Bar/fly: Amsterdam

By Paul Davies

Brown cafes and rooftop bars are the Dutch answer to the pub, writes Paul Davies.

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

Amsterdam has a reputation. A steamy, sordid reputation fuelled by stag parties, dodgy businessmen and young travellers attracted by the hedonistic offerings of a liberal culture.

The Dutch capital conjures images of bicycles, canals, red lights and smoky sights. It's a major tourist destination and many places prey on this easy money, but scratch the surface and you'll find an exciting array of drinking establishments that are worthy of your time and euro.

Neon beer signs hover above cobblestone streets, offering respite from the often awkward atmosphere of the 'Dam coffee shop.

Amstel, Heineken & Jupiler (Belgium) dominates the front of most bruine (brown) cafes - the Netherlands' answer to the pub.

With smoke-stained walls and seafaring memorabilia, brown cafes are an integral part of Dutch life. From timeless beer cafes to glamorous rooftop bars, Amsterdam is worth much more than just a hazy visit to the chop house.

Cafe 't Smalle
Egelantiersgracht 12, 1015 RL

Hapjes (snacks) in the form of smoked almonds and herbed olives, served with perfectly poured beers in a 230-year-old cafe - perfect relief for a day spent getting lost on Dutch bikes.

The warmth and cosiness (or gezelligheid) of brown cafes provide a welcome escape from hectic city streets. The beautiful ceramic beer taps in this 18th-century establishment are a sight to behold, and with stained-glass windows and wooden casks piled high you get a sense of how it was centuries ago.

The chap in the record store around the corner recommended this Jordaan haunt, adding that we should kick things off with a Westmalle Tripel - with an alcohol volume of 9.5 per cent, this golden Trappist beer served in a glass goblet started our night with a kick indeed.

Bar Brandstof
Marnixstraat 357, 1016 TD

Bright lights, shiny floors, new decor and pictures of crazed animals on the wall lends this place a curiously hip yet slightly unnerving atmosphere. Brandstof, meaning fuel, gets its name from the fire station across the street. The cool kids have made it their watering hole, the canteen-esque tables and chairs serving as a great environment for a catch-up and a beer. It has a sun-trap of a terrace and a sister bar named Struik, who, quite honestly, is far better looking.

Cafe Struik
Rozengracht 160, 1016 NJ

There are no lists or menus here (or prices), but there's plenty of attitude, in a good way. Bar Bradstof's little sister is a small joint, stripped of its brown cafe past and replaced with a minimal, polished concrete setting. On the back wall of the mezzanine level is a large, colourful graffiti piece - this is re-painted by reputable local artists every other month.

They have one red wine, one white and no cocktails, but what they do have is good music, a banging sound system and DJs on the weekends. Local creatives and media sorts hang here, listening to the soul, jazz, funk and hip-hop on rotation while getting amongst the vibes that stir at after-work drinks until late in the evening.

Bar Lux
Marxinstraat 403

Again, no lists - just a display of beer and liquor. It's not a bad display, though, and 90 per cent of the beers are Belgian (despite this being a Heineken bar). Busy, bubbly banter flows through the modern and faintly kitsch surroundings. Lux is upbeat and popular, encroaching the clubby side with several levels, a second bar and plenty of room to shimmy just a little bit.

Lux sits just around the corner from Leidseplein, one of Amsterdam's main squares. A popular place for pre-club drinks but with their own DJs and good cocktails, it's a destination in its own right.

Brouwerij 't lJ
Funenkade 7, 1018 AL

This old bathhouse was transformed into a brewery in the mid 80s by a former musician who was disappointed with the beer coming from the large breweries. It sits in the shadow of De Gooyer windmill in Eastern Docklands, the tallest wooden windmill in the Netherlands.

Their beers are brewed without filtering or pasteurisation, and can be enjoyed on location at their popular terrace. As is routine in this part of Europe, their beers are strong, ranging from a mere 4.8 per cent to a hefty 9 per cent.

Fear not, though - hapjes in the form of abbey-made cheese, ossenworst (raw beef sausage) and boiled eggs will provide plenty of protein to steady yourself for the cycle to your next destination. Just beware of the canals.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Cathay Pacific has daily flights from Auckland to Amsterdam with a stop-off in Hong Kong.

- NZ Herald

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