Ratings Key (0-10)
A: Choice and/or quality of drinks
B: Style and décor
C: Atmosphere and feel
D: Amenities, Events & Community
E: Value for money
F: The Pub Going Factor
Bars marked (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!
|In De Wildeman||Amsterdam||10||9||8||7||6||9|
|Café De Dokter||Amsterdam||9||10||10||7||6||10|
|De Pilsener Club *||Amsterdam||9||9||9||7||6||9|
|Het Elfde Gebod||Amsterdam||8||7||8||7||5||8|
|Café ‘t Smalle||Amsterdam||7||10||9||7||6||8|
|Proeflokaal de Ooievaar||Amsterdam||7||9||9||6||6||8|
|Café Mulder *||Amsterdam||7||8||8||7||6||8|
|Café De Wetering||Amsterdam||6||10||10||7||6||9|
|In De Olofspoort||Amsterdam||6||10||9||7||6||9|
Amsterdam’s café culture is in most cases people’s only experience of pubgoing in Netherlands.
Having been to Rotterdam and Maastricht, I am still left with an overriding impression that this is for the best. The most dynamic, atmospheric bars, scenes and districts are to be found in Amsterdam. I recently compiled a central pub crawl of its brown cafés and jenever houses, which may well interest you – click HERE.
Amsterdam is prey to similar housing issues to many large Western cities, a form of social cleansing driving working class people out of the centre, partly aided and abetted by tourist demand for space to rent in the centre on their trip.
This has unavoidably had an effect on bar scenes, with many of the more historic pubs occupied by tourists, above locals.
However, unlike many cities, Amsterdam – perhaps through being a port – is a welcoming, tolerant place that is used to dealing with foreigners and has long equipped itself with many languages and cherry-picked from cultures as diverse as Italian to Surinamese into its own.
Although Amsterdam’s famous bruin kroege/brown cafés have been dying out in their droves for decades, the tourist effect may also, in a perverse way end up saving many from extinction as they become not only places for a drink but buildings and businesses of unique historic interest.
What is the appeal? Well, just as London offers hundreds of distinctive corner pubs with Victorian/early 20th century stylings, Amsterdam’s equivalent is the brown café: simply designed, occasionally spit-n-sawdust venues with rickety tables and chairs, ceilings yellowed through decades of smoke, often interesting cabinets, bar features and hatches, rendered all the more charming by being forced into Amsterdam’s narrow, tall townhouses.
Yes, in Amsterdam it is not unheard of to climb up ladders to ascend to mezzanine levels, or visit pubs such as De Pilsener Club without any front-facing bar at all. Many of these venues owners recognise that one of the defining features of wood is gaining character as it ages, and so show severe restraint when it comes to additions or alterations. The weird and wonderful features of these pubs show that necessity (somewhere to drink) is the mother of invention.
The atmosphere of brown cafés tends to be brooding and dusky during the day, where anything from the rustle of a newspaper to a privately shared joke prickles the silence, and the dim light that pillars through often stained glass panels creates an almost chapel-like calm.
Cut to the evening hours when the same venue can easily transform into a loud, merry and fast-paced bar. The perhaps unheralded versatility of the brown café is in my opinion the key to its endurance. Most of all, however, the cosy sense of sanctuary and feeling that you are playing your part in a wider story elevates these places beyond the every day.
Furthermore, in a country not known for its spectacular climate, brown cafés such as Café Mulder offer the cosiest refuges from the bitter weather.
Outside of these temples of drinking, Netherlands also offers the Proeflokaal, a tasting house, which are often small venues dedicated to dispensing jenever and brandewijn. These are distinct venues all by themselves, offering a different format and formality to buying a beer in a brown café (though often beer still is available). The service in a Proeflokaal is genial, occasionally even verging onto banter, akin to Irish pubs. The various ephemera, bottles, barrels and cabinets make these venues very interesting in terms of décor.
You may also find the Eetcafé, a pleasingly literal name signifying that food is available. There is a considerable overlap between these places and some other Dutch pubs so it’s best not to get too hung up on this as a format. They can be just right to pop in for a drink, they might be a little too food-focused (much as can be said for some Czech Hospudky or the Slovenian Gostilna).
With terrible weather, a Northern European temperament, lively beer scene of its own, and neighbouring Belgium’s wares to compensate for any of their shortcomings, it stands to reason that Netherlands was always going to produce a bounty of great pubs.
There is a lot more exploring for me to do – unfortunately Carnevaal was on in Maastricht during my visit, ruining some of the venues I visited, and my trip to Rotterdam came before I put serious thought into the matter.
I’d be very interested and open to suggestions and recommendations from around Netherlands so please get in touch, or put me right if any of the above lacks accuracy or detail!