Amsterdam's Energetic, Paint-Splattered Cocktail Bar

Bar Basquiat is inspired by the legendary New York City painter, from the bright colors to the sense of irreverence.

The rear section of Bar Basquiat in Amsterdam. (Photo: Maarten Willemstein)

Javastraat, the main thoroughfare—and heart—of Oost, an artistic neighborhood in eastern Amsterdam, is a multi-ethnic strip brimming with Turkish grocers, Surinamese restaurants, and Caribbean food markets. A creative energy pulsates through the area, where young professionals and expats have set up shop with ventures that honor their roots. The same might be said of Bar Basquiat, the latest from Studio Modijefsky, a small Dutch design firm that is slowly building a mini-empire in the city with popular spots like the very bobo Roast Room and Bar Bukowski.

“During the design process, we consider not only aesthetics and visual ideas but also historical data and the context of the location,” says Esther Stam, Studio Modijefsky’s creative director. Bar Basquiat’s identity, in this case, begins with its name. Jean-Michel Basquiat was a Brooklyn-born graffiti artist turned Neo-Expressionist painter known for his superposition of color-text-sketch. Together with Andy Warhol, he dominated New York’s experimental art scene during the 1980s. “We interpreted his work by overlapping materials and combining them in different ways,” says Stam.

Stepping inside the light-filled entrance reveals myriad references at every turn. Paint splatters a wall next to custom wooden tables. Hobo signs—symbols that panhandlers use to communicate, a prevalent motif in Basquiat’s work—mark the restrooms, where snippets of his poetry are scrawled across the mirrors. Even the vintage bar stools lining the concrete bar and the subway tiles backing the bartender space are nods to the artist, who frequented the edgy watering holes of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Most intriguing, however, are the ways in which Bar Basquiat’s design leans not only on the nature of its namesake, but on its former life as a super market. Subtle but bold clues are everywhere. Pink neon lights beaming “KEEP FROZEN,” in Basquiat’s signature script, replace a refrigerator. Custom cork seats on the windowsills recall the former nuts and dried fruits aisle. The walls of what used to be the dairy section are now slathered in milky, textured paint. Bottles of spirits sit on a shelf masked with metal mesh, reminiscent of a shopping cart. The former butcher’s counter is now the bar; painted red and running the length of the space, it acts as a focal point for the room, its bright hue lightening the mood. Locals flood in for weekend brunch, crowding the wooden benches outside; at night, they lounge on the midcentury furniture and order Amsterdam-brewed craft beers like Zatte and Ijwit from an oversized wall menu that recalls a shopping receipt.

“We wanted to push the tactility of the space by balancing the raw vibe of Basquiat’s street life with warm materials and colors that create good day ambiance,” Stam says. A bar where diversity is top of mind? On Javastaat, it’s a welcome masterpiece.


Cocktail by Michael Neff

For this recipe, I referenced the work of Basquiat, and the mission of the bar, which prides itself as a place where people can walk in at any hour. First off, I used a Dutch vodka to reflect the Amsterdam location. (The bar also touts its affinity for breakfast, so the cocktail is light enough to be consumed any time of day.) The space is inspired by the style of the American artist for which it’s named, notable for the disparate elements and feelings that conflict with and complement each other at the same time. To reflect that I chose two very big favors, ginger and cardamom, and gave them a relatively neutral environment in which to shine. Just like Basquiat flourished his graphic works with colors and symbols, at my bar in New York I brandish drinks with whimsical touches. For instance, a bright blue airplane figurine.



1  oz vodka

1⁄2  oz fresh lemon juice

1⁄2  oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur

2 dashes Scrappy’s cardamom bitters

Sparkling wine


How To Make

  1. Add all ingredients into a shaker tin, shake vigorously, and fine strain into a Belgium glass over cubed ice. Garnish with yellow umbrella and mint sprig.

Michael Neff is the beverage director at Holiday Cocktail Lounge in New York’s East Village. Previously, he oversaw the drink programs at Tribeca’s Ward III and Clifton’s Cafeteria in Downtown Los Angeles.

(Photo: Dani Vernon/Surface)
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