Brown cafes slowly disappearing from Dutch streets
Brown cafes, once a common sight in the Netherlands, are slowly becoming rarer and rarer. Market researcher Locatus does not keep track of these pubs specifically, but the number of bars that don’t serve food decreased by 30 percent in a decade to around 5,000 this year. “These are usually brown cafes,” Gertjan Slob of Locatus said to NOS.
Pub lovers in Tilburg held a meeting on Thursday night to discuss the future of the traditional pub, with its characteristic brown paneling, wooden furniture, and subdued lighting. According to Toine van Corven, organizer of the meeting, dozens of brown cafes have closed in recent years. “There used to be two or three on every street, but only a handful are left. That should stay. It’s really a tradition,” he said. “It’s a place with a smile and a tear. Someone comes in happy because he became a father, and another is sad because someone has died. In the pubs where I go, everyone comes.”
Brown cafes are increasingly making way for trendy coffee shops and lunch rooms. This development has been happening for decades and has to do with societal changes, catering trend watcher Wouter Verkerk told the broadcaster. “In the past, men used to work in the factory and drink beer in the cafe on their way home. The bar was a logical meeting place. Now, that is a lot less common,” he said. “People now rather drink coffee in a coffee shop during the day than go to the cafe all night and have a hangover the next day.”
Yet, Verkerk still sees hope for the brown cafes that can keep up with the times. For example, they could expand their menu a bit beyond the traditional boiled egg. “There are quite a few cafes that have made that transformation. There are also examples of cafes that have claimed a neighborhood function. They are a collection point for Airbnb keys, a polling station, a pick-up point for packages.”
Amsterdam city councilor Lian Heinhuis (PvdA) is pushing to give the brown cafe a monumental status to protect them as part of the city’s heritage. The Tilburg brown cafe lovers would also like something similar. “The cafe is the cafe. What you see is what you get. The furniture is the same as what it was 45 years ago.” They want brown cafes added to the Unesco World Heritage list and have presented the municipality of Tilburg with a manifesto to that effect.