Canal Belt village5 February 2014
‘Utrechtsebuurt’ is the unofficial moniker used by many local residents and business owners for a charming slice of the Canal Belt flanked by the Amstel River and the Reguliersgracht, situated between the Rembrandt- and Frederiks squares.
Utrechtsestraat, which runs through the area, offers a varied selection of shops, including boutiques, bookstores and designer furniture and homeware stores, with beautiful views of the Canal Ring. André Sprangers, a resident for 52 years and owner of high-end shoe shop Zwartjes van 1883 says: ‘The Utrechtsestraat is about selling quality in a quality environment. With plenty of independent businesses, the emphasis is on pleasing local shoppers.’ The street’s popularity has recently attracted some chains, too, including local lifestyle store Sissy-Boy, sustainable supermarket Marqt and international fashion brands such as American Apparel and Marc by Marc Jacobs.
‘Customers are often served by the owner of the store, which makes it feel like a village street within a big city,’ Sprangers continues. ‘Many storeowners live above their shops, which is why the Utrechtsestraat remains a lively and safe street even after closing time. We take care of our street – and that shows.’ Things weren’t always this rosy in Utrechtsestraat, named for the former Utrechtsepoort city gate. While the street has been a bustling shopping destination since its creation in 1658, prostitution and drugs were a major problem on the 600-metre street as recently as 1985.
Eyeing the neon glare of Thorbecke- and Rembrandt squares, it’s hard to imagine that one of the city’s busiest nightlife districts was once home to an adjoining dairy and cheese market. Aiming to bring back a little of the area’s former wholesomeness, Ernst Weidema, square manager for a foundation that protects the interests of local business owners, says: ‘We want to clean up the image of these squares – literally and figuratively.’ According to Weidema, plans include getting rid of much of the signage so that the historic buildings, and not the neon, will once again command attention, plus improved paving and more room for café patios.
Restaurant Van Rijn (Rembrandtplein 17), which offers poshed-up Dutch dishes in a sleek space, is an early success.
Fine food and Dutch culture
A century ago, the neighbourhood boasted various grocers, butchers and wine traders, a tea shop and a fishmonger famous for its basins of live fish. Today, some of the city’s finest food shops can still be found in the area, including wine shop Glandorf & Thijs (Kerkstraat 365), artisan butcher Slagerij de Leeuw (Utrechtsestraat 92) and stylish chocolatier Van Soest (Utrechtsestraat 143). Restaurants of note in the area include Utrechtsedwarstafel (Utrechtsedwarsstraat 107-109) with its ‘ballet of wine and food’; posh Italian Segugio (Utrechtsestraat 96); Med-led Fyra (Noorderstraat 19-23) and French specialist Antoine (Kerkstraat 377). After a taste of Dutch culture instead? Within walking distance of the area you can attend musicals, cabaret performances and intimate pop concerts at Royal Theatre Carré (Amstel 115-125), see ballet and opera performances at Het Muziektheater (Waterlooplein 22) and catch the latest cabaret performances at De Kleine Komedie (Amstel 56-58). The Hermitage Amsterdam (Amstel 51), the Dutch satellite of the iconic St Petersburg institution, is equally nearby.
This old-fashioned brown café, on the corner of Utrechtsestraat and Frederiksplein, is a slice of local history and has been owned by the Oosterling family since 1897. The building dates from c1735, when the VOC (Dutch East India Company) traded tea, coffee and spices from the Dutch East Indies from behind the very same counter still in use today (in case you’ve ever wondered why it’s so low). Many of Amsterdam’s historic cafés were once both a pub and an off-licence, but Café Oosterling is one of the few that still operate as such, with a good selection of Dutch jenevers and other liquors on offer (even late at night, when other off-licences are closed). Utrechtsestraat 140.
Geisha Restaurant and Lounge
Conveniently located near Central Station, Geisha offers excellent, shareable Pan-Asian finger food in a stunning space designed by architects Prast/Hooft, who created three mood rooms so that the setting is equally suited to business meetings, cocktails with friends or romantic rendezvous (book a table in the Champagne Lounge, which offers secluded candlelit booths). Owned by the sisters Meili, Meauw and Dongmie Wang, who learned the trade in their parents’ Chinese restaurant, the excellent service here leaves no doubt that the hospitality gene was passed on. We recommend the Peking duck spring rolls and the meltingly tender tuna sashimi.
Prins Hendrikkade 106