Amsterdam’s iconic Dam Square offers many opportunities for serotonin enhancement. Sweets, frites, libations, pot, game arcades, rock clubs, S&M, H&M…choose from any number of lawful, affordable commercial enterprises along the perimeters of the city’s famous quadrangle. But getting hold of a good espresso? That’s been one habit hard to indulge in this neck of the hood—until now.
This past September, Cut Throat Barber moved into a large ground-floor retail space on the Beursplein, a strip of real estate north of the Dam that housed the four-centuries-old Amsterdam Stock Exchange. (In 2000, the AEX merged with other European markets to become Euronext, headquartered on the same premises, albeit with more reliance on computers than men in suits.) The neoclassical structure’s glazed ochre bricks, arched doorways, and marble finishings are a nicely odd setting for the wall-mounted electronic ticker tape, forever looping the reds and greens of the market.
But the connection between coiffure and coffee?
Cut Throat, which two New Zealand expats opened in 2012, has long touted its espresso bar. However, being as agile with shots as with shears was not so easy at the old place. It was an alleyway of a store, a block away, in a building that houses the Netherlands’ oldest student society, where Dutch frat boys like to keep their hair long enough to graze a popped collar.
Moving into new digs means Cut Throat has room for a full-size bar, featuring a two-group La Marzocco Linea Classic espresso machine and a couple of Mazzer Super Jolly grinders. It also meant the co-founders needed another partner to handle the coffee: Blaze Wieclawski, who went to high school with barber James Reichwein and businessman Tom Sadd. That was over a decade ago in Christchurch, where, Wieclawski notes, “it’s hard to find a bad cup of coffee.”
But it’s more than just the Kiwi cultural penchant for wanderlust that led the friends to Amsterdam. In 2011, a massive earthquake struck Christchurch, displacing the three. “Our businesses were destroyed within 12 seconds,” recalls Wieclawski of the disaster. Still, they brought to Europe their Antipodean cafe standards: “a quality independent roaster,” good prices, and assured “quality of cooperation” (that means a good vibe, roughly translated).
For its house blend, Cut Throat serves an Ethiopia Harrar and Brazilian mix by Badèta Coffee. The small company was hatched at Amsterdam cafe De Wasserette, but earlier this year began roasting its own beans and, while currently growing a clientele, is using the roasting equipment at Man Met Bril in Rotterdam. In addition, each month features a new single-origin espresso, whether from Badèta or another nearby micro-roaster, such as Eindhoven’s Obatala or Amsterdam’s Australian-created Lot Sixty One.
Filters, however, are not in sight. “I think all you need in your life is an awesome cup of espresso, and you’ll be completely satisfied. I feel like the other [non-espresso-machine methods] are a bit of a trend at the moment and probably will blow over,” says Wieclawski. “We have a fairly masculine image considered we’re attached to a barbershop, so we don’t get too fancy on things. We try to keep it simple and quality.”
Ostensibly, Cut Throat’s “masculine image” is reflected in other new amenities: a cocktail bar, beers on tap, and a full food menu. Running the kitchen is Fraîche Hospitality, a half-London, half-NYC duo famed for bringing “neo-American” cuisine to Amsterdam. Think: Wednesday night wings and Brooklyn Lager.
Separate from food and drink, grooming happens in an ante-chamber-like area, off to the side. At different angles of recline, caped men sit in vintage barber chairs before tube-lamp-flanked mirrors. Interior wall windows prove handy for clients monitoring wait time and for females, who are warmly served at the bar but, as it turns out, turned away for services at the barbershop.
Asked about that choice, Sadd explains: “The idea is to create a kind of retreat for men, so there’s a kind of man’s environment. We’re not hard or fast, and if a woman wants to come in and watch her boyfriend or a friend or whatever get a haircut, it’s totally fine. But, in general, we try and sort of maintain that sort of space that guys can have to themselves.”
So what to make of this new Cut Throat? The coffee is exceptional to these parts. The staff are friendly. The venue exudes historical allure. But for a place so clearly à la mode—this is, after all, a tonsorial artists’ confab serving haute American bar food—the avoidance of filter coffee seems out of step and the gender segregation is disquieting. Yes, we’ve found where to get a good espresso on Dam Square, though it would be better without the over-extracted taste of outdated social norms.
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.