AWAY-NIGHT Amsterdam Hotel De L’Europe

Suite in the Dutch Masters Wing at Hotel De l’Europe (Amsterdam)

The first Tuesday of each month is one of many highlights at this Leading Hotel of the World property. The all-female Salome cigar club meets, in honour of Russian psychoanalyst Luíza Gustavovna Salomé (Lou Andreas-Salomé), confidante of, well, Freud, Nietzsche, Rilke, Wagner and many more – despite her puffs, she lived to 77.  Salome attracts the High Society of Amsterdam to share confidences in the glass-walled humidor that allows men to look in, but not hear a single word of what is really going on in town • De L’Europe (yes, like that, according to its branding gurus) has always been the centre of activity, right back to the days when this was part of a city wall keeping out the marshes.  In 1896 a hotel as such was born, and in 2011 renovations were finally completed, at an undisclosed cost, that incorporate original and slightly younger buildings, including the Theodoor Gilissen Bank, into one gigantic three-dimensional art work.  Heineken Corporation owns the hotel, and it was the 4th generation of major shareholding family, the Heinekens, now led by London-based Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, who asked Cornelis Gregorius (Cees) Dam to do it.  He has incorporated former outdoor areas into indoor courtyards, paired unmatching floor levels and amazingly produced a workable labyrinth.  From room 238, for instance, to get to the gym the main way is down an elevator, 200m walk to front desk, continue behind it another 200m and down another elevator. The ‘short cut’, which involves a total 300m walk and 72 steps (or 2 elevators), takes you past 2 of the meeting rooms, both leather-walled, one completely soft grey, the other completely day-glo apple green.

But this is jumping ahead. The day before, a welcome form had asked for my arrival details, offered transport requirements (cost given) and, at no charge, type of bed, pillows and room fragrance. I arrived in fact, from a meeting, by cab. By the small canopy over the hotel’s New Doelenstra entrance. a debonair Fred Astaire type, in black top hat and striped morning suit (we dress, not ‘dress up’, here) took my wheelie up 4 carpeted steps into the lobby.   More shades of elegance awaited.  The Promenade ahead, all of 30m high, with 6 glorious crystal chandeliers, stretches past 6 gold-framed paintings (including 4 Rembrandt faces), each 2m tall by 1.5m. Carpeting is a soft red, a kind of home-made tomato purée colour that was to become ubiquitous throughout my stay, here with an almost-plum central panel. At the far end of the promenade is a circular bar, with a halo of Hollywood lights above. The real Mr Astaire would have twirled with Ginger Rogers.  Back at the entrance, to the left is a back-framed metal silhouette of Alfred Heineken.  Behind this, one long desk houses concierges, who have a stack of sheets of Concierge Choice recommendations on an easel, and reception personnel, dressed in grey.

I am given a key card that is a mini guide to services, or at least f&b facilities, with opening hours.  The elevator in the original 1861 building has a cabin lined with wood, with tomato-purée carpeting and a proper bench. Upper corridors are white, highlighted with dark wood and gold stripes • Suite 238, accessed via a VingCard pressure-pad, reveals the trapezium-shaped salon, roughly 9m deep by 5m wide. There are various colourways throughout the 111-room hotel but this one continues the tomato-purée theme. Dark, unvarnished nutwood floors have big plain inset carpets. Walls to a height of 4m have matching background, with overall Chinese pattern of poppies, imaginatively on curving tree branches. Above this wallpaper is a 3-tiered plain-purée cornice, and the ceiling is the same colour apart from a 3x3m white panel, 15cm lower than the main ceiling (the panel is set parallel to the room’s side but angled to the end wall). Drapes match the carpet, as do a pair of outsized thickly-padded armchairs, and both sides of the door that connects to the bedroom.  The salon has a 110cm Samsung, and a cornice-high antique 3-section wardrobe. Two sections are for hanging and storing clothes, the last has such necessities as a glass-fronted Dometic minibar with Pommery, and bottles of Red Bull, silver-star Heineken and assorted Sourcy waters; the safe and a Nespresso DeLonghi with Portuguese Nespresso Collection cups • The ‘desk’ is, thoughtfully, a massive (1.5 x 2.5m) solid oak table, with low lamp on it, and 4 cream-seated wood armed chairs around.  Beneath, at 6cm from the floor, the dark wood skirting holds black sockets with flaps. A concierge arrived in 3 minutes to show me the flaps, and even a US socket. WiFi is quick, and free, and I have an iPad with lots of apps.  The DND is, by delightful contrast, a simple old-fashioned hang-out card.

