Nine times out of ten, when we find ourselves in Amsterdam, we end up wandering into the wonderful De Pijp area in the south of the city. No one really knows why it was called ‘The Pipe’ when it was built in the 19th Century as overflow for the cramped old city; but it’s a fittingly enigmatic name for an area that has a fascinating and vibrant cultural and artistic mix, and is full of fantastic restaurants and bars.
De Pijp grew out of the overcrowding in central Amsterdam, particularly the squalid working class area of the Jordaan. Conceived as a wealthy neighbourhood, with wide avenues, squares and mansion houses, De Pijp ended up being built to house the working classes. Instead of tree-lined boulevards and grand buildings, it got narrow streets and poorly constructed houses run by unscrupulous landlords. The basic recipe for a 19th Century slum.
Over the years it has attracted waves of immigrants, lured to its narrow streets by cheap prices and an inclusive atmosphere. Today, approximately 45 percent of the population is foreign born. As De Pijp has grown in popularity, and prices have soared, these are now wealthy foreigners, the people the media refer to without irony as ‘expats’ rather than ‘immigrants’.
The area hasn’t been fully gentrified yet, and its ‘rough around the edges’ feel is one of its most attractive qualities. Spend any time here and you can’t fail to appreciate the melting pot it has become, a sort of Bohemian façade with a strong undercurrent of nonconformism. It reminds me of Hoxton, the area of London where I lived for over a decade.
Once a poverty-ridden slum, Hoxton is now painfully trendy and home to an indecent number of ’boutique’ coffee shops filled with people tapping away on Apple products. A massively overpriced non-ironic flat white caffé macchiato frappuccino anyone?
Luckily De Pijp seems largely immune to such developments. Perhaps that’s because this is the physical and spiritual home of the Heineken brewery, which opened in 1863 and has employed generations of people from De Pijp. The old brewery is on the northern fringe of the area, it closed in the 1980s but it’s famous tourist ‘Experience’ lives on. Thankfully, not many of the tour groups lining up outside the Heineken Experience venture into De Pijp.
In keeping with the immigrant vibe, we found ourselves in the Taverna Barcelona, run by Catalans who serve up some of the best Catalonian/Spanish food in the city. Relatively new immigrants, all things Spanish seem to be catching on in Amsterdam, but in De Pijp you’re much more likely to find Indonesian, Surinamese and Turkish cafes and restaurants.
Refreshed, we strolled Amsterdam’s southern canal belt before setting course for the Jordaan on our way back to Centraal Station. I’ve written about the Jordaan before; it’s another part of Amsterdam that fascinates me, and is also a million miles from the stag party cliche of the Red Light District. It was starting to get cold and dark so we didn’t linger, but we’d had another successful day of doing very little in Amsterdam.