Amsterdam's Oldest Pubs

Amsterdam's Oldest Pubs, Amsterdam, Netherlands (D)

Amsterdam is a stunningly beautiful city, steeped in history, with hidden treasures and fascinating tales practically around every corner. Like all marvelous cities, Amsterdam has its share of dining and drinking establishments from the modern to the ancient. This guide will assist you in exploring some of the oldest pubs and bars that The Venice of the North has to offer.
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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Amsterdam's Oldest Pubs
Guide Location: Netherlands » Amsterdam
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (D))
# of Attractions: 15
Author: John Clifford
Author Bio: I'm a lover of cities....but moreso a lover of places to relax in cities. Every town, city, village has a little secret cafe or dodgy pub or hidden cafe...away from the numbers. That's where I go for an afternoon before I have to report back to my woman and go dancing or some such nonsense.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • De Karpershoek
  • Papeneiland
  • 't Smalle
  • Hoppe
  • De Drie Fleisches
  • In De Wildeman
  • In Het Aepjen
  • Cafe 't Doktertje
  • Cafe Chris
  • Wijnand Fockink
  • De Ooievaar
  • Cafe Kalkhoven
  • Cafe Oosterling
  • Cafe De Dam
  • De Druif
De Karpershoek

1) De Karpershoek

Beginning your Amsterdam Old Pub Odyssey is “De Karpershoek”. This incredible tavern dates back to 1606 and will set the mood for a voyage through this beautiful city’s oldest, most “gezellig” (meaning cosy, classy, gentle, and so much more) and most characteristic drinking establishments.

De Karpershoek is officially the oldest bar in Amsterdam by reason of possessing the first, and therefore oldest, trading license. Originally founded to quench the thirst of sailors ensconced with the Dutch East Indies company, this historic venue still displays sand and sawdust on the floor…a convenient feature for cleaning up after boisterous mariners had deposited chewing tobacco, spilt beer and also quite likely had spilt blood whilst vying for the attentions of a fair Amsterdam maiden.

The staff of de Karpershoek are what would aptly be described as “old school”. These stout yeomen of the bar are typical guardians of their patrons and, attired in white shirts and aprons, they are fiercely proud of their profession as your loyal servants.

The bar is a classical “brown café” in every sense of the word with beautiful old fixtures and fittings such as tiling, wooden paneling and no music, unless of course you wish to break into song yourself and emulate the evenings when the sailors would be home on shore leave.

But save your strength. The next stop on our journey is the delightful Papeneiland. Drink up!

2) Papeneiland

“Papeneiland” named so after The Pope is steeped in history. During the Reformation Amsterdam experienced the transition from being predominantly Catholic to mostly Protestant and the city’s legendary tolerance of other beliefs and lifestyles gave birth to this tavern being unique in its own right. The premises even has a hidden tunnel to the Singel Canal to smuggle priests in the event of discovery and possible reprisal.

The bar is, as you should now know, located on the Brouwersgracht, The Brewer’s Canal. Along this stretch many breweries and hostelries were situated and traded daily with businesses in that other great beer city, Hamburg, Germany.

The interior is eye-catchingly beautiful. With a central pot stove for heating and a low bar and fittings this 17th Century ale-house will make you feel like an aristocrat..or a scoundrel. The choice is yours. Enjoy your beer and your surroundings. Next stop is “‘t Smalle”.
't Smalle

3) 't Smalle

Café ‘t Smalle meaning “narrow” harkens back to 1786 and is located in the gorgeous and sleepy Jordaan vicinity of Amsterdam. As an aside, the Jordaan is thus titled as it literally means The Garden and many of the streets are named after various flowers and blooms.

This alcohol dispensary is sited where the one and only Mr. Pieter Hoppe developed his legendary Jenever spirit drink, a classic Dutch tipple made from juniper berries along the lines of British Gin. Drink one. It’s a moral imperative and remember the custom in Amsterdam is that if the barman pours you a Jenever from the last of the bottle and there isn’t enough to fill your glass then you get it for free before he pours you a full one from a new bottle. Now that’s not a bad deal!

Outside is a cosy little terrace for relaxing during the Spring to Autumn months and there is a semi-private section up at the back if you would like to have your own party. Just across the canal is the Tulip Museum too.

Within the confines of this glorious establishment you will find the “Drankorgel”. This crafty piece of imbibing equipment served, and still serves, to deliver fresh and potent liquor to your waiting goblet. Not too many now. We have many more to visit.

4) Hoppe

Our next port of call is the Café Hoppe. This establishment is essentially divided in two, the “standing” Hoppe for the menfolk and the “sitting” Hoppe for the ladies.

The staff at the Hoppe are consummate professionals and this spot is ideal for a snack to soak up a little of the beer you’ve thus far been enjoying. Our recommendation is to sample a portion of Dutch “bitterballen” with be washed down with another fresh and frosty lager, of course.

The Hoppe was a favourite haunt of the legendary Freddie Heineken and you don’t need to be told why he’s legendary.

The beautiful Renaissance reproduction painting on the wall inside is actually a recreation of an old advertisement dating back years.

