As is the case in most touristy places, the bars of Amsterdam running along fairly common themes:
- Overpriced, generic “Irish” pub. Serves Guiness, and maybe Harps. Employs no actual Irish people. Generally has TV with some kind of sports on it.
- Even more common generic “Dutch” bars. I put Dutch in quotation marks because these bars are genuine Dutch the way the Great American Pub epitomizes Americana. These bars serve either Heineken or Grolsch, and are usually overcrowded with tourists who want to be drunk AND high.
- Neighborhood bars. Might get some tourists on the weekend, but they’re not a hotspot–no big lights and all that. Usually with a small selection of drinks and snacks, and the staff frequently knows the customers by name.
- Good bars. Usually harder to find, to avoid the average tourist. Good atmosphere, good beer selection, possible some decent snack food.
Mrs Thursday and I ventured into these Irish pubs on two occasions. Once, while trying to kill 45 minutes before dinner, we ventured into a “Temple bar”, which I’m told is a chain of Irish pubs. Anyway, the music was terrible, generic pop shit, the beers were overpriced (5 Euro for a Guinness? Seriously?), and the bathroom was dark, and had what I’m guessing was piss on the floor. The second was O’Reilly Pub near Dam Square (a highly touristy area), which we came to strictly to watch the Liverpool-Derby game on Saturday afternoon. The service there was terrible, but the beer and food were tolerable, and we had a good view of the multiple screens. Furthermore, at the moment of kickoff, the music in the bar is shutoff, and the game is piped in through the loudspeakers. Wonderful stuff.
Generic Dutch bars… I’m not sure if we ended up in any of these. Maybe to use the bathroom? Maybe, briefly, to kill time for something? None of them were memorable, if we did go to one.
Neighborhood bars. Our hotel bar was such a place (the Hemple Temple Bar). It was tiny–the bar itself had enough room for about a half-dozen people. Friendly staff, generally. They had a decent array of your basic liquors, as well as Heineken, Hoegaarden, and Leffe beers. A bar down the street from us, Oosterling, which had an ENORMOUS selection of liquors, and mostly Brand beers, was a similar place.
As for good bars, we found three–two of them at the recommendation of the same Scotsmen from the Cracked Kettle who sent us searching for the IJ Brewery. The first we visited, Cafe Gollem, is located just across the alley from The Cracked Kettle.
Cafe Gollem is small. The bar holds about a dozen people. The cafe has a sort of split-level arrangement, so there are a few cramped tables for more drinkers about 4 steps up. The place has a dark, smoky atmosphere, and it’s really not ideal if you prefer some privacy and fresh air. The beer selection is vast, as chalkboards on three walls fail to capture the entirely of their stock. When we were there, we had a female bartender who was kind enough and very knowledgeable. The bar also has a cat (black, for you superstitious types), who was friendly enough to come and sit in my lap as Mrs Thursday and I enjoyed our tripels.
The second fantastic bar we found is The Wildeman. To be fair, we didn’t spend a lot of time there–people were tired and grumpy, and I, for one, didn’t give the place a fair shake. The beer selection is similar to Cafe Gollem’s in legendary size, and the interior appears to be more spacious. There’s a room for non-smokers, as well, though when were there, there was no one sitting in it. We spent our time in the few outdoor seats, sipping our Trappist beers (Rochefort for me, La Trappe for the Mrs), and watching the hoardes of people passing through the (apparently highly trafficked) alley. If we were in better spirits, I imagine we would have had a wonderful time.
The third and final bar, my favorite, is the Arendsnest. Unlike the Wildeman and Gollem, which have large selections of world beers with an obvious emphasis and the Belgian brews, Arendsnest has a large selection of almost exclusive Dutch brews. Mrs Thursday and I went there our last night in Amsterdam, and found the place comfy and cozy and quiet, with a friendly bartender, and a wonderful beer selection. At least, the recommendations we got from the bartender were excellent (we both tried the Czaar Peter, an outstanding imperial porter, and also Zeezuiper, a delightful tripel). The place has soft, bright light, and a high ceiling, so it doesn’t get too smoky in there. With Belgians being so widely hailed, it was fun to explore some of the beer of the Netherlands a little more thoroughly. Highly, highly recommended.
The next installment will address Amsterdam’s two best (and perhaps only) specialty beer distributors, as well as what beers Mrs Thursday and I have brought home to add to our “cellar”.