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Don't forget to take an umbrella," calls a cheerful concierge at Blakes Amsterdam.

It's autumn in Amsterdam, the air is crisp, and we are peering out the front door of the hotel, contemplating a sky filled with low, gray clouds. In a stand next to the door are a number of large umbrellas, all black in keeping with Blakes' black and white Asian décor. They are complimentary for Blakes' guests, a practical reminder of the personal service for which this upscale boutique hotel is known.

In Blakes' hand-laid herringbone
brick entry courtyard is a stable
of bicycles for guests.

Amsterdam is a city of as many bicycles as people. In Blakes' hand-laid herringbone brick entry courtyard is a stable of bicycles. These are available for guests to use to tour the city; you can feel right at home cycling with the residents along picturesque canal streets.

Upon our arrival at Blakes we received a refreshing fruit juice welcome. Monique, one of several attractive young men and women in tailored black suits in the reception area, asked, "Do you have any fruit allergies or sugar concerns?" before pouring our drinks.

The striking décor of Blakes Amsterdam has been created by London hotelier and internationally renowned designer, Anouska Hempel. The ambiance is high style, yet intimate and welcoming, an environment of luxurious escapism in an old European city noted for crowded accommodations.

The design of the hotel building is an architectural makeover that respects the past and embraces the future. Blakes Amsterdam was once a dignified 17th century canal house, a landmark on one of the city's most famous tree-lined canals, Keizersgracht.

International designer
Anouska Hempel individually designed
41 guestrooms and suites to combine
modern architectural elements
in Zen harmony.

Hempel has individually designed 41 guestrooms and suites to combine modern architectural elements in Zen harmony. Rich fabrics and color themes reflect touches of the Orient. As we enter our room, we are greeted by the faint smell of an exotic spice and classical Vivaldi music. Two fresh apples perch on a crisply folded linen napkin; hidden inside the napkin are a Sheffield knife and fork. Cupboards, TV, and closets are concealed behind bamboo wall panels. There seem to be pillows everywhere. Oriental-shuttered windows overlook a pretty courtyard below. The room has a cozy quietness about it that makes you instantly forget the bustling, narrow streets of the city.

The bathroom reflects a delightfully modern Asian influence. When you turn on the water, it pours out of a long horizontal slit in the square black marble sink, creating the illusion of a mini zen waterfall. Towels are large and fluffy, in colors of pomegranate and charcoal, and there are two bathrobes. Taking pride on exceptional personal service, the staff at Blakes Amsterdam includes bottled water at bedside as part of its evening turn-down service.

Above: The Chinese Bar,
once an office for an
18th-century orphanage.

But before turning in, we find a comfortable spot for a nightcap. The couches, in black and white, are oversized, overstuffed, and buried with pillows. This is the Long Gallery Lounge (above), with a background of modern jazz melodies. On a black, lacquered square table is a selection of expensive art books for one's perusal. Subjects range from African Kings to the life and art of Andy Warhol. This does not feel like a lounge, but rather like an elegant European living room, where you could wile away a cozy afternoon reading while it rained outside.

We pass through the Long Gallery again in the morning on our way to breakfast in Blakes' restaurant. The low-level jazz for the morning provides just the right beat, blending with strong Dutch coffee to make you anticipate the day ahead. Breakfast is served with lace-edged linen napkins and little glass pots of pineapple, honey, and raspberry jam, fine touches that contribute to a unique experience.

Dining at Blakes is an architectural cuisine of striking Zen harmony.

Above: The Zen
of Salt and Pepper.
Below: Blakes' well-known
afternoon tea is served
in the Long Gallery.

Below: Breakfast
is served with
linen napkins and
little glass pots
of pineapple,
honey. and
raspberry jam.

Blakes' restaurant is known in Amsterdam for classic and contemporary cuisines inspired by Holland's 16th century merchant adventurers, a cuisine that perfectly blends Japanese, Thai, French, and Italian influences. "An architectural cuisine of striking Zen harmony." These culinary delights of the meeting between East and West exist in lunch, dinner, and Blakes' well-known afternoon tea, served in the Long Gallery.

Windows in the Long Gallery look out into a tree- and umbrella-shaded garden courtyard that is a magical hideaway within the center of beautiful Amsterdam—a perfect serene atmosphere in which to host a cocktail party or other special occasion. There is also a private dining room, Annabel's, for small dinner parties for up to 12 guests. And, of course, 24-hour room service.

In the black and white Zen surroundings of Blakes, one might easily overlook the incredible history of this beautiful brick building.

In the early 1600s, one Doctor Samuel Coster, a man of letters, bought the land, constructed a building and founded a theatre. The immoral character of theatre was much disapproved of by Dutch church authorities of the time, so it was decided to donate most of the theatre's receipts to the city's orphanages.

A permanent theatre orchestra was established, and Antonio Vivaldi himself conducted it at the time of its 100th anniversary in 1737. Besides Dutch plays, works of Shakespeare, Molière, and Voltaire were presented. Crowned heads of state who visited the theatre over the years included the Prince of Orange, the King of Poland, the Tsar of Russia, and Cosimo di Medici.

A massive brick wall of 18th
century bakery ovens has been
retained as part of
the décor in the present
Blakes Restaurant.

A fire in 1772, accidentally set off by a tin full of candle wax during a performance by a Flemish operetta company, completely destroyed the theatre. The following year the site was sold to the Regents of the Roman Catholic Old and Poor People's Office. This most important Catholic charity remained the owner of the building for the next 225 years. During that time, orphans were cared for and food and alms were served to large numbers of poor Catholic people. To offset these costs, from 1787 until 1811, the Regents operated their own bakery.

A massive brick wall of ovens has been retained as part of the décor of the present Blakes Restaurant. The Long Gallery was formerly the orphans' playroom, and the Chinese Bar was the office of the Regents.

The design of Blakes
Amsterdam is an
architectural makeover,
respecting the past,
embracing the future.

The Stein Group, Blakes' parent company, bought the building six years ago. Two years were spent conceptualizing and constructing the hotel to present modern luxury while retaining important elements of the building's history. This is evident in ancient ceiling support beams that the designer wisely chose to keep exposed, as well as the impressive wall of ovens. Seeing the stairs leading up and down between rooms, you can appreciate the workmanship of the old bricks set in the vertical Dutch style. These elements date from the 17th century "Golden Age" when Amsterdam was the world's richest city.

Today's travelers find Blakes a delightful respite in bustling Amsterdam. It's only a 15-minute stroll to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. The fashionable Museum Quarter, famous for its designer boutiques, is just a 10-minute walk. The picturesque neighborhood, De Jordan, as well as the 9 Little Streets, with small exclusive shops, is just around the corner.

Blakes' concierge service is available to meet any variety of needs; meetings and banquets, private dining room arrangements, in-room massages, limousine transfers, private tours, and private boat rental can all be easily arranged by the black-suited staff.

And of course—apples and bicycles and umbrellas.

Feature and photos by Carolyn Proctor, Las Vegas Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent.