Dutch coffeeshops are world famous for offering up endless varieties of pot on which to get spectacularly stoned. They aren’t illegal in the Netherlands–at least, not for some people–but most of them are so seedy that when you patronize them you feel like you’re doing something illegal.
Hi/Lo bills itself as a “high-end” (uh, pun intended?) corrective. The first new coffeeshop in Utrecht in 20 years, it has a bright, airy main floor, complete with a glossy white reception desk, matching tables, colorful Foscarini Tropico lamps, and black Spiderwoman chairs from Hay. You could easily mistake the place for some sort of hip hotel lobby, if not for the pungent scent of Purple Haze wafting through the air.
The notion of a “high-end” coffeeshop might seem a bit silly. After all, coffeeshops will attract customers no matter what; it’s not like they need sexy design to push their product. At the same time, good design can be a powerful way to acknowledge that pot users aren’t scofflaws who need to be shunted off to the dreariest recesses of the city. Perhaps more importantly, it can be excellent PR. As the designers, Utrecht-based Workshop of Wonders, tell it: “We are… very proud of the fact that even though there were 250 (unsuccessful) appeals submitted by neighbors opposing this project, when they were invited a few weeks ago to have a look inside the vast majority was so impressed, their resistance went up in smoke.”