The streets and canals extending north from Rozengracht to Westerstraat form the heart of the Jordaan and hold the district’s prettiest moments. Beyond Rozengracht, the first canal is the Bloemgracht (Flower Canal), a leafy waterway dotted with houseboats and arched by little bridges, its network of cross-streets sprinkled with cafés and bars. There’s a warm, relaxed community atmosphere here which is really rather beguiling, not to mention a clutch of old and handsome canal houses. Pride of architectural place goes to Bloemgracht 89–91, a sterling Renaissance building of 1642 complete with mullion windows, crow-step gable, brightly painted shutters and distinctive facade stones, representing a steeman (city-dweller), landman (farmer) and a seeman (sailor).
From Bloemgracht, it’s a few metres north to Egelantiersgracht (Rose-Hip Canal), where, at no. 12, Café ’t Smalle is one of Amsterdam’s oldest cafés, opened in 1786 as a proeflokaal – a tasting house for the (long-gone) gin distillery next door. In the eighteenth century, when quality control was intermittent, each batch of jenever (Dutch gin) could turn out very differently, so customers insisted on a taster before they splashed out. As a result, each distillery ran a proeflokaal offering free samples, and this is a rare survivor. A narrow cross-street – Tweede Egelantiersdwarsstraat and its continuation Tweede Tuindwarsstraat and Tweede Anjeliersdwarsstraat – runs north from Egelantiersgracht, flanked by many of the Jordaan’s more fashionable stores and clothing shops as well as some of its liveliest bars and cafés.