Amsterdam Café: great beer in the ‘loin
Van Ness Avenue was named after James Van Ness, a rather unsuccessful and corrupt mayor of San Francisco from 1855-1856. His administration was marred by allegations of voting irregularities, corruption and a citizens revolt.*
During the 1906 earthquake, Van Ness Avenue, then a residential street, became a firebreak, and many buildings were dynamited to prevent the blaze from spreading west. Nowadays, Van Ness Ave. is something of a social firebreak, separating chic Pacific Heights to the west from the perceived dregs of the Tenderloin to the east. Geary Street, named after the first mayor of San Francisco, John W. Geary, transects Van Ness from west to east through the Tenderloin to Market Street. Despite its tawdry reputation, the Civic Center/Tenderloin area is full of life, thanks in part to the large influx of Southeast Asian immigrants, and some of the best food around can be found in the ‘loin.
The 9-month-old Amsterdam Café – the self-proclaimed “oasis of the ‘loin” -- is one of the more recent immigrants to the area and it’s a worthy destination for beer lovers. Although Amsterdam Café isn’t yet fully realized – the young owners are still contemplating what sort of food to offer -- it’s a cozy place to have a good beer, or even a great one. Gulden Draak, a dark triple Belgian ale from Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V., would fall into the “great” category. Perfectly poured in the appropriate glassware, it’s a delicious brew that just gets better while you drink it, as the subtle fruit flavors and spices reveal themselves coquettishly. From the first whiff and sip, you know you’re in for a good ride, one that’s best taken slowly out of respect for the ale’s 10.5% abv. Typically seen in squatty white bottles, Gulden Draak is rarely available on tap.
Along with reliable brews such as Trumer Pils, Racer 5 IPA, Czechvar (the original Budweiser), 21st Amendment IPA and Great White Shark, Amsterdam Café has some harder-to-find beers on tap, like the Brewdog Punk’d IPA from Scotland, Koningshoeven Quadrupel and Oaked Arrogant Bastard from Stone. The bottle list is also intelligently selected and eclectic. After the heavy Gulden Draak, I wanted to go lighter, so I picked a bottle of the pitch black Kostritzer Schwarzbier (4.8% abv), a deceptively smooth sipper.
Noticing the absence of good coffee in the immediate vicinity, Amsterdam Café serves java made to order one cup at a time and pastries in the morning. Hookahs are also available for people who want to get their flavored tobacco fix. Although Amsterdam Café doesn’t serve food, you’re welcome to bring in grub from the neighborhood.
Amsterdam Café fills a vacant niche in this part of the ‘loin for great beer and good coffee in comfortable, convivial surroundings. It is a welcome addition to the burgeoning San Francisco pantheon of Belgian and German-leaning pubs like Monk’s Kettle, La Trappe and Church Key.
Hop Head Alert:
Amsterdam Café is hosting a special event on April 1 at 7 p.m. with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Delaware, featuring the brewery’s excellent 90-minute double IPA and Aprihop American IPA on draft, and Red and White wit beer, Burton Baton double IPA, Midas Touch spiced beer and Palo Santo Marron brown ale in bottles. If you love the hops, mark your calendar. But save a little room for a Gulden Draak.
*In May 1856, city Supervisor and ex-con James Casey fatally shot newspaper editor James King of William, with whom Casey had a feud. Tired of the shenanigans of corrupt politicians, citizens had had enough. Declaring “the people have no faith in the officers of the law,” they formed a Vigilance Committee and within a couple of days, 3,000 men had signed up for service. The Vigilance Committee removed Casey from jail and hanged him in front of their office at 41 Sacramento, just as the slain editor was being buried.
937 Geary St
(between Larkin St & Polk St)
San Francisco, CA 94109