Café Belgique, Gravenstraat.

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Café Belgique hides in plain sight- amidst chain retail outlets, it’s easy to not notice this gem of a beer warren.

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One of the smallest bars in Amsterdam, you’ll find yourself wondering, “How can this be one of the smallest?!”. Unbelievably, they host live music. I’m not sure how, or why- as appealing as music is to some, it won’t make this one-room cubby-hole any bigger, so it’s not like they can pay the DJ off the back of increased customer revenue- it’s always full. And heed that advice- turn up very shortly after opening (3pm) and you might get a seat.

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In truth, it thinks it’s way cooler than it is. And by ‘it’, I partly mean the clientele. If this were London, we’d call them scenesters. The website states “It’s frequently visited by a varied public of locals, expats, musicians, artists and dj’s”. See what I mean? Who cares if artists go there? Do I feel better about my Orval because the guy with an unkempt beard sat too-closely next to me sticks wires through books encased in styrofoam and calls it “A Critque on the Abandonment of Western Values”, and his dreadlocked girlfriend photographs litter blowing in the wind for her forthcoming exhibition in a disused plastic bag making factory? No, I do not.

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For the size, the beer choice is broad- 50 bottles and 8 taps, but even this is too many as evidenced by the foul taste of the Floreffe Blonde.

Venue: 9/10

The only real criticism is the size, but that’s also part of the atmosphere. And when you do finally get that corner seat by the window, boy does it feel cool.

Beer: 6/10

Decent range, but unfortunately not all the taps are very well maintained (I’m looking at you Floreffe Blonde).

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The best bar in Amsterdam…?

Biercafé Gollem, De Pijp, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Trappist beer cheese.

Trappist beer cheese.

Until very recently, Biercafé Gollem and the original, Café Gollem near Spuistraat in the centre, were closed for business. Their third venture, Gollem’s Proeflokaal on the Overtoom in Oud West, was the sole survivor. The public feared the end of an era: Gollem was the first to import quality ales from Belgium, back in the 70s, and helped to reinvigorate the craft beer traditions of the Netherlands. Gollem’s Proeflokaal persevered through the tough economic climate and the financially draining infighting within the tri-chain, and a few months ago Amsterdam celebrated the re-opening of Café and Biercafé Gollem.

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The decor enjoyed a lick of paint and the beer list benefitted from some very enthusiastic and competent staff to bring Biercafé Gollem into the small elite of Amsterdam brown bars.

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Venue: 7/10

A decent bar length for solo drinking, a mezzanine nook for privacy and vertical drinking outside offer a variety of ways to drink beer. Biercafé Gollem lies in the heart of the vibrant De Pijp area of town, so there is a real buzz around this bar and plenty of alternatives for afters. And there is a Scrabble set should you feel like displaying your vocabulary-based prowess.

Beer: 10/10

It’s hard to imagine a better beer list. Sure, it might be a little light on imports from the States or further, but beers lose their quality over those distances. There are 14 taps to choose from (7 regulars, 7 guest) and >150 bottles covering local breweries here in Amsterdam, craft brewers around the Netherlands and all the big and small players from Belgium.

Café De Koe

The Cow Café is minutes from Leidseplein, so there is no excuse for going to one of the four Irish bars on Amsterdam’s brightest square.

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Thankfully, the cow theme is minimal and only maintained by some bull horns protruding from the bar wall. Speaking of decor- the aluminum wall panel behind the bar is inexplicable and tasteless. Please remove. The other walls support interesting ‘Warholesque’ art.

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For the price, the food is decent. Expect hearty and heavy meals, and for €15 for a main, it’s hard to do better so central.

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Venue: 7/10

Split level bar area provides more space than the typical Dutch bar whilst maintaing a cosy, wintery feel. The restaurant downstairs is altogether different and just as homely.

Beer: 6/10

Stocking La Trappe Isid’or demands a visit to the cow all by itself, and there are 16 others of you have no taste-buds to look after.

Café Gruter

In the den of Amsterdam’s social elite, south of the park, Café Gruter is a vestige to honest and grimy drinking. The seating sprawls outside, some of which is sheltered by a conservatory, all of which enables patrons to watch the wealth go by.

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The walls are plastered with polaroids; faded and old nestled with glossy and new, suggesting a work in progress.

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The bar is high and layered, offering a perfect leaning perch to imbibe and enthuse. The beer list is small but well chosen, often with a few seasonal brews.

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Caf Gruter is a sorry loss form the drinkers bible Around Amsterdam in 80 Beers.

 

 

Freshest Heineken in Amsterdam

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Opposite the original Heineken brewery is a quintessentially Dutch brown bar- Café Berkhout. If Heineken was still brewed there, then this would be the freshest; straight from source.

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Old Heineken Brewery behind the tram

As Heineken is crap, thankfully, they sell other beers: some of the excellent trappist beers in bottles and the increasingly popular but still good De Koninck and La Chouffe.

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The real appeals of this snug little bar is the cosy, welcoming atmosphere and the excellent people-watching opportunities- especially from the comfy seats in the bay window at the front.