This year we will be publishing a whole lot about Amsterdams Brown Bars, Our favourite local Rory is giving us our first instalment.
Rory has lived in the Netherlands since 2014 and has been working for himself in Dutch tourism since 2015. He started off doing private driving tours which allowed him to explore the highways and byways of the Netherlands and has since added to his repertoire of Dutch cultural knowledge by learning all about their cheese.
He runs www.dutchcheesetasting.com which is dedicated to bringing the story of organic Dutch cheese to the minds and mouths of visitors. He also runs www.amsterdamtulipstour.com, which provides private and semi-private tours in April and May for those who want to see Dutch tulips at their finest. Its specialty is off-the-beaten-track tulips and hyacinth fields.
Rory also performs improv comedy and writes, and has also lived in Los Angeles, New York, Spain, and his native Ireland.
Amsterdam’s Brown Bars
When it comes to nightlife in Amsterdam, the city is renowned for its array of vibrant bars, clubs and pubs. However, tucked away amongst the bright lights and pumping music is a lesser-known gem: Amsterdam’s brown bars. Brown bars, also known as bruin cafes, are a unique type of bar in the Netherlands. You’ll know them by their wood-panelled interiors, dimly lit atmospheres, and traditional Dutch decor. They’re decidedly not-flashy (which in itself is quiet a Dutch characteristic), offer a warm and cosy atmosphere, and make for a relaxed and authentic in Amsterdam (or Utrecht or The Hague).
Brown bars are a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. These bars often offer a variety of traditional Dutch beers and snacks, such as bitterballen and cheese. Many brown bars also have a jukebox and pool table, giving patrons the opportunity to play some classic tunes and challenge each other to a game of pool. Brown bars are a great way to experience a more traditional side of Amsterdam. These bars are often family-run and provide and offer a genuinely authentic alternative to the sleek but somewhat same-y bars that have sprung up all over trendy European capitals. The following is a list of four bruin bars that are worth checking out, and I also encourage you to go rogue and simply take a punt on one that you find with the help of Google:
Café De Wetering
First up is Café de Wetering in the Grachetengordel – or Canal Belt to you and me! Yes, Amsterdam has more than a hundred canals, but the three big ones that run in concentric semi-circles are known as the Canal Belt. Café de Wetering is found just off of the third canal, Prinsengracht, amongst a wonderful little enclave of picture-perfect homes from the 1700s. It’s also rather close to the Rijksmuseum and makes for a nice watering hole after you’ve feasted your eyes on the dark and gloomy tones of a Rembrandt or three. The atmosphere at Cafe De Wetering is rather genteel. It’s quite a small bar, and has a little mezzanine area too which is dimly lit and features a welcoming log fire (quite the rarity in Amsterdam). The decor is simple and rustic, with wooden tables, exposed brick walls, and a warm, inviting colour scheme. The cafe has a relaxed, welcoming vibe that makes it the perfect place to sit back and take a break from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam. Cafe De Wetering has a small amount of draft beers, a somewhat bigger selection of bottled beers, and a simple choice of red or white wine – in that classic Amsterdam way. The service at Cafe De Wetering is friendly and attentive, ensuring that customers have a pleasant and enjoyable experience. The staff are always on hand to help with any questions or requests, and the prices are very reasonable. Overall, Cafe De Wetering is a fantastic local spot.
A truly magnificent shabby gem is Café Papeneiland. The word iconic is much abused these days, but Papeneiland is iconic for two reasons: It sits at the juncture of two canals – Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht – which happens to be the one of the most photographed spots in Amsterdam.
And secondly, the café has been in business in 1641 and is one of the oldest cafes in the world. Inside, the café feels pokey and old-school in the most glorious of ways. There’s a creaking wooden floor, ramshackle bar, and steep stairs that lead both up (to the gallery seating) and down (to the toilets). You’ll find it adorned with Delft blue tiles on the walls and on the counter itself are some rather ornate old-school draught pumps.
Outside, it doesn’t have so much as a terrace as a conveniently sloping walls that allow Amsterdammers to sit and congregate on a sunny Summer’s day as if it was a terrace. And of all the highly-trafficked bars in the centre of Amsterdam, this one had an incredibly high percentage of Dutch speakers when I last visited on late September.
The menu at Cafe Papeneiland is extensive and varied. You can order traditional dishes such as Dutch herring, Dutch pancakes, and various stews. However, the food item for which it is most famous is a thick and calorie-laden slice of Dutch apple pie.
Next up is Arendsnest, which sits proudly on one of Amsterdam’s finest canals, the imperious Prinsengracht (literally, the Prince’s Canal). Most brown bars are of a rather humble provenance and are tucked away down side streets, but not Arendsnest.
Arendsnest is actually a specialist in Dutch craft beers and has the largest selection of beers of – well, not just the other brown bars on this list, but of most bars in all of Amsterdam. Over 100. If your partner of friend is not also a beer aficionado that you are, fret not, you can lure them along as it has a couple of perfunctory wine choices to choose from.
In addition to well-known and obscure Dutch beers from Amsterdam and beyond, Arendsnest has a nice selection of snacks, such as Dutch bitterballen, cheese platters, and other traditional Dutch dishes. The atmosphere at Arendsnest is relaxed and inviting, with a cozy interior and a wide variety of seating options. The bar is adorned with vintage Dutch prints, giving it a unique ambiance. The bar staff is friendly and knowledgeable, offering helpful advice on the different beers they offer.
When it comes to a unique and charming Amsterdam cafe experience, Cafe Hoppe is the perfect spot. Located on Spui, it borders the historic core, dating from the 1300s, and the Canal Belt, dating from the 1600s. This particular part of Amsterdam (Spui) is quite special as it still attracts quite a large Dutch clientele, and the bartenders are usually rather portly Amsterdam men in their 50s or 60s with a typically Dutch bearing – many other hospitality establishments are staffed by young workers from all over the world, but Hoppe is a bit old-school.
Cafe Hoppe has been a destination for locals and visitors alike for over a century. The cafe’s history dates back to the early 1800s, when it first opened its doors to serve the locals of Amsterdam. During its century-long history, Cafe Hoppe has seen many changes and served many different types of people. It has become an integral part of Amsterdam’s culture, serving as a place for locals to come together over coffee and a bite to eat.
The cafe has a cosy, intimate atmosphere, with a mix of vintage decor, old-fashioned furniture, and modern touches. The menu offers a variety of snacks and meals, including traditional Dutch favourites such as pancakes, sandwiches, and salads. The cafe’s most popular feature is its outdoor terrace, which is a great place to sit and watch the world go by.
Café De Dokter
Café De Dokter is a delight unto itself. You can find it down a tiny side street in the centre of Amsterdam and with ivy lining much of its exterior. It’s very small and the interior is cluttered up with loads of old knick-knacks and old-timey advertising placards. It gets very little natural light, and they compensate for that with a plethora of candled-lighting – both electrical and flame. You feel like you’re in the 1920s.
The drinks and food menu are all rather straightforward – nothing flashy here! – but what De Dokter is really about is the ambiance. Everything I’ve just described gives it a rather eccentric and endearing feel and on top of that, the staff is very friendly and low key.