Worldwide Scott | October 7, 2015 9:00 PM ET
4 Of the Best Dive Bars in Amsterdam
PHOTO: Cafe de Sluyswacht. (photos by Worldwide Scott)
While I am definitely a full-fledged fan of rooftop bars, beach bars and cocktail bars, the venerable — and sometimes sketchy — dive bar is still my favorite incarnation of the watering hole in the world.
Here in Amsterdam, dozens upon dozens of dive bars line the canals, and that's partly why I love this city. Funnily though, nobody knows they're dive bars.
Let me explain.
You see, here in Holland, the term “bruin cafe” (which translates to “brown cafe”) has been placed on older, simple bars that ooze character and sometimes throw in a tad bit of crustiness to go with their toasting. These bars got the “brown cafe” nickname because their walls are stained from centuries of tobacco smoke.
Whether they know it or not, though, they are definitely dive bars to me, so I present here my favorite cafes of the brown persuasion in Amsterdam that are highly recommend places to grab a drink. When you first walk in, your gut may tell you to leave, but stay — I promise it will be worth it.
PHOTO: t' Smalle.
Located on an unassuming canal-side corner in the Jordaan neighborhood — a dive bar haven — t' Smalle is home to a buzzing terrace during the day and a candlelit, simple ambiance at night.
Originally opened in the 1700s, t' Smalle's checkerboard floors tiles, wood-paneled walls and creaky staircase create a classic dive interior with quiet conversation making up most of the background noise. Greenery obscures part of the exterior of t' Smalle, making it a little hard to find, but that makes it even sweeter for those who do.
De Twee Zwaantjes
Dutch for “The Two Small Swans," this place is located right around the corner from t' Smalle, but is at the complete opposite end of the dive bar spectrum: the “let's drink a little too much and sing our lungs out” end.
Renowned all over the city for its lively music and karaoke enjoyed by a crowd full of every form of Amsterdam life, this is the closest bar on my list to the classic American dive. For added dive bar street cred, Anthony Bourdain essentially high-tailed it out of here on his show “The Layover” because the crowd and karaoke was a bit too much for him. That gives it major points in my book.
Cafe De Sluyswacht
Located near the much-visited home of Rembrandt on a large canal lock, Cafe De Sluyswacht was built as a home for the "lock master" back in the 1600s, but now it is a quiet Dutch dive bar. One thing I love about Cafe De Sluyswacht is that despite being directly in the tourist center of Amsterdam, it still feels like the type of place where everyone at the bar turns around to look at you when you walk in, and I think that's a good thing. On top of all that, the building leans to one side, and that is easily worth a couple points on the dive bar scale.
PHOTO: Imbibing at Cafe Pieper.
On a gorgeous corner of the prestigious Prinsengracht in the main Amsterdam Canal Belt, Cafe Pieper is a place for those who like their drinks without any frills, or floor space for that matter. One of the smallest bars in the entire city, Cafe Pieper makes up for its lack of square footage with cozy smoke-stained walls, vintage signage and just-friendly-enough service.
Look for the distinctive lights, as Cafe Pieper is outlined in festive white bulbs, making it a true beacon in the night for thirsty Amsterdammers and brave tourists. Try a shot of the house Jenever (Dutch Gin) like I did, and you'll leave happy.
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