On a fine June day in 1838, Mirabeau B. Lamar shot a buffalo, and where it fell, a settlement was founded. That settlement, in time, became known at the city of Austin. When you look out the front windows of the Amsterdam Cafe, at Eighth and Colorado, you are looking directly at this hallowed piece of ground where the buffalo fell; no doubt the exact spot would have been forgotten, had early settlers not had the brainwave of building our first City Hall on the very spot.
Perhaps because of this magical location, the Amsterdam Cafe has a curiously strong Austin vibe: It is comfortable, informal, and friendly in the laid-back way that has always been Austin's hallmark. When you walk in the door, you get an immediate feeling of leisure and camaraderie. The storefront-style windows let in natural light, but the interior is so spotlessly clean that it stands up to scrutiny. In addition to table and counter seating, there are large, comfortable armchairs to relax in, and light glitters off the chevron of bottles that proclaims a full bar.
The Amsterdam's bar has been the focus of much positive comment, most of it spreading the word that the Amsterdam does a really nice pour. In addition to well-made cocktails, there are dozens of imported beers and two draft beers that are frequently rotated. When I went in, the draft beers were Leinenkugel, from Madison, Wis., and Firemans 4 Blonde Ale, by the Real Ale Brewing Co. of Blanco, Texas. The same thoughtful good taste that selected the draft beers is evident throughout.
The Amsterdam is a European-style cafe, opening early with pastry and espresso service, then serving lunch, and ultimately providing a sociable after-work drinking spot. The convivial atmosphere is the Amsterdam's foremost charm; most Austin watering holes that sport a full bar are too noisy for conversation to flourish. This is a perfect place to meet up with an old friend and catch up over drinks, without having to raise your voice to make yourself heard. Manager Chris Rutledge plans to add live acoustic music to the mix occasionally, beginning in August; I can only hope that the addition of music doesn't interfere with the publike ambience.
The menu is geared toward lunch, which is the busiest time for the kitchen. Though the menu isn't large, it is focused on popular favorites, and all are executed well. Individual pizzas made to order are $8-9 and include house-made marinara, fresh basil, Italian cheeses, and a variety of toppings. Grilled panini sandwiches are $7-8 and include turkey and Gouda, roast beef and Gruyere, and grilled vegetables and cheese. Baguette sandwiches (known elsewhere as subs) are also $7-8 and come to the table absolutely loaded with cold cuts. The Amsterdam also offers four different lunch salads, ranging in price from $3 to $7, and the house-made Dijon vinaigrette is outstanding. The ingredients of all the salads and sandwiches are marvelously fresh, and just like the cocktails, you get your money's worth.
Happy hour at the Amsterdam is a particularly fortuitous time to go: It lasts from 4:30 until 7pm, and all appetizers are $4, pizzas are $5, and the aforementioned draft beers and highballs are only $3.
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