last time we were here, the bartender pulled out a blowtorch to make my husband’s drink. He lit a sprig of rosemary on fire, then blew it out and tossed it into the drink, still smoking. Alas, no, she said, they didn’t use the blowtorch anymore, it was a bit too dangerous.

We ordered a Ginger Pear and a Schwarzwalder Torte cocktail and mulled over the changes at the House of Bols.

While we liked the addition of the audio guide and distillation room the most, we had mixed feelings about some of the other changes. Mostly it was the loss of the two liqueur shots with the price of admission. And I understand that renovations are expensive and prices keep going up, but this is something I really feel added value. The bonus of two liqueur shots made people try new flavours they otherwise wouldn’t have. I wonder how many people purchase the shots separately now, or if they just stick to the one cocktail.

Something I would love to see in the future, is a way to “bypass” the self-guided tour and just head straight to the Mirror Bar. Right now, you have to walk through the entire museum to reach the bar at the end. The tour is great for newcomers or those that don’t visit the House of Bols often. But for us, we tend to just whip through this part now. This visit was an exception because of the new elements added. But for repeated visits, it’s really all about the bar and trying the newest cocktails.

As we walked out, Mark turned to me and asked, “with all the changes, do you think we’ll be back?” We looked at each other and said in unison, “yeah, it’s tradition.” We’re returning in April 2017, this time with four friends, two of whom have never been to Amsterdam before. So we’ll be back to the House of Bols and bring them along for the experience.

If you’ve never been to the House of Bols and love genever, gin, or even just flavoured liqueurs and cocktails, it’s definitely worth adding a visit to your itinerary. And even if you visited the House of Bols before the changes, give it another try with the new additions and see what you think!

 

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