The classic Dutch ‘brown café’, or pub is one of the joys of life in Amsterdam, with its tiny flutes of beer and eyebrow-raising idiosyncrasies (carpeted walls or salted, hard-boiled eggs, anyone?). There’s one on practically every street corner, so half the fun of being a visitor is heading out on a bar crawl and discovering one of your own, then trying to ingratiate yourself with whoever happens to serve you. Succeed, and you’ll unlock the mysteries of the neighbourhood.
Though these charming places are the backbone of Amsterdam’s nightlife scene, the city is slowly learning to embrace alternative drinking dens, including a handful of cool cocktail bars and some chic hotel lobbies (like the Andaz, with its bonkers decor by Marcel Wanders, the baroque highwayman of Dutch design). Fun themed bars include the TonTon Club in the Red Light District and the Skate Café in post-industrial Amsterdam-Noord, which features a fully-functioning half pipe.
Named in tribute to the German-American man of letters, this bar in the up-and-coming east of Amsterdam has also inherited some of the writer’s anarchic spirit.
The upper balcony is a particularly buzzing Friday-night hangout, when local DJs take to the decks and students and creatives spill out onto the corner terrace.
Although relatively unassuming from street level, this grand café’s interior has a wedding cake-like majesty, while the terrace overlooking the canal has a glorious waterside vista. It’s popular with local intellectuals as well as students, tourists and night owls, so on a busy day it can feel as if all human life is here.
Service is (necessarily) brisk and breezy, and there’s a selection of reliable pub food should you decide to settle in for the evening.
Set on the edge of the city’s Jodenbuurt, or Jewish quarter, this Amsterdam bar has had several guises in recent years, including a Mexican diner and a classic Dutch brown café.
These days it’s a low-lit, high-style speakeasy with dramatic wallpaper, a bit of light taxidermy and, most importantly, some of the best cocktails that Amsterdam has to offer. On a chilly evening, a dark and stormy here redefines cosiness.
This craft brewery in the eastern docklands of Amsterdam has been punching well above its weight for years.
Stocked in bars across town and beyond, its pale ales and bockbiers – bearing that distinctive ostrich label – are brewed right here, in the shadow of the largest wooden windmill in the Netherlands. Can’t decide between tipples? Ask for one of the handy samplers; a science lab-like rack of miniature glass vials.
Forget seeking out a sports bar. Part of an initiative to spruce up Amsterdam’s De Wallen district without giving in to anonymous gentrification, TonTon Club is a retro games arcade that’s cheek-by-jowl with the notorious red-lit windows. If that makes the place sound insalubrious, think again.
The digital entertainment is lovingly curated (think vintage Sega and fast-paced pinball machines), as are the local craft beers, and there’s a healthy spirit of competition between local gamers and visiting weekenders.
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Image credits: © thom van boheemen; © thom van boheemen; © leon hendrick; © thom van boheemen; © W Amsterdam; © Marcus Koppen; © Getty