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A Designer Escapes to Amsterdam

He also loves browsing for antiques. Ingeburg Ravestijn—one of the 70 dealers with shops on Nieuwe Spiegelstraat—sells 18th- and 19th-century silver, objets, and glass, as well as sparkling chandeliers with long tapered candles. Ravestijn calls her approach "table couture."

Another of Bartlett's favorites is a restaurant that doesn't even have tables. At the Supper Club, in an out-of-the-way alley near the Royal Palace, guests ring a bell and are ushered up a short flight of stairs into a cavernous loftlike space. Lining both sides of the rectangular room are cushioned banquettes (think 75-foot-long oversize beds) scattered with silver platters and candelabra. At one end of the room is a DJ spinning dance and world music, while the other end is dominated by an open kitchen. Guests kick off their shoes, prop themselves up with pillows, and order from the menu. One night a tarot card reader may be working the room; another evening, a 20-foot column of televisions becomes a video installation. "The Supper Club could never exist in the U.S.," Bartlett says. "It would become too trendy too quickly, and then it would be finished."

As strongly as he feels about the Supper Club, Bartlett does like restaurants that are somewhat more traditional. Lof, which means "praise," is popular with Amsterdam's young and hip. It has exposed brick walls and a menu that changes nightly. Just across the street is a sparkling lunch spot called New Deli. The impeccably modern interior, by local architect Ronald Hooft, is all clean white lines, plate-glass windows, and light polished woods. Then there's Café Restaurant Amsterdam, in an enormous former water-pumping station on the outskirts of town. The soaring space holds more than 300 diners, with a terrace overlooking a canal. Gigantic machinery is still in place, while the high-tech spotlights that hang from the ceiling come from a local soccer stadium.

When Bartlett turns his attention to sightseeing, he heads straight for the aptly named Museumplein, the neighborhood where Amsterdam's three leading museums are found. The Rijksmuseum, an imposing 19th-century neo-Gothic and Dutch Renaissance structure, has the world's most important collection of works by Dutch masters, including Rembrandt's Nightwatch and Vermeer's Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. (Bartlett wryly notes that the strong, simple frames could have come from the Calvin Klein home collection.) Down the block is the Van Gogh Museum, whose pristine Gerrit Rietveld building has just reopened after a two-year renovation. And Bartlett goes to the modern Stedelijk Museum, next door, especially for paintings by Mondrian (and the well-stocked bookstore).

But Bartlett insists on finding a balance between the high and the low, the old and the new. "Those two posters sum up Amsterdam for me," he says, pointing out an announcement for a Van Dyck exhibition abutting an aggressively abstract ad. "There's a lot of juxtaposition here that I love—and it's very natural. You walk down the street and there'll be some kid wearing the latest slasher fashions, with a face straight out of a Rembrandt portrait."

As for how best to discover the city, Bartlett suggests doing as the natives do and riding a bike. (Amsterdam is home to 720,000 people and 400,000 bikes.) "That way," he says, "you really get to appreciate the scale of Amsterdam." But the designer is also a fan of the touristy canal boats. "Looking at the buildings from the canals changes everything completely—you feel like you're seeing the city the way it was meant to be seen."

Ultimately, Bartlett is convinced that laid-back Amsterdam deserves a laid-back approach. "In Paris or London, there's the one restaurant you have to be at, the one new exhibit you have to see. But here there isn't any one trendy or happening place, so you don't feel that pressure. It's not about having an agenda.

"Unlike London or Paris," he continues, "life in this city is not about being seen. It's about seeing."

John Bartlett's Amsterdam Address Book

HOTELS
Amstel Intercontinental 1 Prof. Tulpplein; 31-20/622-6060, fax 31-20/622-5808; doubles from $406.
Blakes Amsterdam 384 Keizersgracht; 31-20/530-2010, fax 31-20/530-2030; doubles from $263.
Sheraton Hotel Pulitzer 315-331 Prinsengracht; 31-20/523-5235, 31-20/626-2646; doubles from $280.

SHOPS AND SERVICES
Antiquariaat 383 Singel; 31-20/622-0461.
Architectura & Natura 22 Leliegracht; 31-20/623-6186.
Athenaeum Boekhandel 14-16 Spui; 31-20/622-6248.
Binderij de Zon 1 Reestraat; 31-20/627-2213.
Binnenhuis 3-5 Huidenstraat; 31-20/638-2957.
Egidius 334 Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal; 31-20/624-3929.
Frozen Fountain 629 Prinsengracht; 31-20/622-9375.
Ingeburg Ravestijn 57 Nieuwe Spiegelstraat; 31-20/625-7720.
Pied À Terre 393 Singel; 31-20/627-4455.
A Bigger Splash 26-30 Looiersgracht; 31-20/624-8404.
Torch 94 Lauriergracht; 31-20/626-0284.
Van Ravenstein 359 Keizersgracht; 31-20/639-0067.
Zipper 7 Huidenstraat; 31-20/623-7302.

RESTAURANTS
Café Restaurant Amsterdam 6 Watertorenplein; 31-20/682-2666; dinner for two $48.
In de Waag 4 Nieuwmarkt; 31-20/422-7772; dinner for two $67.
Lof 62 Haarlemmerstraat; 31-20/620-2997; dinner for two $52.
New Deli 73 Haarlemmerstraat; 31-20/626-2755; lunch for two $24.
Supper Club 21 Jonge Roelensteeg; 31-20/638-0513; dinner for two $91.

MUSEUMS
Rijksmuseum 42 Stadhouderskade; 31-20/674-7000.
Stedelijk Museum 13 Paulus Potterstraat; 31-20/573-2737.
Van Gogh Museum 7 Paulus Potterstraat; 31-20/570-5200.

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