Why is Oud-West Among the Liveliest Neighborhoods in Amsterdam

Anchored by a reclaimed industrial complex, this area is now among the liveliest in Amsterdam  

WORDS mark smith
June 2017

“A toaster?! I mean, really!” An exasperated Dolores Brewster, 57, is rearranging trinkets in her vintage store Dolores del Dia—a cornucopia of lurid glassware, back issues of Vogue and sundry knickknacks. Dressed in blue Nikes, skinny jeans and a shaggy jacket, she puffs her cheeks at the retreating millennial, who’d wandered into her shop looking to buy—horror!—a kitchen appliance. 

Brewster’s toaster-free store, on the broad and bustling street of Overtoom, is two blocks from the cramped house in which she grew up. Nearby is Golden Brown, a quirky café-bar set up a decade ago by her brother Waldy, where Brewster still works the odd shift behind a shocking pink bar. When Golden Brown opened, it was a radical departure from the area’s throng of late-night snack bars, coffee shops (of the non-micro roasting variety) and traditional-but-tired brown bars. “I remember, as soon as it opened, Golden Brown was featured in the Wallpaper* travel guide to Amsterdam,” Brewster says. “I thought, ‘My God, the area is changing.’”

As kids, Brewster and her siblings shared one ambition in life: “To get the hell out of this neighborhood, which was quite notorious then.” Indeed, 40 years ago, the Oud-West (or “Wild West” back then) was a no-go zone. Occupying a wedge bordered by stately green Vondelpark to the south, the Singelgracht canal to its east and the De Clercqstraat shopping street to the north, the neighborhood is the result of rapid urban expansion in the last quarter of the 19th century. Prior to that, the semicircular Singelgracht canal had demarcated the city’s outer limits, and earlier still, the Overtoom was a footpath connecting Amsterdam with the town of Sloten. 

The rush to accommodate a growing population in Oud-West resulted in cut corners and sloppy workmanship. Whole swaths of the area—in particular around the Kinkerstraat, which is bisected by the busy Ten Katemarkt street market—had fallen into woeful disrepair by the 1970s, and it was on these mean streets that Willem “The Nose” Holleeder embarked on his notorious life of crime, culminating in the 1983 kidnapping of beer scion Freddy Heineken. 

Nowadays, the neighborhood has more respectable bigwigs. Among these is 28-year-old fashion designer Abderrahmane Trabsini. Along with friends Jefferson Osei and Hussein Suleiman, he founded the menswear label Daily Paper in 2010 as a celebration of his African roots (the trio are of Moroccan, Somali and Ghanaian descent, respectively). “I was born and raised in the Oud-West, so it’s always going to feel like home to me,” Trabsini says. “It’s simultaneously cozy and multicultural—you’ve got Ethiopian restaurants, Surinamese cafés, Asian supermarkets, everything you could possibly want.”  

Daily Paper’s distinctive fusion of Dutch simplicity and African flair has found favor with Puma (it recently launched its second special collection for the sportswear superbrand). But they’re not too starry to collaborate with the Dutch pancake shop around the corner from their flagship store on the Bilderdijkstraat: “They have a seasonal Daily Paper pancake on their menu,” says Trabsini with a laugh. This partnership isn’t actually as odd as it sounds. In Oud-West, businesses favor the Dutch “polder” economic model, which emphasizes cooperation over competition, and cross-fertilization is common. 

Former San Franciscan Jenn Knight owns the canal-side Tablespoon Baking Company. Her peanut butter cookies and almond slices sell like, well, hotcakes at Monks, a newcomer to the area’s bubbling coffee scene. “There’s a real village feeling in the Oud-West, but it’s also very cosmopolitan,” she says beneath Monks’ Delft blue Vermural, a tribute to Vermeer by Canadian-born local artist Matthew Wolferstan. Knight isn’t kidding about the area’s cultured, cosmopolitan flavor: This Saturday, she’ll attend a production of Art by French playwright Yasmina Reza, directed by Monks’ Irish owner, Patrick Abbott, and staged by Oud-West’s Orange Tea Theatre Company in the café-performance space Toon.

