Hotel Pulitzer Amsterdam: canal-side 400-year-old property with an eclectic twist

With its launch just three months ago, the partially refurbished Hotel Pulitzer has become Amsterdam’s latest five-star offering.

Located between the Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals, this luxury property imbues an historic set of buildings with a modern, eclectic twist. A phased renovation in February saw the unveiling of 80 rooms out of a total of 225 and a revamped look across areas including Pulitzer’s Bar, a new restaurant called Jansz, as well as meeting and event spaces. The completed renovation, to be finished this autumn with remaining rooms on the Prinsengracht canal side, will also include a gym and a tranquil, private garden courtyard.

Pulitzer Hotel Amsterdam

Composed of 25 medieval canal houses connected together by a web of narrow, higgledy-piggeldy corridors and mini-staircases, the hotel is a maze of almost childlike delight. Under the watchful eye of Jacu Strauss, creative director for the renovation, every house is differentiated by the color of its carpet and every room presents a different perspective to the eye, whether that be through their unique furnishings or window size and positioning.

History begins in the thick-carpeted lobby – a few steps away from the Keizersgracht, one of Amsterdam’s iconic canals. Here, decorations include 1930s Royal Blue delft, a ‘Great Gatsby’ chair from the 1930s and intricately-carved 16th century stairs nearby.

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We stayed in the Saxenburg House, 230 Keizersgracht, in junior suite 374, originally owned by brass founder, Volbert Jansz in the 1600s, as an informative plaque on our door explained. It featured a much-prized Amsterdam architectural feature – an elaborate and elegant neck gable style facade. Comfortable furnishings included thick carpeting, a soft armchair and sofa, fireplace with gray-black marble surround, mauve curtains to match the furniture, a moveable mini-bar-cum-television on wheels, and even an old-style rotary-dial telephone. Three sizeable windows along one wall allowed plenty of natural light to flow through. Delicate cutlery included Churchill China cups and saucers, a French coffee press and freshly-ground Costa Rica, Brazilian and Columbian beans. True to Amsterdam’s transport tradition as evidenced by more than 800,000 cycles in and around the city – there was even a compact bicycle repair kit. Just in case.

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Our bathroom facilities were expansive. Filled with natural light, it featured a sunk-in bath and Le Labo toiletries – with their expiration dates printed boldly on them, a rare occurrence. A complimentary, leather-clad book with pink pages was filled with ‘bed-time stories’ such as ‘Rembrandt and the Monkey, a delightful metaphor on greed, ‘ and ‘The Pulitzer Story,’ describing the history of the hotel and how its founder, entrepreneur Peter Pulitzer, developed his idea of combining canal houses back in the 1960s.

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As the Hotel Pulitzer is rich in history stretching more than 400 years, with former inhabitants ranging from trade merchants, art/antique dealers and musicians to flamboyant Dutch aristocrats, Strauss has parlayed his experience as a senior designer at Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio, to incorporate the nuances of such characters into the very character of the hotel itself. This aspect is well reflected in the four special ‘Collectors Suites,’ each with a canal-facing street entrance. The Antique Collector’s suite showcases antique furniture and objects, with a crystal bead chandelier and vintage and modern mirrors, including one from Anouk Beerents.

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The Book Collector’s suite embodies all that a true bibliophile dreams of – an impressive room chock-a-block with tomes and a vintage oak writers’ desk overlooking the canal made all the more alluring by a patchwork Persian rug by Piet Hein Eek. Other themed suites include the Music Collector’s version with a wall of trumpets, a classic record player and an array of framed records, as well as the Art Collector’s, decorated with works collected by the hotel’s owners over the years, including a multi-colored, 30-foot-long, 21st-century painted version of ‘The Last Supper’ in the style of Franz Hals by Dutch artist Thierry de Cromieres, complete with soft-drink cans, breakfast cereal packages and mobile phones.

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Keen to maintain other historical aspects of the buildings and the traditional essence of the Dutch capital specially as the hotel is located in the heart of the Amsterdam UNESCO World Heritage district, Strauss – who also worked on the Mondrian London – has also incorporated original canal house elements such as ceiling beams and fireplaces and dark wooden headboards that reflect the gables of the canal houses.

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Jansz Restaurant, entered by guests through the replica of an old apothecary’s store, is a series of rooms, some looking directly onto the Keizersgracht canal, with excellent service born of experience – it is interesting to note that about 30 per cent of staff working at the hotel have been there for over 25 years. Chef Cassidy Hallman produces refined dishes, full of quiet surprises (roast cauliflower and wild mushrooms, with hidden flavors of lemon and sweet pine nuts). For after-dinner drinks, there’s no more convenient place than the cozy, intimate Pulitzer Bar next door.

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Fancy a float on a boat? Try the hotel’s electric salon version, ‘The Tourist.’ Dating from 1909 and captained by Imco Brune, its impressive restoration includes polished blank teak and mahogany surfaces. It is believed to be the very same vessel wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill chose to tour Amsterdam in 1946. Afternoon tours of the canals last around 90 minutes and drinks can be purchased on board.

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If you’re more a land-loving person, you’ll be delighted to know that the Pulitzer is located in one of Amsterdam’s most fashionable neighborhoods, and convenient to many of the city’s leading museums, including the Van Gogh and Stedelijk. Of particular note are two on photography. While I was there, Amsterdam’s FOAM photography museum had two excellent exhibitions, on two very different artists, Jacques Henri Lartigue and Mike Disfarmer (real name Mike Meyer). Renowned for his spectacular photos of car races, airplanes and people and animals in motion, Lartigue was also an avid lover of Life and Nature and his quote, ‘I am a taxidermist of the things life offers me in passing,’ reflects the pleasure he enjoyed. Taking photos since the age of six, over 100,000 photos recovered record the Frenchman’s life, his loves and his passions with infectious enthusiasm. In contrast, Arkansas-based Disfarmer was a hermit-like studio portrait photographer through the Great Depression and World War II. After being found dead alone, aged 75, in his studio on a pile of old newspapers in 1959, hundreds of the rather unsentimental portraits he had taken came into popular vogue in the US. Some of his work even appeared in ‘The Arkansas Sun’ newspaper in a family-oriented column cutely called ‘Someday My Prints Will Come.’ While Lartigue’s exhibit, ‘Life in Color’ finished earlier this month, the one on Disfarmer, ‘The Vintage Prints,’ continues until June 5.

photography museum Amsterdam

In addition to museums aplenty, De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets), a major shopping area, lies just across the street from the Pulitzer.

With stiffer competition in Amsterdam’s luxury hotel sector following the opening of the Andaz four years ago and the Waldorf Astoria last year, as well as the presence of the Canal House and Hilton Amsterdam, Hotel Pulitzer is reinforcing its quality position. Revamped and re-launched as an independent member of the sales and marketing consortium, Preferred Hotels & Resorts new LVX Collection, it offers a convenient downtown, canal-side location in both a quaint as well as a deeply historical setting.

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