Beginning in 1670 this icon of Dutch hospitable history opened as a distillery complete with its own tasting hall. Because of its precious historical significance this magnificent old café retains the ancient old barrels and vats from its original days. Nothing has changed here over the centuries and that’s the way we like it. You might be interested to know that you are now enjoying a drink in a bar that Newsweek magazine voted one of the ten best bars IN THE WORLD.

With that in mind you’ll probably want to stay for one more. Go on. You deserve it!
De Drie Fleisches

5) De Drie Fleisches

De Drie Fleisches (The Three Bottles) on the Gravenstraat dates back to 1650. Located close to the Royal Palace, which was originally the Town Hall, it was a favourite amongst the mayors and municipal dignitaries of Amsterdam. As recognition of their patronage the proprietors of De Drie Fleisches would award each mayor with his own personal bottle, a custom that continues to this very day.

To the right interior of this café is an array of kegs with individual taps and locks. These luxurious barrels could (and still can) be reserved by groups or individuals so that each time they visit they have their own personal supply to enjoy.

To the side of the bar is a cabinet containing the famous mayors’ bottles and behind is a cosy little snug that originally served as the office for this business.

If you have a sweet tooth and haven’t eaten too many “bitterballen” then it is mandatory to have a slice of the best carrot cake in Amsterdam across the road in the “Drie Graefjes” before we move on to our next venue.
In De Wildeman

6) In De Wildeman

With an absolutely glorious selection of beers from all over the world, In De Wildeman is a veritable Shangri-La for connoisseurs of the fine art of brewing and imbibing. There are some seventeen beers on draught/tap and over two hundred in bottles.

In De Wildeman is a classic beer hall and was born in 1690. If at this stage you fancy a temporary change of drink from Dutch flavours then In De Wildeman boasts a superb selection of Belgian Trappists, Czech Pilsners and German Lagers.

It is important to note that In De Wildeman is closed on Sundays so please visit any other day.

For serious and loyal patrons of this ale-house there is a facility whereby you can have your own personal tankard kept and guarded to be promptly filled upon your arrival
In Het Aepjen

7) In Het Aepjen

This incredible inn is essentially the oldest bar in Amsterdam. Although the license for “De Karpershoek” was granted first, In Het Aepjen was trading much earlier…as early as 1519.

Unlike many of the taverns of the period, In Het Aepjen was a traditional “inn”.

Back in the 16th century the site of this house was at the very centre of the old port of Amsterdam and was an obligatory stop-off for sailors, deckhands and all manner of maritime workers. These men would squander their cash on beer, gambling and of course “ladies of the night” and “In Het Aepjen” provided cheap lodgings for erstwhile drunken and cash-strapped mariners. The stipulation was that these seafarers should return the favour by bringing back something exotic from their travels.

As it happened, a favourite gift to be brought back was a monkey due to the fact that such a creature survived easily on sea voyages and was an entertaining companion. The downside of bringing these pets was that they frequently carried fleas and if a sailor was seen to be itching himself then it was a telltale sign that he had availed of a bed at the cheap guesthouse. This has given rise to a Dutch saying: “In de Aap gelozeerd” meaning “you’ve stayed in the monkey house”. This phrase means that you got a good deal that wasn’t such a good deal after all!

There’s no fear of monkeys or fleas today so relax and enjoy your beer. You are treading the same boards as ancient journeymen, merchants, and vagabonds. Prost!
Cafe 't Doktertje

8) Cafe 't Doktertje

Café ‘t Doktertje (the doctor) is a beautiful little sleepy tavern just off the Kalverstraat. It is the second smallest pub in Amsterdam and stepping into this establishment you get the feeling that you are entering an old Berlin or Paris cabaret lounge. Although the décor and music feel a little more modern and eclectic than other hostelries, the pub still dates back to 1798. There are central ornate ceramic beer taps and the famous “drankorgel”.

Just around the corner is the Begijnhof, an old cloister, as well as an orphanage. In such an environment of caring it made sense to also have a hospital and the doctors who tended to the ill would also frequent the Café ‘t Doktertje to unwind after their stressful vocations and perhaps discuss medical issues. The theme of this gorgeous little treasure is of jazz music and it was even home to a broadcast radio program. It’s hard to know how old the dust on the magnificent chandelier is but you can rest assured that it’s been there for generations. There are old brass name tags on the bar to reserve the spot for the more regular clientele and you can’t miss this little gem due to the lovely ivy that grows along its awnings outside. Truly splendid!
Cafe Chris

9) Cafe Chris

Café Chris is a quintessential blue-collar old Amsterdam pub that provides one of the best views of the West Tower of the Westerkerk. This amazing ale-house is just that..amazing. If you’re a fan of tradition and authenticity then this has to be on your agenda. The bar boasts low beams with mottos and old sayings embossed upon them as well as steins and tankards hanging from the ceiling. It has the feel of the captain’s quarters in an old galley ship. There is a kitchen for snacks and perhaps a warm dinner as well as a traditional billiards table. It dates back to 1624 and workers on the Westerkirk Tower used to receive their wages here. When you’re relaxing and enjoying a drink and if a gent goes to the men’s toilet, pay attention to what he does when he comes out. It doesn’t get much more quaint than that.
Wijnand Fockink

