The nightlife capital of Holland has long been a G&T-, genever- and beer-focused city. In the past couple of years, a handful of interesting and small-scale speakeasies such as Door 74 and The Butcher have opened their doors. New cozy and affordable places, such as the tequila-focused Calle Ocho, have also spread their wings in hipster areas such as De Pijp.
The city has rarely been home to large-scale, upscale and trendy bars such as The Duchess and Mr. Porter. Both of these opened as part of the W Hotel’s new groundbreaking near uber-central Dam Square at the end of 2015 and are managed by the Dutch Entourage Group, also responsible for the Butcher.
Both bar spaces are enormous and swank and offer extensive food options where both tourists and locals seem happy to congregate and international bar professionals run the drink programs. Bar manager Sergejs Platonovs has logged years behind the stick in London and Germany and says The Duchess is “somewhere one can feel free to have a Martini and quiet conversation.” (Fun fact: He used to break-dance in his native former Soviet Union.)
One could also have a perfect business lunch with impeccable service, a broad Mediterranean-inspired menu and waiters who won’t blink if you order a Margarita but won’t indulge you in the new G&T-with-big-fruit-slices craze. The Duchess is one of the city’s first truly accessible restaurant bars, hitting 250 covers on the weekends, that really cares about the quality of its drinks. The bar list features 48 drink options, many more than is typical at other Amsterdam bars.
Platonovs is remarkable in terms of pairing drinks with food. His Cuban Buckeye—made with a mix of Bacardí Carta Blanca, manzanilla sherry and sencha tea and garnished with black olive—pairs beautifully with the salinity of sliced octopus. He tops raw oysters with an intense Bloody Mary–inspired tomato consomme that also work beautifully with the Buckeye. He also mixes fantastic drinks with Campari and amaros, which have not always been the go-to drinks in Holland. One of his most successful cocktails is the Roman Holiday made with sloe gin, Campari and orange zest.
The Duchess’ main room and Roman Holiday cocktail.
Staff training was one of his biggest challenges when he hit the ground running in June of last year. The Duchess opened across the street before the hotel accommodations opened for business in late 2015. Mr. Porter and a lobby bar, created by local Dutch consultants the Fabulous Shaker Boys, just opened on the roof of the hotel itself. While all of the staff have previous bar experience, the dimensions of the dining room and bar have been challenging for Platonovs. But he’s rising to the occasion with extensive training, covering both mise-en-place and essential cocktail history, which bartenders need to understand the bar’s wide range of drinks and inspirations.