With its progressive stance on euthanasia, gay marriage, and drug use, the Netherlands has earned a reputation as Europe's bastion of liberal thinking. So it was all the more shocking last spring when the government passed legislation banning workplace smoking, a move that threatened to hobble the country's bars, clubs, and legendary marijuana coffee shops—some of its most popular tourist attractions. True, Ireland's pubs are now smoke-free and the European Union's health commissioner is reportedly considering a continent-wide ban. But few people had expected the anti-smoking campaign to reach Amsterdam.
Thanks to lobbying from the hospitality industry, which insisted that some 50,000 jobs would be lost, restaurants, bars, and clubs have been granted a reprieve until 2006. Meanwhile, some wary locals see the no-smoking campaign as part of a broader effort to sanitize the city. Citing an increasing number of drug raids on dance clubs and a proposal by the Minister of Justice to limit the sale of soft drugs to Dutch citizens, a group of club promoters and artists has formed an unofficial advisory board called Nachtwacht ("Nightwatch," after the Rembrandt painting) to preserve the city's countercultural attractions. Although a spokeswoman for the mayor insists that a "flowering nightlife" requires regulation, Nachtwachtbelieves that the city is in danger of becoming "an open-air museum." According to Nachtwacht's mission statement, the city should appeal to backpackers, partygoers, and mainstream travelers alike. "Amsterdam must remain an exciting city to visit," it declares.