Haunted by its abiding reputation as the ultimate party town, Amsterdam still gets flooded on the weekends with visitors hoping to do some very fast living. And the fast life is easy enough to find: Although the city has initiated a concerted effort to clean up the illegal drug and sex trafficking in the Red Light District, the area is still crammed with jumpy little bars, women in windows, and euphemistically titled "coffee shops," where you can order from a menu of pot brownies, ganja cookies, and basic joints. But natives tend to avoid the area, which has become increasingly seedy, weedy, and sometimes violent. Instead, Amsterdammers head to the newly thriving entertainment complexes of the Eastern Docklands area, where Panama hits the operative high note as a dance club cum café cum performance space. The other epicenter of local nightlife is the Reguliersdwarsstraat, which is lined with thumping, old-school gay discos like Club Exit.
Amsterdam is a boho town, but its dedicated clubbers prefer grittier, backstreet venues, and the best insider nightspots don't sit in clusters. A prime example is the perennially hip, very mixed de Trut Sunday night dance party, held in the basement of an old squat in Amsterdam West. Another popular, stand-alone clubhouse is the Westergasfabriek, a converted gasworks in the Westerpark that houses both the Pacific Parc restaurant and bar and the cozier late-night Flex club, famous for its star lineup of European DJ's.
To track down the original Amsterdam party life, those pioneering places that started it all, head for one of the antique brown bars that pop up on every street corner in the Jordaan and around the Spui. At these cozy, old-world bars, many dating to the 18th century, the specialty is a potent jenever (Dutch gin) that can prove more mind-bending than any coffee-shop dope. Stay sober, though, and you can appreciate the real peak of Amsterdam nightlife: a concert at the Concertgebouw, where the acoustics are legendary and the busy calendar includes performances by both visiting ensembles and the stellar Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.