Cafe Society – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Neighborhood Living Rooms and an Art Deco Treasure

Amsterdammers are very attached to the old-time concept of gezelligheid, which means more to them than just “coziness” or “homeyness.” It is what draws locals to the ubiquitous so-called brown cafes (bruine kroegen), a name taken either from their smoke-stained interiors (the result of tobacco or hashish) or, more appetizingly, from the time-burnished wood paneling found in many of them.

Amster­dammers come alive here and conversation flows like (or as a result of) the unfailingly great Dutch brews and the popular jenever, a smooth but potent Dutch gin, served ice cold but never on the rocks, and often followed with a beer chaser.

There are said to be more than 1,000 of these social sanctuaries—including one that supposedly has not closed its doors since it first opened in 1574. Unless you have time to check them all out, simply wander the elegantly funky Jordaan district, or head for the Cafe’t Smalle, a favored watering hole since it first opened in 1786 as a liquor distillery and “tasting house.”

Its splendid waterside terrace is a heaven-sent alternative to the murky, smoke-filled interiors of some old-time brown favorites.

If you’re looking for old-world glamour, try the decidedly unbrown Cafe Americain, built as part of a canal-cornered grand hotel in 1880. Mata Hari would still recognize its ornate albeit faded Art Deco interior as the location for her wedding reception.

It’s a venerable favorite among the local cafe society, and after a per­formance at the Stadsschouwburg (Municipal Theater) just next door, it’s impossible to get a table. But in the late afternoon a quiet, cozy hour can be enjoyed as the waning daylight illuminates the stained-glass windows.

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