It had been over ten years since I’d visited Amsterdam – and let’s just say my two trips couldn’t have been more different.
My first Amsterdam experience was pretty much exactly what you’d expect for a 22 year old, who just graduated college and was backpacking through Europe with his best friends: pub crawls, beers, clubs – it was the quintessential debaucherous Amsterdam experience.
Fast forward 12 years, and the experience was completely different.
There was no pot and no pub crawls. There was however, a lot of museums, great meals,. and one of my favorite bars I’ve visited on my top 100 quest: Tales and Spirits.
Compared to some of its neighbors like Paris and London, Amsterdam has a relatively low key cocktail scene. One of the original speakeasies in the city, Door 74 was on one of the earliest world’s best bars list, but it’s Tales and Spirits that has continued to make its mark on the cocktail world in recent times.
Tales and Spirts: More Popular than Expected
This whole trip began because we were surprising my sister for her 31st birthday.
See the surprise at the beginning of this video:
She was visiting Europe for the first time, so Tate and I showed up in Paris and surprised her. Some mutual friends they were traveling with, lived in Amsterdam, so after Paris we decided to join them for a couple days before moving on to London.
So my first reaction? Let’s all go to Tales and Spirits on our first night!
There 6 of us, and when we showed up at the bar on a Saturday night – we very quickly realized that this wouldn’t be happening.
You see, something I’ve always found interesting is that a good portion of the top bars, are often not crowded.
This could be because we usually try to visit early on weekdays, but more often than not I’m surprised we’re able to snag seats easily.
This was not the case at Tales and Spirits. It was so crowded in fact, that they didn’t even say come back later. They simply said, “there’s no way you’re getting in this evening.”
So even though my sister and brother and law would already have left the city, that didn’t stop us from coming in the following day right at 5pm when they opened, and grabbing spots at the bar.
Little did we know just how long we’d be hanging out in those seats.
What to Expect at Tales and Spirits
One of the first things you notice about Tales and Spirits is that it truly is a neighborhood, locals bar. Often these cocktail bars are most frequented by tourists and industry people, but you could tell this place was as much a locals haunt as anything else.
The vibe is super casual and unpretentious, and felt more like a casual pub than a world class cocktail bar.
The bar isn’t huge, but doesn’t feel overly cramped with high ceilings and big windows.
One of the first things I noticed was a giant barrel on top of a shelf that had a display on it that read “22,602” and had a sign underneath it that said “What If…”
More on that in a minute.
The bartenders are some of the coolest and most helpful I’ve met in my travels, and they made our 3+ hour stint sitting at the bar extremely enjoyable.
The Drinks at Tales and Spirits
One of the things I loved most was how the vibe of the bar and the drinks played off each other – it was a combo of styles that I rarely see, and that I love.
As I mentioned above, the bar itself is super casual, and if you didn’t know better you might expect it to just be a neighborhood pub.
And when I enter cocktail bar like this, I usually expect something similar with the drinks. Simple, well-executed classic cocktails – without any frills.
But what you get here, is something totally different.
Each drink tells a story, and has an element of what I call “Instagrammability” that takes a drink from simply tasting good, to being truly memorable.
I’ve seen places make mediocre, but very memorable drinks.
I’ve seen many more places make very good drinks that have little in the way of story or presentation.
Tales and Spirits is that very rare bar that delivers drinks that taste phenomenal, but are unique, fun, and memorable as well.
The What If…?
A great example is the “What If…” cocktail mentioned above.
Essentially it’s just a really well executed pineapple ginger daiquiri.
Note: It might not have the ginger, but here’s a really easy pineapple daiquiri you can make.
But this was one of the first drinks at the bar, and I believe it won an award at the Bacardi Legacy competition.
Here’s the description of the drink:
“We believe all great ideas, and all great drinks, begin with a what if moment. Have you ever found yourself trying to concentrate, your mind starts to wander here and there, and all of a sudden a light bulb goes off… What if I…. and a great idea is born? A twist on the Daiquiri with Bacardi Superior, fresh lime and pineapple-ginger shrub. What’s your what if… moment?”
Pinned to the side of the drink is a little note card, and you write down your “what if…” moment.
It’s a cool idea, especially for me personally, who has had a number of those “what if” moments actually turn into life changing endeavors years later.
And that giant number on the cask I mentioned? That’s how many What Ifs have been sold since the bar opened.
That is a lot of cocktails.
A delicious drink, with a great story, and cool presentation – that’s a recurring theme for Tales and Spirits.
No Siesta, No Fiesta
How do you take an already great cocktail, and make it memorable? You dress it up in a pancho and sombrero. That’s what they did with the no siesta, no fiesta.
It had sips that reminded me of a tiki cocktail, but this blend of rum, banana-almond milk, amandine, lemon juice, salt, saffron honey, and mole bitters – was truly one of the highlights of the evening. It was rich, yet refreshing at the same time – with flavors you don’t quite expect in a drink.
Then you throw in an interesting presentation, and it makes for something really memorable.
One of the things I loved about the bar is the fact that nothing felt like they were taking themselves too seriously or trying too hard. Sometimes with the high concept cocktails, they get to be a little too much.
The ones we had here were simply fun, and when you throw in bartenders who are singing and joking around – it makes for one of the best cocktail experiences we’ve had this past year.
But not all of the drinks had some crazy presentation to them.
Some were just unique drinks presented in a beautiful way – the El Tango being one of the best examples of this. Yerba-mate infused Malbec wine (what?!?) raspberry syrup, and Bitterman’s hellfire shrub made for a drink that was slightly sweet, a little tangy, and honestly reminded us of a melted popsicle (in a really good way).
Oh, and if you want something truly unique? Order yourself the off-menu “Splish Splash” and watch what happens 🙂
Final Thoughts About Tales and Spirits
Before we showed up at Tales and Spirits, I really knew very little about the bar.
And after visiting? I didn’t want to leave.
We ended our night by saying we wanted just one more to share. And if they had anything we should try.
And of course, they had something memorable.
There were so many interesting sounding (and looking) drinks on the menu, and they created an environment that is casual, fun, and doesn’t feel even the slightest bit pretentious, as so often cocktail bars can feel.
And that’s why I have it in my personal top 10 favorite bars I’ve ever visited.
This is the rare bar that I’d go out of my way to visit. If I was going to be anywhere near Amsterdam, I’d make every effort to go back. And since we were there I’ve told everyone who I see that I know is visiting go to Tales and Spirits – you won’t regret it.
I’m not a big drinker, but this makes me want to take it up as a serious hobby. Starting with the El Tango 🙂