amsterdam top 5 beer joints.

This is a question that comes up kind of frequently, and I imagine I'm answering it now because I'm not drinking at the moment and thus having a bit of a hankering for a cold one. Or a warm one. Yeah, probably just One in general.

This list is pretty pointless other than as an excuse for my imagination to drink beer: there are zero surprises here (I don't think), and thus in order to justify the list's existence I will probably have to cosmetically augment/enhance it into a Top 10 some future rainy day (though I normally don't go for that kind of thing at all). Probably expect Cafe Belgique, Cafe De Spuyt, and something else to make the list, and then yeah some others as well.

I should emphasize that this is a list of my favorite beer-centric bars, which is definitely not the same list as my favorite bars. I think De Zotte is the only one that straddles both lists. But if you were a serious beer drinker coming to town for the first time, these top five are where I'd send you.

For some more comprehensive advice on where to drink in town (and where not to), check these guys out (you have to scroll down to the 7-part Pub Guide to start reading). I've only read Part Seven so far, but I've been almost everywhere they discuss and we are completely mee eens.


  1. De Zotte, Raamstraat 29.
    Gets my #1 vote simply because it's my favorite place to drink out of these top 5. A huge part of this is their solid music policy: if what's being played isn't actually good or historic (which it often is), then it's being played ironically or out of nostalgic love. In other words, they care about what they're playing, a quality that is harder to find here in Amsterdam than you might expect. My other favorite thing is the bar itself, not the room but the physical bar: it must be nostalgia for the Highland Tap...the stools, the way it's lit, ect ect ect. Critically, De Zotte also features Mole-Friendly Lighting: as you may know, I like places where I can hide. Other perks include generally good food and a mostly decent staff. It's all a bit more expensive than you'd like, but I guess for the purposes of this list it ultimately boils down to this: I'm always happy to be there. Oh yeah, and this one time I went there with Greg Dulli*.
  2. In de Wildeman, Kolksteeg 3.
    IdW always feels like a special-occasion place to me, in part because I've never lived or worked near it so it's never a casual visit. But also: this is the one bar on this list that cuts across the widest swath of my friends and acquaintances, and people constantly seem to suggest it as a "meet-up" place. If I've been there 20 times, more than half of those visits have been with completely different people. The beers are an always-interesting assortment of quirky favorites and unheard-of underdogs, but for me the main attraction is the vibe: there's no music, but the big room never feels silent and museum-like, there's some kind of natural vibrancy at work that makes it a good place to just sit and be.
  3. 't Arendsnest, Herengracht 90.
    This is a new addition for me (albeit one that is shooting up the charts), and its powerfully distinctive edge is due almost entirely to its focus on microbrews from the Netherlands. They have something like 16 or 20 beers on tap all the time, and you've almost certainly never heard of any of them. That is noteworthy. The room itself is fine, kind of marginalized by an enormous copper bar, and I don't believe there's any music. But the crowd is pretty entertaining, mostly limited to serious beer drinkers, and the loudest person you're liable to encounter is John Dikeman.
  4. Cafe Gollem, Raamsteeg 4.
    A bit of a grey area here. I spent a minute or two thinking about why IdW ended up ahead of Gollem in the rankings despite Gollem's comparatively vast beer menu and came up with this: almost every time I've been to Gollem lately, I've ended up unfortunately close to a distractingly loud or visibly unhappy tourist couple that just totally shitted up my beer drinking experience. Like many professional drinkers, I'm quietly fastidious about who I sit next to in a bar, and so I never "accidentally" end up next to someone: it's just that Gollem seems to attract people I don't like sitting next to, and there's something uncomfortable about the layout that emphasizes this proximity. Also? I never get an awesome feeling from the bar staff, which is a sad fact that I expect in Amsterdam, but one I don't expect from a beer-friendly place. It could just be that they're retracting from the loud tourists as well. All that said, they are undeniably way serious about beer, and the room itself is conducive to holing up and zoning out. There are other Gollems around town, and I've heard nothing but good things about them in terms of friendliness.

    UPDATE: Gollem has indeed been replaced by Cafe de Spuyt as my #4 favorite beer-drinking place. In fact de Spuyt has probably become my #3 place, with 't Arendsnest sliding down to #5, Brouwerij 't IJ popping up to #4.
  5. Brouwerij 't IJ, Funenkade 7.
    Another joint that's difficult to visit casually, not only because of its location, but its opening hours as well: 4 to 8pm, Wednesday to Saturday. Admitted, those are pretty prime drinking times, but yeah...I am usually not planning that far ahead. Unlike the other joints in this list, it's not really a place for quiet reflection: it is loud as hell, and I've never been there when it wasn't packed to the rafters. But it manages to be 100% itself, and that's appealing. Crazily restricted opening hours; only IJ beers available, snacks limited to meat and cheese...there are no concessions made to anybody here, and yeah...I like that.

* True, and yet...


Klary Koopmans said...

why have I never been to De Zotte? It seems to be everything I want in a bar, including being mole-friendly.

MEM said...

I thought for sure you'd been there. We go in the winter for sure if you don't make it there before then.