Amsterdam is a city where just about anything goes. A considerable list of things you’ve always been told are illegal are perfectly fine to do there. Want to smoke marijuana? Walk into a coffee shop and pick something off the menu. Psychedelics? There’re shops for those, too. Want company for the evening? There’re women waiting behind glass windows (with red lights, coincidentally enough) eager to discuss.
If you’re into these sorts of things, you can figure it out pretty easy on your own. This list of nightlife destinations is for those who don't want to get so … immersed in the culture, but still want to have a great time.
A few words of advice for drinking in the Red Light District: Pace yourself, enjoy the sights, talk to some locals, keep track of your wallet, and you’ll be fine. Amsterdam is one of the most carefree cities in the world and a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
Big Franky runs the bar at The Pint and has gone on tour with the Rolling Stones for years. He’s got tons of photos and memorabilia with Mick and Keith and is happy to tell you a story or two about rockstar life. He’s got pictures with Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Neil Young, and lots of other artists who drop by The Pint after playing shows in Amsterdam.
Hanging out at his bar is like being in a Cheers episode on steroids. You can never be sure who’s going to be walking through the door. Early in the evening, it’s a nice relaxing pub, but later on things get crazy. The Pint is usually where I start and/or end my evening when I’m in the RLD. It’s often open until 5 a.m.
One of the coolest bars in Amsterdam, located right the middle of the Red Light District, is Black Tiger. It's a two-level bar inside a former merchant's house that's over 400 years old. Hand painted murals of famous music stars cover the walls along with giant screens for watching European soccer and major American sports games. Highly recommended and a super cool place to hang out in Amsterdam—it's always fun and has free entry.
A magnet for bikers the world over, The Excalibur's longtime employee Zad The Man—an all-around entertainer, supercool guy and drummer—welcomes everyone with great hospitality. Classic Indian motorcycles and Harley Davidsons adorn the walls, and sometimes you might spot amply-built ladies baring their charms with only well-placed Excalibur stickers to preserve their modesty. A great place to hang out with a pool table upstairs and a great mix of customers and locals. Free entry.
An institution in the Red Light District, the Old Sailor Bar is decorated with all things nautical and is a must-see. Ken and the guys behind the bar are always friendly and welcoming, and it's a must for soccer fans who want to watch both UK and Dutch international games. The Old Sailor is always good spot to meet up with locals and tourists alike, especially later in the evening when the excellent sound system pumps up and really gets the crowd going with sing-along classics. Free entry.
Looking for the premier karaoke bar in Amsterdam? You'll find it on the Zeedijk, one block over from the Red Light district. This is a historic place—occupying American and Canadian troops partied here after they kicked the Nazis out of Amsterdam during World War II. Decorated with art and musical instruments donated by actual artists who played at the venue (there’s musical equipment from Benny Goodman and Glen Miller bands and others), The Casablanca is free to enter and the karaoke is also free if you buy a drink. But be warned: On busy nights you might wait a while to sing. Many of Amsterdam’s professional and semi-professional singers hang out here, so the quality of karaoke singers might surprise you.