Bruin Café Daydreams in Amsterdam

If I visualized the perfect European bar, it would be an old and dark establishment half full of a motley crew of old sailors, brooding intellectuals, artsy girls, and incongruously affable loners, all whiling away the afternoon drinking pastis, schnapps, and other wonderfully strange and strong European liquors while listening to Nina Simone and Kraftwerk. No one cares about whats going on outside, the world exists within their walls, strangers become friends, and the evening builds to a incoherent crescendo that Camus, Baudelaire, Hemingway, and Van Gogh would be proud of. That's my kind of place, and a bruin café in Amsterdam is the perfect spot to live that bohemian fantasy.

bruin cafe amsterdam

Jenever is the drink of choice in a bruin cafe. A strong drink that is an acquired taste to most. There are two main types of jenever, oude and  jonge, with many brands and blends to try in each style. De Drie Fleschjes is a good place to discover different jenevers and decide on some of your favourites. In business since 1650, De Drie Fleschjes has retained it's traditional sand covering on the floor and old wall of aging barrels. Try a pickle from the jar at the counter, their good!
unlike most dive bars in Canada, Pubs in the UK, and bodegas in Denmark, eating while you drink is normal in bruin cafes, and Borrelhapjes - Dutch drinking snacks, are simple and delicious. Every bruin cafe will have a selection of meats and cubed cheeses served on toothpicks, as well as tosti - Dutch style panini, and  bitterballen - breaded and deep fried balls of meat ragout. Many bruin cafes also serve breakfast, larger meals and great desserts, including the famous appeltaart met slagroom.

My Favourite Bruin Cafés in Amsterdam

bruin cafe bar amsterdam
 1. Cafe Chris - Walking into Cafe Chris you wouldn't guess that it is possibly Amsterdam's oldest bar. Open since 1624, no one seems to make a big deal about this, and it thrives as a local drinking hole without a sense of reverence or touristy atmosphere. Everything is really old, and the toilet is a closet that is so small the toilet tank and flushing cord are on the outside, which people will pull on before you are finished for a laugh. We spent a whole afternoon here drinking beer and jenever and smoking. Yes smoking! This is the  only place we found where you could smoke indoors in Amsterdam, so don't ruin it! If you don't like smoke, drink somewhere else please and leave us in peace. The old timers were friendly and we has a plate of meat and cheese as a snack
2. De Twee Zwantjes - we ducked into here to avoid a downpour after visiting Noordmarkt, and after the owners Jos and Trees gave us a small introduction to the different jenever styles, they began singing old 80´s Eurovision songs. Singing and karaoke are apparently a big thing here and as more people showed up and more jenever flowed, the afternoon became more raucous and my memory of events grows dimmer. This place is huge fun and very popular, so I recommend going in the early afternoon so you can have some time enjoying the owners hospitality

3. De Ooievaar - This is a great old place near the Red Light District. The low bar and hand written labels on jenever bottles give the bar an old apothecary feel. The bartender is a professional guy in a vest who remembers everyone's drinks and seems to keep the tabs in his head. A cozy place for quiet drinks, you can imagine pirates could walk through the door at any time.

4. Café ‘t Smalle - This is probably the prettiest bruin cafe in Amsterdam. Beautiful stained glass windows and cosy wood on two floors, it oozes charm and character. It definitely seems more cafe than bar, but we never went in the evening, Tourists flock here for the canal side patio and the traditional cafe food. The appeltaart is huge and very good.

5. Cafe Papeneiland - Yet another old and charming place with antiques and an old fireplace. We had a few beers and a big plate of meats and cheeses. The huge two story windows look out over the canals. Great place for a quiet romantic time.

bar amsterdam
6. Cafe Brecht - Not quite a bruin cafe, I've added this because of it's cool interior and good food. Comfortable couches and chairs to lounge in, it's a great place to hang out and have beers and snacks after visiting the nearby art museums.

I have the locations shown on my World Map of Food, but I haven't figured out how to zoom in on Amsterdam yet :-/

food photography stillife
 photograph of cheese in the old Dutch style

 Dutch Cheese for Hapjes

Our Aged Unpasteurized Gouda
Did the Dutch invent cubes of cheese on a toothpick? I don't know, but it seems to be the most common way to eat cheese in The Netherlands. Gouda is the king of Dutch kaas and is available in many ages and flavours. You can also try Beemster, Leerdammer, Maasdam, and Parrano to name a few others. Mia and I spent over an hour tasting cheeses at Henri Willig Kaas, which has shops all over Amsterdam. We bought an unpasteurized wheel of Gouda to take home and aged it on our kitchen window for 5 months before we ate it. Great taste and crystallization!

                                                                   Dutch Meats for Hapjes

Every borrelhapjes plate should have some worst - Dutch sausages on the menu. The four most common types are:
Metworst - an aired dried sausage similar to salami
Leverworst - a dense liver pate made in a sausage shape
Rookworst - a smoked sausage similar to a frankfurter
Ossenworst - a fresh raw cured sausage with a uniquely spongy texture

Appeltaart at Cafe t' Smalle
Pannenkoeken for Breakfast at In De Prins
I made my own variation of bitterballen with pork cheeks.

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