As well as the signature suspended-ceiling-panels, all rooms feature copies of Rijksmuseum paintings.  A small copy of the original hangs just inside the main door, and there are 2 large blow-ups of details hanging elsewhere.  Suite 238 honours Vermeer’s Het Straatje.  At the far end of the salon is a canvas blow-up of windows from the painting.  In the 4x4m bedroom is another canvas blow-up of one serving maid in a side alley, with 2 more bending down, rear to you, looking through a low window. The bedroom matches the salon except that its walls are more of the tomato purée, which also exactly matches the suede headboard and silk twill comforter atop the king-size bed, formed of DeWitteLietaer linens atop a Greek Coco-mat mattress. There are fibre optic lights on the bedhead to complement simple ecru bedside lampshades • Both salon and bedroom have 1896-vintage terraces accessed by French windows. The salon’s just has room for a chair. Outside the bedroom is a table and 2 chairs, ideal for room service’s suggested afternoon tea, designed by consultant Jeroen Goossens (the tea is Harney & Sons). I find the room service menu, sensibly by the bedside telephone, when searching, in vain, for a stationery wallet – is it true people do not write any more? • The bathroom is completely marbled, grey-flecked white Arabesca marble.  It has twin Villeroy & Boch oval basins with Edwardian-style Grohe taps, a deep oval soaking tub with side hand-shower and a stainless bath-butler tray. The shower offers a fitness workout as the toiletries are too large for the small soap dish so must be put on the floor, which means bending down. The toilet, behind a projecting wall, has telephone, 2 easy-reach toilet rolls and controls for the Bose sound that services the whole suite.  Thick towels, that do dry well, bear the hotel’s logo, the royal crown atop, to left showing the 3X symbol of Amsterdam city, the right the defense tower and cannon. Long and thick robes, in the wardrobe, are almost heavy enough to register on the Soenhle scales.  Tall, square toiletries, about 250ml, are Blaise Moutin, exclusively for the hotel via Paris-based Groupe GM.

Summer-long, the ideal way to start an evening is a canal cruise on the hotel’s 1896-vintage Hilda slipper boat. Tour the Amstel and the many canals… or stay home for aperitifs in Freddy’s Bar, a cocktail-type venue with Bol Bechstein baby grand (the Dutch press named it best cocktail bar in town last month).  The barman explains the array of bottles on the shelf behind him. He puts on white gloves, and takes down a polished cherry-wood box (same as a Bentley interior). He opens it, to reveal a half-empty Baccarat bottle of The John Walker, Johnny Walker’s premium, selling for €500 a tot. He has so far sold 7, in 6 weeks, and not all to the same aficionado • As it happens Jean-François van Boxmeer, chairman/ceo of Heineken, is in the bar. He is astutely appreciative of comments on the hotel, and no, no thoughts of another one. This is one and only, as is the – outstanding – Heineken Experience interactive ‘theme park’ he has supervised in the former brewery a few minutes away.  He does not want a brand. He is more than happy with Leading membership.  It was he who found, and successfully attracted, de L’Europe’s gm Tom Krooswijk, who in 2009, after decades with InterCon and thousands of airmiles flying, for instance, to and from his hotel fief in Libreville, was actually perfectly happy staying put in Abu Dhabi, for Versailles Properties. Krooswijk joined de L’Europe a month after first meeting van Boxmeer.

