January 8, 2006

The Hague City Gets Its Buzz Back

TIME was if you mentioned The Hague to someone from Amsterdam, the most likely comment you would have received would have been "stately," followed closely by "boring" (if not the reverse).

The Hague, site of the 13th century Binnenhof, where the Dutch parliament meets, has long labored in the shadows of its supposedly hipper sister city. Now thanks to a recent cultural and culinary renaissance in the area of the Denneweg and the Lange Voorhout, The Hague, which remains as stately as it ever was, has cast off its "boring" reputation.

At the center of the new buzz is the spiffed-up Le Meridien Hotel Des Indes, (31-70) 361 2345, www.hague.lemeridien.com, the five-floor grande dame of Dutch hotels. Closed for a 15-month renovation, the hotel, which reopened in September and is on the corner of Denneweg and Lange Voorhout, has regained the cachet that once drew the likes of Churchill and Mata Hari. Rooms, which have been redesigned by the French architect Jacques Garcia, range from 325 euros (about $392, at $1.21 to the euro) for a standard room to 1,500 euros for the presidential suite.

"It's a little bit of Paris in Holland," says Dion Verplanche, head chef and proprietor of Maxime's, a new restaurant around the corner from the Des Indes at Denneweg 10b, (31-70) 360 9224. "Ten years ago, even five, I wouldn't have considered doing this here," he said on a recent afternoon. Featuring a set dinner for 28 euros and inventive concoctions like creamy soup with Dutch shrimp and pan-fried cod fillet with ginger and basil sauce, the place has been packed ever since it opened in October.

Actually there's enough to do, see and eat on or near Denneweg that one can spend an entire day there. Begin your exploration with a cup of coffee and omelet with salmon (8 euros) at Lodewieck, a bistro at Denneweg 5, (31-70) 346 8819. Next, head over to Het Paleis, a former residence of the Dutch royal family that has been home to the works of the Dutch artist M. C. Escher since 2002. Tickets for adults are 7.5 euros; (31-70) 427 7730, www.escherinhetpaleis.nl.

Now it's time to shop. At the design store Het Sleutelhuis, Denneweg 118, (31-70) 346 5619, www.hetsleutelhuis.nl, you'll find what must be one of the world's widest (and kookiest) ranges of door knobs, including a small fabric lion's head knob for 10 euros, and a crystalline one for 630 euros. Some of the finest women's boots on offer, including the much-coveted house brand, can be found across the street at Paul Warmer, Denneweg 23 (31-70) 363 3143. Denneweg is also one of Holland's premier streets for antique shopping; Angevaren, Denneweg 3a (31-70) 356 1058, for example, offers a resplendent variety of Delft pottery.

Later, follow the crowd to Impero Romano, an Italian restaurant behind the Des Indes at Kazernestraat 146 (31-70) 363 2425. Its owners recently opened a new branch just down the block at Kazernestraat 62 (31-70) 364 6082, that has lately become The Hague's party central. Try the house specialty, Branzino sole (fish in salt crust at 24.5 euros), at either branch. Afterward cool off at the Ondernemerscafe, a spacious, sculpture-filled lounge bar that opened last year at Hooikade 56 (31-70) 345 8934,where drinks range from 2 euros for a beer up to 65 euros for a bottle of Champagne Gallimard. Or for a shot of old-fashioned Dutch coziness, have a jonge jenever (young gin, 5 euros) at Bodega de Posthoorn at Lange Voorhout 39a, (31-70) 360 4906.
You can now congratulate yourself on having discovered the distinctly un-boring Dutch capital.


2005, Het Sleutelhuis Design b.v.