It pays to remember one important fact when visiting the College Hotel in Amsterdam: each member of staff, rather appropriately, is a student. (When we checked in, all five of the youngsters on reception were trying to look busy, seemingly praying we didn’t ask anything too testing of them.) This singular point will either make your day, or explain how such a designer hangout is so affordable.
The building, an elegant conversion of a 19th-century school building, dramatically lit throughout, it gives the whole experiment a good deal of authenticity. As for the stylings: imagine if an interior decorator from the East-meets-West school of design had been let loose at a prep school. The building has wonderfully high ceilings that reinforce the college credentials, a surprisingly relaxed elegant bar, and a hugely popular restaurant, which must have been the assembly hall. Giant black doors line the corridors on the first floor, each leading to rooms that have been created from the classrooms.
The bedrooms are tasteful and of a minimalist persuasion, with high ceilings and everything one would expect of a first-class hotel. While my roommate sprawled on the kingsize bed surfing the web wirelessly, I clocked up how big a party I could get started based on the contents of the minibar. (Hedonists will appreciate the black-slated bathroom and glass wall shower, which confirmed earlier suspicions that the interior designers must have been fans of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut – not a bad thing, we agreed.)
Full marks awarded for design. However, as a stickler for polished service, I did find the set-up here had me wanting to issue a few detentions. But I wasn’t able to keep up the schoolmasterish front for long – it’s quite disarming when someone grins at you, then laughs when it’s all going wrong. Despite a few bumblings on reception we managed to arrange a table at the Supperclub, an institution in Amsterdam for some years now. I hadn’t visited the city since the Seventies, and my American companion never had, so we decided to take a little time and explore before the communal dinner at nine.
I dialled down to another new and helpful teenybopper on reception and asked for a cab, ‘Be here in three minutes,’ she confidently chirped. 20 minutes later we decided to wait in the bar, to chivvy them along. The doormen announced our cab’s arrival five minutes later. Signing the bill and sweeping confidently out of the bar, we reached the end of the hotel’s long path to be greeted by an empty street. Back to the bar, drinks all round and another ride called. The doormen thought it hilarious when the taxi didn’t turn up the third time either, and our fellow drinkers were equally amused. We finally arrived at the Supperclub, moments after it had swung into action.
Halfway through dinner my friend twigged that you can smoke in restaurants over here, and her big brown sad eyes forced me across the alleyway to procure cigarettes. That’s when the trip changed completely; I had heard all about coffeeshops, but the red-light district had been the extent of my schoolboy adventures. I returned bearing gifts. With the active encouragement of the management, we reclined on the huge white bed that is the Supperclub, where we were dripfed dinner, entertained by what appeared to be a Balinese dancer in a white catsuit, lit up in Christmas lights. Then again I can’t really be sure, because the purveyors of exotic substances from across the road had charmed their evil spell on us both.
When breakfast arrived late the following morning, only half there, the lovely girl from room service giggled and agreed that ‘bacon and egg’ usually shows some sign of an egg somewhere. As you can imagine, by now I was worrying about this review and its integrity. I also thought it might be prudent to check on our reservation for dinner. It turned out that the time of our booking was a little blurry. That evening, when they couldn’t find our allocated table, I asked to speak to the manager. The next thing, I heard the little voice in my ear telling me they were all students, yes, all students – even the manager. Things were bound to be, well, inconsistent. We all started laughing.
Still, they managed to squeeze us into a dining room that was two-thirds full, and served a really interesting supper from the deliberately tiny menu. So gregarious was the atmosphere that I think our waiter must have got lucky with at least two of the waitresses during his shift. I encountered a font of wisdom in the establishment's wonderful in-house Brazilian masseuse, who informed me that the whole crew changes here every three months. We had got them on day two – chaos! She assured me that by their last week they are all really slick.
So, you know what? We didn’t even mind that they constantly forgot things because they were all just so nice. Maybe if what you need is a super-efficient base, there are better places to stay, but if you want somewhere elegant, where the staff is having as much fun as you are, you’ll be happy to know the College is half the price it should be.