Netherlands

The 7 Best Jazz Bars in Amsterdam

by Maria Hagan  |  Published October 10, 2016

Amsterdam is home to a number of excellent jazz bars ranging from swanky clubs to dimly lit joints. Dotted around the city, they keep the throb of city alive from evening ‘til morning. During the 1970s, many jazz clubs were set up in honour of the genre and many of these are still running today – along with many more that have joined them since.

Street jazz band (Photo: Jesse Acosta via Flickr)

Street jazz band (Photo: Jesse Acosta via Flickr)

Whether you’re impressed by international stars or innovative beats by the latest local quartet, there’s a jazz venue to suit you in Amsterdam. You could pick a spot suited to dressing up and fine dining, or opt for a laid-back night of beers and bitterballen to some music that’ll get you moving. We’ve chosen our favourite places in the city to get up close with the musicians, get involved in a session, or simply socialise with a bit of double bass-heavy background music. Enjoy.

Jazz Café Alto

Beyond neon lights on the Korte Leidsedwarsstraat, you’ll find this authentic Amsterdam jazz bar. Though just off the touristy Leidseplein, Jazz Café Alto is discreet and oozes authenticity and charm. Insatiable jazz fans will adore the venue with its old-fashioned décor and varied live sets every night of the week. Between purple curtains, renowned and lesser-known musicians light up the dimly lit, wood-adorned space with gleaming instruments. There’s a crowd here every night of the week, and the performances tend to go on into the early hours.

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Bimhuis (Photo: Jonathan via Flickr)

Bimhuis (Photo: Jonathan via Flickr)

Bimhuis

Set up in an old furniture showroom, the Bimhuis was founded in 1974 by a group of ambitious musicians eager to create a space for progressive genres and improvisational styles to flourish. The venue has since become a Dutch institution for jazz and world music, attracting renowned musicians and up-and-coming names as well as providing room for new groups and music students to gather and perform. The recently renovated space is impressive, jutting out of the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ classical music venue, in a great location right on the water. The décor is sleek and modern, with a classy café and restaurant to grab drinks and dinner at with a view. A musician yourself? Check out the venue website to get in on notorious Bimhuis bi-weekly improvisation workshops and sessions.

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North Sea Jazz Club

Hit up The North Sea Jazz Club on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays for an evening of great food and even better music. While the focus is on jazz here, the club offers soul, funk, world music and blues as well. Every show comes with a three course meal: dining tables are set up in front of the stage so you can eat while you enjoy the set. The location is excellent, at the east end of the sprawling Westerpark amid plenty of other bars and restaurants you could enjoy afterwards. This spot attracts big names so it’s a good idea to check out the programme before visiting. Be sure to book ahead – nights at the North Sea are popular. Sure enough, they tend to be ones to remember.

Pazzanistraat 1

Jazz band (Photo: André P. Meyer-Vitali via Flickr)

Jazz band (Photo: André P. Meyer-Vitali via Flickr)

Café de Engelbewaarder

Housed in a fine old canal-side building, this cosy literary café hosts dynamic jazz afternoons on Sundays (4.30pm-7pm). These sessions attract a crowd, a low-key hangout for locals tying up the weekend with music. You could stand up close to the stage and enjoy the throb of the double bass, sit at the bar and sip on one of a selection of 15 beers on tap, or settle down in the cosy back room with some bitterballen to one of the board games or books on offer. The café holds small photography exhibitions on a rolling basis too – it’s the place to come to get your fill of unpretentious entertainment and culture.

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Cotton Club

This long-standing jazz club in a great location on the Nieuwmarkt square has been attracting musicians and live music appreciators since the ‘70s. The tradition lives on with free jazz afternoons every Saturday (4.30pm-8pm) featuring a bass and drums duo who invite various other musicians to join them for a set every weekend. The Cotton Club is a hole-in-the-wall venue with an old-fashioned décor of wood-paneled walls, red stylings and simple chandeliers overhead. It’s rough around the edges but charming, giving off a warm glow in the evenings. The venue is narrow and gets cramped for jazz events, so it’s worth getting in early to secure a good spot. The atmosphere is welcoming and the staff friendly – you’ll feel like a regular here within minutes.

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Smoky jazz joint (Photo: rebecca anne via Flickr)

Smoky jazz joint (Photo: rebecca anne via Flickr)

Bourbon Street

Live music enthusiasts who like to dance while they listen shouldn’t miss this venue showcasing jazz musicians as well as funk, soul, rock, folk, reggae and blues groups every night of the week. A popular jazz club in the city centre running since 1990, Bourbon Street has made a name for itself among locals as well as visitors. There’s always a lively crowd in for the music sets – an excellent atmosphere in which to enjoy a whisky or a beer. It’s affordable and the staff are a treat. Don’t miss the Monday night jam session for an evening of musical bonding and innovation. Shows kick off at 10pm and go on until late.

Leidsekruisstraat 6-8

Elsa’s Café

This cosy, no-frills café in east Amsterdam offers excellent jazz sessions on Tuesday evenings (from 9pm). The performers change weekly and consistently please the crowd that they attract. There’s great pub grub on offer, as well as a broad selection of craft beers including the famous Brouwerij’t IJ brewed nearby in the city centre. It’s affordable, the atmosphere is good, and the service is consistently friendly. It’s no wonder the place draws its name from the famous American party-thrower, writer and actress Eliza Maxwell – known as ‘the hostess with the mostest’. So if you’re after a casual evening with a very local feel, it’s well worth dropping in to Elsa’s Café.

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