If you haven’t caught on already, I love Amsterdam. The museums, the shopping, the food, the architecture, the weather, the tulips….it’s all amazing. But the one thing that had been missing from all of our adventures in this great European city, was to drink genever in a proper genever bar.
For the uninitiated, genever/jenever is the juniper-infused, age-old precursor to gin. And although we go to the House of Bols Experience every time we’re in Amsterdam (it’s now a must-do for every visit), I’d been wanting to seek out a proper genever bar for a few years now.
In my mind I had envisioned an old, slanty pub decorated in dark, heavy woods, with a rough-and-tumble old bartender handing out delicate little tulip-shaped glasses filled to the brim with potent oude genever that you have to slurp at from the bar without using your hands. The kind of place that maybe even distilled their own liqueurs, if at all possible.
For the last few visits to Amsterdam, I had a shortlist practically memorized of a handful of bars identified as genever bars, for lack of a better description. But we either had trouble finding them, ran out of time or found other distractions to entertain us.
The closest we came to a proper genever bar last year was going for cocktails at a restaurant called Mossel & Gin. Although their unique, gin-based cocktails were fabulous and drool-worthy, the atmosphere was trendy and upscale. Not quite the image I’d had in mind for what I wanted to experience.
This past November on our return from Portugal, we added a two-day layover in Amsterdam. I was still blathering on about wanting to find a genever bar, so we decided to ask our hotel clerk about any nearby genever bars he could recommend. Interestingly, he said there wasn’t really a genever culture in Amsterdam; that it was mostly for the tourists. I was a little disheartened that he didn’t provide any leads, but I was still hopeful that we would have time to find at least one genever bar, maybe even one from the many lists I had researched online in years past.
On our first full day back in Amsterdam, we were strolling around the shopping district looking for some little vintage store or other, when we wandered down a dark, narrow alley. I looked up, and this sign magically appeared above me, like a neon green lighthouse beacon signalling me home:
Queue the angels singing.
I told my husband Mark excitedly, “THIS. This was one of the bars I’ve been wanting to try, but we could never find it before! And we just found it by accident!” Wynand Fockink was consistently listed under “gin joints” or “best bars for genever” whenever I searched for them in Google, and it was one of the bars that stood out most in my mind from my research. (Probably because the name is so distinctive. Wynand Fockink was actually the name of the original owner who opened this distillery and later, the pub.) So we bookmarked the spot in the GPS, and decided we would come back for a drink later in the evening.
We never did find the little vintage store we were looking for originally. But I like to think it was Fate that brought us down that narrow alley to Wynand Fockink’s doorstep.
*Fast Forward Many Hours Later*
We arrived back at Wynand Fockink in the early evening after supper, and the place was so packed that its patrons were spilling into the little alley. As you can see, this bar was established way back in 1679. Beauty. I can only imagine what it would have been like to frequent this bar back in those days.
The interior fulfilled all my hopes and dreams. Dark wood trim, yellowish-tinged lighting, shelves bowing with the weight of liqueur bottles, and so cozy that there was nowhere to sit: standing and drinking room only. Yes, this is what I had been searching for. No, I don’t know why. But here it was, all laid out in front of me.
So we “bellied up to the bar” as it were. I asked for genever. The bartender said, “no, you don’t want genever. It has no flavour. I’ll make you something. You like citrus?”
Oh. Ok. This was unexpected. Maybe they didn’t have genever after all. I was a little disappointed, but it wasn’t like I’d never had genever before. So I agreed to let him make something for me.
He grabbed two seemingly-random bottles off the shelf and placed them on the bar in front of me, one with green liquid, one with yellow. Then he dipped down behind the bar and pulled out a delicate, fragile little tulip-shaped glass (*gasp* be still my heart!). He expertly filled the glass to the brim, and then slightly beyond. The only thing keeping the fluorescent-yellow elixir in the glass was the surface tension (thanks, gravity!).
Oh, it was a beautiful thing to behold. This was the experience I had been longing for. It didn’t even matter that it wasn’t genever proper. I would finally be able to say I slurped liqueur from the bar out of a tulip-shaped glass!
The flavoured liqueurs he chose for me were lemon and bergamot, blended together in harmonious tanginess. It was delightful. My husband’s drink was no slouch either, with a heavier, season-appropriate combination of gingerbread and cinnamon.
Once the first slurps off the tops of our drinks allowed us to carry our glasses away without fear of spillage, we shuffled closer to the door, drinks happily in hand. We were greeted by other patrons with queries of, “so what are you drinking?” Communal drink swapping with complete strangers commenced. We got to try a few other liqueur combinations – some sweet, some sour, some spicy, others creamy. All were exceptional.
Once we finished our drinks, we brought our empty glasses back to the bar and asked for seconds.
The bartender asked what I would like, so I asked, “can you make me something floral?” At this point I considered him to be a flavour wizard, able to conjure up any whimsical taste sensation my little heart desired. “Can you get me something that tastes like the tears of a unicorn? Or the essence of diamonds as they rain down from the heavens?”
He grabbed two more bottles off the shelf and asked, “do you prefer roses or violets?”
Mark and I excitedly announced, “both!” In unison. Ah, it was too much to ask for. “No,” he said. You can’t have both.” I asked, “mix them together? Half and half?” “No,” he said again. “Only one. You must choose.”
It was starting to feel a bit “Lord of the Rings,”-ish. Clearly we had demanded too much, or didn’t understand how things worked at Wynand Fockink. After a split second of indecision I asked for the rose liqueur. And the lady-like slurping commenced:
It was at this point I turned to Mark and asked if he had chosen the violet liqueur, as he slurped his drink happily beside me. “No,” he replied. “I got genever!”
My jaw dropped. “No way! How did you get that? When we ordered it before he didn’t want us to have it, he said it didn’t taste like anything.” He shrugged. “I just asked again and he poured it.” And here I was drinking rose petals like a little girl. Ah well. It didn’t matter. As the rose flavoured sweetness enveloped my senses, we wandered next door to their shop to check out their full line of liqueurs and bitters.
After the two drinks (and some beer) we maneuvered through the packed bar out into the cool winter air, quite satisfied with our find. We will seek out Wynand Fockink again the next time we are in Amsterdam. They also offer tours of their distillery!