Besides an important historical and architectural heritage, Amsterdam is a perfect city for those who love clubs, entertainment and nightlife. Among the must-visit places when visiting the Dutch capital are the ‘Bruin Cafés‘, bars characterised by a totally dark wood décor from which the name ‘Bruin’, meaning ‘brown’ in Dutch, derives.
These often small venues have an intimate and convivial atmosphere and are ideal for catching up with friends after work or at the weekend. Some say that Amsterdam’s Bruin Cafés are like pubs for Londoners: they are part of the city’s charm and have become part of Dutch life and routine. Indeed, these establishments perfectly embody the ‘gezellig’ atmosphere, a Dutch term meaning ‘cosy and friendly’.
Amsterdam’s Bruin Cafés originated around the 19th century when a few Dutch families started to set up a part of their house as a small bar where they could welcome people passing by and sell liquor and spirits to them for extra income. Later on, these places were declared illegal because a permit was required to sell alcohol, so many of these houses were converted into proper establishments.
The name ‘Café Marrone’ or Bruin Café derives from the fact that the interior furnishings were made of dark brown wood, plus these places were often small and dimly lit details that made the ambience even darker. Added to this is the fact that in the 20th century smoking was allowed inside the cafés so many curtains and furnishings turned brown because of the smoke. Many of those cafés dating back to the 19th century have come down to us retaining the furnishings of the time and the same convivial and hospitable ambience, only one thing has changed: you can no longer smoke inside.
At the end of a day spent exploring Amsterdam, you can stop at one of the many Bruin Cafés serving mainly draught beer, jenever, a Dutch gin-like liqueur, coffee and other drinks often produced by local companies. In these establishments you can also eat some snacks such as sandwiches, chips, small salads and bitterballen, the Dutch meatballs. It is important to remember that many of these Cafés do not accept payment by credit cards but only cash.
Bruin Cafés are scattered all over Amsterdam but the largest number can be found in the Jordaan district, considered by many to be the artists’ quarter. If you visit Amsterdam in the summer, be aware that many of these cafés also have a small garden or terrace with outdoor tables where you can enjoy a quiet beer.
One of the most historic Bruin Cafés in the city is undoubtedly Café Hoppe, as it is said to have been open since 1670 right in the Jordaan district. In the beginning, it boasted a small but cosy café furnished in wood, but over time the café expanded. Now the oldest part, which has retained the furnishings and ambience of centuries ago, has become a National Monument, while next door a more spacious café was opened at the beginning of the 20th century, still with wooden but more modern furnishings. Café Hoppe is a popular place for tourists and locals alike and if you decide to stop here, remember to visit the older part where the old gin barrels are still on display.
Another very old café in the city is Café Chris, also located in the Jordaan district. This is said to have been opened in 1624 as a brewery, which is why according to some, Chris is the oldest Bruin Café in the city. Apart from the dates, this café is worth a visit because once you step inside, it feels like you have taken a real trip back in time: the wooden furniture is the original one and in the centre of the bar is a beautiful billiard table. The selection of beers from Dutch breweries is excellent.
Café In ‘t A epjen is one of the oldest and most picturesque cafés in Amsterdam and still retains many of the original elements such as the brick vaulted ceilings, solid wood tables and large windows facing the street. The bar is very popular with tourists, who are attracted by its traditional atmosphere and wide selection of Dutch craft beers and spirits, such as the traditional jenever.
The name In ‘t Aepjen, which means ‘the monkey’ in Dutch, refers to a history of the café that dates back to the 15th century, when a sailor showed up in the café carrying a monkey on his way back from a trip to Asia.
A few steps away from Dam Square is Café de Dokter, which is considered the smallest Bruin bar in Amsterdam. Open since 1798, this café covers about 18 square metres and boasts a relaxed and cosy atmosphere inside; jazz music can often be heard in the background and in addition to local beer, a wide selection of whisky can also be found here.
Café De Sluyswacht is housed in a building dating back to 1692 that was originally built as a dwelling for the lock keeper in charge of operating and controlling the adjacent lock. Once the lock was decommissioned, the building was transformed into a cosy café, which became famous because the building is slightly inclined like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The café is now protected as a National Monument and it is worth coming here to have a drink in the cosy inner room or on the terrace overlooking the canal.
Beer enthusiasts cannot skip a visit to the Bruin Café Arendsnest, an establishment that serves only Dutch beers. Here, you can find 50 beers on tap and more than 100 bottled beers from different breweries in the Netherlands. In addition to the main room and the canal-side terrace, Café Arendsnest also offers a tasting room where you can learn about the brewing, fermentation and tasting processes. The pub also has a large selection of ciders, liqueurs, whiskies and more than 40 different types of gin, all produced by Dutch companies.
Also in the Jordaan neighbourhood is Café De Zotte, which is another beer-lover’s bar, as more than 100 different qualities of Belgian beer can be found here. Totally furnished in wood in the Bruin Café style, it also offers excellent cuisine including steaks, vegetarian dishes and the famous ‘Flemish fries’ cooked according to the Belgian recipe.
This atmospheric café is located on the bridge at the meeting point of three important areas: Jordaan, the Centre and the Westerpark area; this is why the name of the café is Checkpoint Charlie, the transit point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War years.
Here you can find almost thirty beers, many of them produced by young local breweries, organic wines and other beverages made by Dutch companies , while there are no big commercial brands. The atmosphere is cosy and relaxed and in addition to drinking you can also sample the excellent cuisine.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article