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What are brown cafés?

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Question: What are brown cafés?
Answer: Bruine ("brown") cafés are to Amsterdam what pubs are to London. That is, they are casual, neighborhood gathering spots located all around the city, featuring dark wood and people looking for a drink, a snack and friendly conversation (unlike British pubs, most Dutch brown cafés stay open until 1 or 2 a.m.). The term "brown" comes from the dark wood and stained walls that supposedly owe their hue to years of smoking patrons.

Amsterdam's brown cafés are as much a part of the city's charm as its canals and architecture. Most of them epitomize the Dutch term gezelligheid (pronounced "khuh ZEL ikh hide"), a word quite difficult to translate into English; coziness or a feeling of friendly welcome best describes it.

What You'll Find in an Amsterdam Brown Café
  • A laid-back, genial feeling.
  • Local and/or regional beers on tap; Dutch jenever (pronounced "yuh NAY ver"), a spirit similar to gin; most also have at least a few wine options
  • A well-worn look -- think dark wood, old collectibles, quirky decorations that often go with the theme (or name) of the café.
  • Limited food menu that may include small salads, sandwiches and/or Dutch hapjes ("pronounced "HOP yuhs"), which are light snacks like cheese, olives, nuts and bitterballen (Dutch fried balls of meat and potato).

Good to Know About Amsterdam Brown Cafés
  • Most don't accept credit cards; bring cash.
  • Most have outdoor seating.
  • Some are self-service at the bar.
  • Brown cafés are not places to find live music or entertainment.
  • Beer glasses are often washed upon ordering; don't be surprised if a bartender grabs a used glass, dumps it into a special washing sink and begins to fill it with beer as it's still wet. He/she will then scrape the foaming top with a tool made just for this purpose, repeat if necessary and serve you a beer with about two-fingers width of head.

Examples of Brown Cafés in Amsterdam

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