10) Wijnand Fockink

Now this is the place to come to if you want to sample some of the vast variety of fine dutch liquors and bitters. Located behind the famous Krasnapolsky Hotel on the Pijlsteeg alley this beautiful little bar has been quenching the thirst of Amsterdammers and visitors since 1679. The décor is modest but you’re not here to stare at the walls. You’re here to drink. The exterior of this gabled gem boasts wooden shuttered windows and benches if you’d like to take your beverage outside. The done thing is to sample a fine liquor and accompany it with a beer so don’t break with tradition. There are dozens of flavours to choose from, cinnamon, ginger, mint as well as young and mature jenevers. Beware that the opening times are 3pm to 9pm so bear this in mind. Next door to the tavern is also a functioning distillery that serves as supplier and museum. Interestingly, the Pijlsteeg was one of two locations in Amsterdam where brothels were allowed, dating back to the early 1400’s. So once again you’ll find yourself in a historic spot albeit it a slightly risqué one.
De Ooievaar

11) De Ooievaar

Owned by the original Ooievaar distillery, this charming corner tavern was specifically a jenever tasting hall. The Ooievaar distillery is the last authentic distillery in Amsterdam and supplies the bar with high-quality liquors. The Ooievaar bar is small but cosy and welcoming again attired with wooden floorboards, tiled walls and of course a fine selecton of spirits. The draft beers available include lagers, blonde beers and bocks. Boiled eggs on the bar provide the important energy boost and old pictures and ornaments adorn the walls. Whether you’re on your own or are in company you’ll have no problem striking up a conversation with some of the friendly patrons. Frequently a fisherman will enter the premises and sell his fresh catch to the customers. Just around the corner is Sint Olofsteeg. Legend has it that a fisherman’s seasick dog threw up on the site of what is now Saint Olaf’s Chapel and the fishermen built the church in gratitude for having been delivered safely from the raging seas so a toast to those mariners might be in order when you have a drink at De Ooievaar.
Cafe Kalkhoven

12) Cafe Kalkhoven

The Kalkhoven is a beautiful, warm and friendly tavern right on the corner of the Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal) and the Westermarkt and dates back to 1670. The interior is again traditional wooden beamed ceilings and original jenever, rum and cognac barrels behind the bar. Because of the location of this fantastic establishment (it is mere yards from the Anne Frank House) it may be a little busier than other establishments in this guide but don't let that deter you. It has plenty of room with a large seating area at the back. The beers on offer include the ubiquitous Dutch and Belgian blonde, bock and pilsner beers. Old paintings grace the walls, including Rembrandt's Night Watch. Originally there was a large red telephone in the corner and this was the communication link between the bar and the races where customers could receive the news of a winning bet or another let-down. A little terrace outside allows you to sit with your beer and watch the world go by. Relax and enjoy.
Cafe Oosterling

13) Cafe Oosterling

Café Oosterling is located at the very start (or very end, depending upon your perspective) of the Utrechtsestraat. It is a wonderful pub at the corner of the Fredricksplein. Enormous rum, jenever and cognac casks adorn the rafters and behind the bar is a spectacular selection of spirits. There are magnificent old bottles for Crème de Cacao, Peppermint Liqeur and not just Dutch potables but drinks from all over the world. The beer on tap is Brand and also Affligem. There is no music or distractions, just chat, cheer, liquor and beer. It is interesting to note how low the bar is. This establishment used to be a shop established by the Dutch East Indies Company. Back in those days people were markedly shorter than today so the lower counter was better suited to display the shop’s wares. A truly lovely comfortable tavern, it never gets too crowded that you are denied a place to sit or stand. It’s pretty perfect.
Cafe De Dam

14) Cafe De Dam

This is officially the smallest bar in Amsterdam being approximately 1 sq. metre smaller than the delightful Doktertje. Amstel Beer is the house pilsner and there is an impressive collection of football scarves from over the years decorating the walls along with Delft plates and other adornments. The building dates from 1600 but was previously an apotheke (chemist) before becoming a tavern in 1805. The current proprietor, Louis, has been quenching thirsts for nearly 30 years and at one stage packed 84 American Police Officers into this little ale-house. Quite a feat. Right by the Royal Palace on Dam Square, Napoleon's officers would drink here during his reign over the Netherlands in the 19th Century. Enjoy your beer.
De Druif

15) De Druif

Located on the Rapenburgerplein, De Druif (The Grape) is a little out of the way but that should not deter you. In Amsterdam if something is off the beaten track it means it is 5 minutes extra to get there. The lovely pub is quiet and welcoming. It was originally a distillery and dates back to 1631. There is an excellent jenever selection and old distilling equipment above the casks behind the bar. These barrels were to hold annisette, triple-sec and other great spirits and there are also lovely old gas chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A little elevated area at the back overlooks the canal or you can relax with your drink outside on the sleepy little seated terrace and watch the boats. Perfect.

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