I’m in Mellow Yellow, Amsterdam’s oldest coffeeshop. Beneath a thin veil of smoke, groups of men and women – young, old and of various nationalities – sit at wooden tables, chatting, joking and sharing spliffs. Reggae flows from nearby speakers, while a coffee machine noisily grinds beans behind the bar.
After finding fertile ground in a decidedly grey area of Dutch drug law, Mellow Yellow opened in 1967, blazing a trail for hundreds of other coffeeshops to follow.
Next year this historic establishment should be celebrating its 50th anniversary, but instead it will be pulling down the shutters for the final time: by order of the mayor, Mellow Yellow is to cease trading on January 1, 2017. This joint is going out.
“Mellow Yellow was the first coffeeshop in the world and now they want to close it,” says owner, Johnny Petram.
“I serve thousands of people every day; tourists and locals. I have Israelis and Palestinians in here smoking together. Even people who don’t smoke come here to have their photo taken. It’s part of the history of Amsterdam.”
But now Mellow Yellow looks set to be history as the mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, oversees the final phase of a government-backed programme to shut down any coffeeshop within 250m of a school. Mellow Yellow is one of 28 establishments to be affected by the initiative, which is allegedly aimed at deterring youngsters from taking up cannabis.