Postcard from Amsterdam: Brown Bars
How pleasant as a new resident to find this is one of the world’s great pub towns, here called ‘brown bars’ from the hundreds of years of tobacco-smoke wall/ceiling stains, now, gratefully, no longer allowed. I’ve staked out ten or so around town that meet my requirements: no TV, no loud music, no games, no quiz night. Essentials: coziness, good gab from regulars deep into their anecdotage, murmuring old jazz or classical tunes, serious European beers, especially Belgian.
An early favorite is the Cafe de Sluyswacht, a canal lock keeper’s home (est. 1695), now a starboard-leaning tiny pub with tile floors, green walls, and wooden benches. In mild weather one sits and sips out back looking down the canal. Preferred beer: Belgian’s coriander-laced, on tap golden ale, La Chouffe.
The perfect resting-the-feet spot after visiting the Rijkmuseum or Van Gogh Museum is the wonderfully-funky Cafe Brecht, a one-room, wooden-floored bar filled with garage sale-esque sofas and chairs to remind the owner of his West German Bohemian childhood home. Music here, mostly soft French or German crooners. Preferred beer: the German Weihenstephaner Hefe Weisse from Europe’s oldest brewery near Munich.
My local, closest to the apartment, is the lovely Cafe ‘t Smalle, the ‘Narrow’cafe, 20 feet off the Prinsengracht canal. Candle-lit tables, leaded-glass windows, genever barrels behind the counter, an intimate mezzanine with wooden walls, and in warm weather, tables alongside the canal. Site of a distillery in 1780, the perfect pub since 1978. Preferred beer: Belgium’s Gouden Carolus Tripel, a well-rounded strong blond ale.
Thanks to Tim Skelton’s essential ‘Around Amsterdam In 80 Beers’ for beer suggestions.
…Cafe de Sluyswacht, Jodenbreestracht 1
…Cafe Brecht, Weteringschans 157
…Cafe ‘t Smalle, Egelantiersgracht 12
Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters. He lives in Amsterdam.