At the heart of Oud-West’s rising fortunes is De Hallen, a tram terminus. In 2015, the building completed its transformation into a thriving cultural complex. For years, apart from the pigeons who’d colonized its lofty rafters, the only inhabitants of this network of cavernous, glass-roofed workshops were the squatters who’d turned Hall 3 into a clandestine party venue. 

Today, De Hallen has been restored to its Victorian glory. The Hannie Dankbaar Passage, a glass-ceilinged walk, connects the Bilderdijkkade canal with the long-established Ten Katemarkt grocery market, serving as a rain-or-shine showcase for a mixed-use development that incorporates a chic hotel, a library, a bike workshop, antique shops and the biggest independent cinema complex in the Netherlands, the FilmHallen (check out the Parisien room, decked out in salvaged Art Deco panels). The jewel in the crown is Foodhallen, a covered food market to rival those of London and Madrid, with stalls serving everything from dim sum to doughnuts. 

It’s still early days for De Hallen, but the expectation is that the complex will further drive the regeneration of Oud-West—a transformation that isn’t embraced by everybody. Some residents fear that if gentrification continues at this rate, the area will become little more than a bourgeois playground. One local enterprise that ticked several hipster boxes is Good To Go, which last summer became the country’s first bike-through coffee facility, dishing out flat whites and healthy snacks to commuters as they pedal southwards towards Amsterdam’s Zuidas, the financial and legal services district. 

The prevailing mood, though, is exemplified by a letter submitted to Het Parool newspaper by Mr. Jaap Jamin, a local resident for 40 years: “The sleeping Kinker-Bellamy village has become the bustling De Hallen Quarter. I regularly see residents guiding their guests proudly through the building, enjoying the beauty of the renovation. In my local supermarket I now hear Spanish, English and Italian voices. This is the international city of Amsterdam. And it’s delicious.”


Retail therapy, Oud-West style

A Monocle reader’s dream, this indie store on De Clerqstraat is filled with neat stationary.

Jutka & Riska
Eclectic and ebullient sister-run vintage store where fashions go for a fraction of what they’d cost in the chichi Nine Streets shopping district.

The Maker Store 
From hot sauce to soft toys, this airy De Hallen outlet carries the best of Amsterdam innovation under one (glass) roof.

Pied à Terre
Reflecting Oud-West’s fusion of far-flung cultures, this travel bookshop stocks titles in English.


Appetizing eats in Oud-West

Cantinetta Wine & Pasta
Exemplary Italian comfort food served in a cozy, crowdfunded restaurant.

Par Hasard
Microscopic outpost of the De Pijp district snack bar deemed by many to serve the finest Vlaamse frites (Belgian fries) in Amsterdam. 

Wholesome breakfast with a smile. The owner sometimes serves jam made with fruit from his dad’s orchard.

Seoul Food 
Owners Patrick Park and Joan Caraballe have brought the K-pop and spicy flatbreads of Seoul’s buzzy Hongdae district to Amsterdam.

No vowels allowed, but there are plenty of healthy eating options here, including a sweet potato version of the local kebab shop specialty the “kapsalon.”


A local bar pops up in the most unlikely of places

A multi-story car park reminiscent of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Q-Park was famously used as a location for one of U.S. photographer Spencer Tunick’s mass nude installations in 2007. Recently, the modernist landmark saw the arrival of Waterkant (“Waterside”), a ground-level bar overlooking the wide Singelgracht canal. A magnet for the city’s trendy young things at the merest glimpse of sunshine, it serves spicy Surinamese food and at dusk, when the lights reflect onto the water, the scene can’t fail to beautify your Instagram feed. Even if your coat stays on—and the car stays put.


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