The lure of Dutch brown bars is fading as number dwindles

Amsterdam brown bar In ‘t Aepjen. Photo:

The so-called bruine kroeg, traditional Dutch bars with little more on offer than drink and the occasional hard boiled egg, may be on the way out as their number dwindles further.

No-one knows how many bruine kroegen, usually associated with dark timbered rooms with carpets on the table, there are, but there used to be one on every corner in Dutch towns and cities.

High rents, an elderly clientele, and changing habits are contributing to the decline, trendwatcher Wouter Verkerk told broadcaster NOS.

‘In the old days men went to a bar after work at the factory. That is no longer the case. People perhaps have a coffee during the day and are not interested in spending a whole evening in a bar, only to nurse a hangover the next day,’ he said.

Market researcher Locatus estimates the number of bars which don’t serve food as well to have fallen to just over 5,000 over 10 years, but that figure includes more than the typical brown cafe.

According to expert Willem Pijffers, a brown bar is one that serves a few types of jenever and a limited number of beers, serves very few or no snacks and has a table exclusively for regulars. Heads should turn when ‘strangers walk in’, he said.


Amsterdam seems to be bearing the brunt of the decline although here again, the definition of what constitutes a bruine kroeg is muddling the figures.

Local council data researcher Jeroen Slot said earlier he estimated that up to a quarter of such bars had disappeared from the capital in the past 12 years.

Earlier this year, local labour councillor Lian Heinhuis launched a plan to give the capital’s brown bars listed status.

Heinhuis wants the unique ‘brown atmosphere’ of the bars to be preserved in case they are sold. They are part of the city’s culture and should not be make way for ‘people with deep pockets’, she said.

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