For a taste of authentic Amsterdam flavour and Dutch culture, don't miss a visit to a traditional Dutch pub known as a 'brown café' (bruin café). These local watering-holes are a quintessential part of Amsterdam’s culture – and are the favoured haunts of some colourful local personalities.

Traditional Amsterdam pubs: What’s in a name?

The name 'brown café' comes from the dark but cosy wooden interiors and the nicotine-stained walls and ceilings. Even though most cafés nowadays shouldn’t really be getting any browner, some of the newer hangouts are carefully decorated to achieve this lived-in look and for many people, their local brown café is an extension of their living room.

Food and drink

In general, brown cafés are laid-back and the fare is pretty simple. In addition to local and regional beers, you can also sip jenever – a Dutch spirit similar to gin. Light meals and snacks (hapjes) are also usually on offer. A typical Dutch pub snack is bitterballen (breaded and deep-fried balls with a ragout filling), served with mustard.

Traditional haunts

Several brown cafés claim to be the oldest in Amsterdam, and while there is no hard historic evidence to indicate a clear winner, there are some that can trace their roots back to the early 1600s. Check out I amsterdam’s selection of Amsterdam brown cafés and be sure to pay one (or more) a visit when you’re next in town:

  • In ‘t Aepjen, Zeedijk 1 - Housed in one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating from 1475.
  • Café Karpershoek, Martelaarsgracht 2 - Still has sand on the floor, as was common in the 17th century.
  • Café De Druif, Rapenburgerplein 83 - ‘The Grape’ is reputed to have opened its doors in 1631.
  • Café Papeneiland, Prinsengracht 2 - It's alleged that a coffin-maker and funeral director sold drink here on the side as early as 1600.
  • De Drie Fleschjes, Gravenstraat 18 - 'The Three Bottles dates from 1650. 
  • Café Hoppe, Spui 18-20 - Renowned for its standing receptions that fill the pavement outside.
  • Café Kalkhoven, Prinsengracht 283 - This café facing the Westerkerk dates from 1670. 
  • Wynand Fockink, Pijlsteeg 31 - Tasting house serving traditional liquors and jenevers.
  • Café In de Wildeman, Kolksteeg 3 - Ranked in the top-ten of the country's best bars in a 2013 survey.
  • Café 't Smalle, Egelantiersgracht 12 - The famous Pieter Hoppe opened his liqueur distillery on this spot in 1786.
  • Café De Dokter, Rozenboomsteeg 4 -  With a floor area of less than 18m2, this is probably the smallest bar in Amsterdam.