Published on September 7th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour


Give a Dam

Pubs, cafès and bars in Amsterdam have a particular style, as Alastair Gilmour reports

Possibly the last thing you’d want when tasting a beer that’s completely new to you is for it to be pronounced “puke”. And the last thing a barmaid wants hear is yet another punter ask if Puike Pale Ale really is as sickly as it appears.

The 6.0% abv beer from Amsterdam’s Brouwerij De Vriendschap is pronounced more like “poykee” – Dutch for “fertile” – and rather than throwing up all sorts of tasteless connotations, it appears out of nowhere in a fabulous example of the brewer’s craft slowly releasing astonishing aromas and flavours from its lemon curd-like golden glow. We’re sipping Puike Pale Ale on the pavement at In De Wildeman in Amsterdam’s Old Centre.

In De Wildeman – the signs depict a caveman – is a two-roomed bar housed in a former genever (Dutch gin) distillery. And it’s amazing. With its wood panelling coloured in various pale greens and browns, well-used pews and black-and-white tiles – and distinct air of intrigue – it could be straight off a Rembrandt canvas. Like a masterpiece, it gets inside the soul.

Beers range through a decent selection from Germany and Groote Britannië (but what’s the point of drinking London Pride in Holland?), to Dutch and Belgian favourites – 18 on tap and a further 250 in bottle – plus a regular American draught beer such as Flying Dog Pale Ale. In De Wildeman is indeed een uniek bierlokaal.

With easy airline and ferry links from the North East, vibrant, cosmopolitan Amsterdam is a familiar destination for the region’s city-breakers. We probably don’t have to mention its sleazy, hedonistic reputation – it’s all there in its red-light glimmer if you want to explore that side – but for grazing on street food, drinking in “brown cafès”, shopping in stylish stores, raking around flea markets, or simply strolling and lingering to people-watch (nobody batted an eye at the young man striding out in fedora and long grey skirt), there is nowhere better.

Wherever you wander in Amsterdam, you’re never far from a café or bar – the more traditional and intimate being “brown cafès”, so called because of their tendency to favour dark wood furniture and wall panelling, low ceilings and dim lighting skimmed by decades of cigarette smoke staining. The Dutch notion of cosiness is gezelligheid – and gezelligheid is everywhere.

As with most cities, it’s often best to discover Amsterdam’s beery delights by accident – the pleasure of cutting along a narrow alleyway to discover an utter gem of a pub is doubled. You can be a hero, just for one day.

We stumbled upon Café ’t Molentje, on the Singel canal (corner of Hartenstraat), a tiny corner bar high on gypsy jazz music and vinyl, long on tradition and a fine place to settle into in the company of a Belgian De Konink Tripel or La Chouffe Blonde – or to pull up a chair outside and celebrate canal life with a genever chaser.

Further along the Singel canal – which served as a moat around Amsterdam until 1585 – is Arendsnest (Eagle’s Nest) Dutch Beer Bar, a glory-hole serving 30 indigenous draught and 100 bottled beers that oozes stylish and classy ambience. We’ve decided friendliness runs through its copper piping. There are more than 170 breweries in the Netherlands and a good deal of their beers are here, along with 40-plus gins and liqueurs.

Drinking in Amsterdam takes a tour through the traditional Dutch to the internationally streamlined, from the dingy to the slick, but everywhere you venture, it’s gezelligheid all round.

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Alastair Gilmour

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