Lest anyone mistake the character of the place, the Frans Hals Café displays also a smaller sign: cannabis shop. The neon likeness of the “Laughing Cavalier” implies that the name recognizes Hals’ presumed cordial humor (though the art historians would prefer the acerbity of the “Lady-Governors”) rather than his improvidence (attested by numerous extant documents). Most likely, the shop expresses simple civic pride in Haarlem’s most celebrated artist. It is a casual place, much like low-rent coffeehouses anywhere, with miscellaneous furnishings, handwritten signs, improvisatory decor, and an old worn wood floor. A small booth near the door is tended by an pleasant young fellow. To one side is a display with the merchandise he offers: maybe ten varieties each of marijuana and hashish, priced from 12.50 to 18 guiders/gram (Nlg 2.47 = $1). At the bar behind, coffee, tea, fruit drinks, soda, and “space cakes” (for Nlg. 7 ½) are available as well as communal bongs. Though it is yet morning, several patrons sit rolling, smoking, sipping, reading. A computer is available in the front and a video game in the back.
Music plays from the “Emerald Light” free jukebox. The young man produces plastic containers to display his buds. The visitor from abroad cannot avoid feeling that there is something stunning about this simple act. He offers impressionistic reviews of the goods. The tourist purchases some Afghan skunk (actually a Dutch-grown weed) and some coffee and passes an idle hour. Just before exiting, he visits the bathroom and observe that this Dutch toilet flushes toward the front rather than the back. And the flush is activated by a small button on top, flat and identical in color to its surroundings. Hmmmmm.
In Amsterdam, at a well-known spot, the Bluebird (where an ambitious customer is purchasing Superskunk from an Irish heavy whose his aide in Caucasian dreads asks a customer is he is going to behave today). This place is loud and crowded and full of (humpf!) foreigners.
Back in Haarlem the Theehuis was the original smoking café. It’s a small establishment, only two little tables and a ledge with a couple of stools, but it seems to have a reputation among the cognoscenti. A young tram conductor with a blond ponytail down his back says that he has never heard of a fight in a coffeehouse. Toleration of these establishments has been the rule his entire life. He says he must remind himself to be discreet when he visits Germany. The Dutch prefer to roll great spliffs, mixing the pot with tobacco. They say it’s because dope doesn’t burn steadily, but surely it is also the cocktail principle, watering down the intoxicant with a mixer. It does make for a denser tobacco atmosphere than we Americans would choose. Otherwise, these places seem wholly innocuous. Passersby pay no attention as patrons in windowseats roll fat joints.