Tonight van Boxmeer was hosting a dinner in the 12-seat private dining room of Bord’eau, otherwise closed (as on all Sundays and Mondays). The rest of us headed off for Hoofdstad, the day-long brasserie that, thanks to lots of angled mirrors, brilliantly gives everyone an Amstel view.  You are also titillated by an 18-bottle enomatic machine, and glass-walled wine stores, and, overhead, yet more of that cheer-you-up Hollywood lighting.  There is normal-height seating, some of it with lemon-coloured banquettes. There is also one shiny-veneer slightly-curved high bench, with tall stools, that cleverly occupies the apex of the open-L-shaped area. Here I sat, looking left into the main restaurant and right to the open kitchen. My place is set with white Rosenthal Jade, especially for the hotel, and Sambonet. We are brought grissini, white and rye bread slices, and pumpkin and garlic dips, and an enormous mound of the butter to which the locals are addicted. Sommelier Dannis Apeldoorn’s leather-covered glass-wine list offers his 18 choices, all in Riedel, in 125ml, 62.5ml or 41.5ml tastings, or flights of any 2-3: I start with a Swiss Pinot Noir, 2009 Ch de Auvenier, and go on to a South African blend, 2004 Four, Laibach.  The 3-fold card menu, in Dutch and English, offers 5 champagnes by the glass, from Billecart-Salmon at €15 through to Krug at €44. It highlights (green leaf) vegetarian and (swirly pink pig’s tail) pork dishes.  It has regular daily specials, a choice of any 3 courses for €35.  Seasonal salad, with a Roquefort dressing, offers really tasty produce obviously sourced outside of Netherlands, which is renowned for mass-production of minimal-taste tomatoes and the like (even most of the Dutch cows, for all that butter, are kept mostly inside, I am told).   I am given an Opinel by Inox steak knife, and my Dry-aged Simmenthal entrecôte, from Bodensee, comes proudly alone, on a big square plate. There is a separate cast-iron cocotte – careful, it is hot – of potato gratin, plus a sauceboat of béarnaise. We all try the delicious large fries which, as is the norm in Netherlands, come with mayonnaise and tomato ketchup (the dark-red, not the tomato-purée of Dam’s interiors).  For those who need more additives, there are clear salt and pepper mills in a shared holder. Sadly none of us needed desserts, even a Lemon Pie Tini, with limoncello.

I head up 63 stairs (1896 vintage, now clad in tomato-purée with an almost-plum central panel) to home. Night turndown has put out proper, clog-pattern white terry slippers, and a tube of Blaise Mautin night cream.  I sleep like a log, and my personalised wakeup, with a really soft voice, comes exactly at 0515.  The night concierge, a lively man who could be the next generation Astaire, rushes down to the gym to open it up (good exercise, he says without a puff).  There are 4 leased pieces of LifeFitness, which say iPod compatible but I cannot get a television channel. Good for meditation. It is sadly too early to plunge into the square blue-tiled pool, 8x8m with Jetstream. Back home, outside my door hangs a leather pouch with the Wall Street Journal, as requested • I was tempted to order room service breakfast, where Continental, at €24, generously comes with yoghurt, fruit salad, cereal and charcuterie (American offers additional oatmeal, and scrambled eggs, while English comes with fried eggs, and Spa has an egg-white omelette). But it was too tempting to go back down to Hoofdstad.  The open kitchen’s counter now holds an elegant buffet display, with Pur Natur Bio yoghurts, and the aforementioned charcuterie and fabulous breads to go with my generous butter round. There was help-yourself fresh juice, in stemmed Riedel, and individual silver pots of coffee. On departure Fred Astaire was already on duty. I was offered a glass of Billecart-Salmon, and ushered into a Mercedes with a taxi sign, which meant it could go the wrong way down New Doelenstr.

from The Gostelow Report – article exclusive online to CPP-LUXURY.COM

Mary Gostelow