Het Ballonnetje is one of the oldest surviving coffeeshops in Amsterdam, having been established in 1978. The name means balloon. More specifically, the word for balloon is ballon. The -etje ending modifies it to mean small or maybe something like cute or toy.
My first encounter
I first visited Ballonnetje in spring 1988. I don't have any pictures from then but I do remember the trip.It was my first adventure in Amsterdam and I was travelling with a female friend. Another couple we knew had recently returned with news that the mythical coffeeshops were real and had given us directions to the Bulldog.
As we excitedly rode the train from Schiphol to Centraal we got chatting to a local who told us about his favourite coffeeshop, Het Ballonnetje. He told us how to get there and a day or two later we ventured out there.
Over the following years I returned many times with different friends and it became a regular excursion.
The following picture is from summer 1992. In those days there was a tram stop just outside the shop.
The outside of the shop has changed little in twenty years or more but the inside has. For many years my favourite feature was the vivarium. Basically this is a glass box designed to maintain humidity. It enables tropical plants to be grown, like a terrarium, but this one also had a pool of water at the bottom and hidden animals.
At the back of the second 2006 pic is the then dealer's counter (I trust that the people are sufficiently anonymous, the joint hanging out of the dealer's mouth distorts the image, and it is a long time ago now).
The person doing the crossword is in the prime position. More than once I was lucky enough to sit at that table with good company.
I remember the shock of first noticing a brightly-coloured frog emerge from the foliage in the vivarium. Each toke seemed to reveal another tiny tropical amphibian painted in intense primary colours. Perfect entertainment for this stoner at least.
On subsequent occasions I recall initially feeling that the frogs had gone, only to spot one after a toke or two. Eventually, though, they were replaced by a plastic snake and then the vivarium disappeared altogether.
Subsequently the room was divided and the counter moved to the opposite end, allowing off-sales via a corridor.
ACD Forum arrives
Then, in 2017, Ballonnetje really excelled itself.
For many years, members of the forum attached to this website have been meeting up in Amsterdam around the 20th of April. In 2017 Ballonnetje invited all members in town to a special session. A space was reserved for us, food provided and samples of many of their best wares passed around.
This extraordinary hospitality made for a wonderful afternoon. One of my favourite coffeeshops went even higher in my estimation.
ACD Forum returns
In 2018 we were lucky enough to be invited back for a repeat performance.
This time we were presented with loads of nice little glass jars containing all sorts of goodies. More food and more excellent hospitality. What a wonderful place!
ACD Forum back again
In 2019 we did it yet again.
Yet again we were treated to a VIP session with food and high-grade weed.
(At time of writing we're hoping to return in 2020 but a pesky virus may have put paid to that.)