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Holland Hash Bar
photo essay by Nancy Fama

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Coffee, Tea, Rolling Rock and other alcoholic beverages, and Dutch home-grown cannabis are on the menu at Tops Coffee Shop on the Prinsengracht (Prince Canal) in Amsterdam. A special license is required to sell alcohol, but not soft drugs. Hash and weed are sold by the gram, including a selection of Domestic, Foreign, Afghan and Manoli varieties from the East. These soft drugs are offered legally in the 500 “Brown Coffee Shops” in The Netherlands.

“The Netherlands is the only place you can do this. It’s illegal where I come from, Suriname [a Dutch Colony],” said Jerry Wellie, the bartender at Tops Coffee Shop, who has lived in Amsterdam for five years. “When you smoke marijuana you don’t harm anyone,” he said.

“Following the liberal uprising of the 1960s and Woodstock, cannabis and hash were commonly used even by members of Parliament,” stated Wellie. Thus, about 30 years ago a law was passed to legalize soft drugs and brown caf´es were born.

Approximately half the coffee shops in The Netherlands are located in the capital city of Amsterdam, many in established residential neighborhoods.

“ The attitude is much more relaxed, maybe too relaxed,” said Theresa Nylen, a modern dance student at the Theatre School in Amsterdam. For the past two years, Ms. Nylen, a Swedish citizen, has lived in Amsterdam and she was astonished when she first arrived in the country and went to a coffee shop. “It’s an easy choice to make here,” said Ms. Nylen, “Just ask for the menu.”

But Veronica Hutton, a graduate student in finance at UCLA in California said, “I don’t feel comfortable to smoke here. I only feel comfortable in my own house.” Ms. Hutton was in Amsterdam to do research for an American insurance company.

Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin posters are part of the decor at Tops Coffee Shop, and Bob Marley music plays regularly. This dimly lit coffee shop is equipped with video games and eight computer links, which are not common at other cafes. Ms. Hutton cued up to use the computer at Tops so she could e-mail her boss in America.

“ I wonder what my boss would say if he knew where I was conducting my business from,” she said.

Six cafe tables and rattan chairs are nestled outside the front of Tops Coffee Shop, where customers can sit and enjoy a cappuccino or a joint as the canal tourist boats and leisure watercraft cruise by. This section of the Prinsengracht Canal consists mainly of 17th century residential buildings, The Van Halen bed and breakfast, Hair Point Beauty salon, two bakeries and one of the many antique shops found in Amsterdam.

So when you visit Amsterdam and you see the abundant coffee shops, remember that the menu may not be limited to just coffee or tea.



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