All across Amsterdam you will find wonderful, quaint cafés, generally open from mid afternoon until the early hours of the following day. The American perception of a “café” is anything from a Starbucks to an upscale coffee brewer, but it’s just that: a place to get coffee, and maybe to do work or meet someone for a quiet chat. Cafés in Amsterdam are in general more social places. It’s perfectly normal to go to a café in the afternoon, get a coffee, and do some homework. You might see people reading, or perhaps playing a game of chess. However, don’t be surprised when, in the later afternoon and early evening, customers start ordering beers. Café’s might serve a small selection of foods, called borrelhapjes, or “borrel bites.” Borrel is a Dutch term for a low-key, early afternoon or evening gathering. At a borrel, friends would typically get a few borrelhapjes and drink one or two biertjes, a small beer. The quintessential borrelhapjes are bitterballen, a thick meat stew rolled into a ball, breaded, and fried, and frikandel, a type of sausage. After the borrel period, later into the evening, more and more people show up coming from dinners, meeting with people before a night on the town, or simply looking to socialize late into the night. In any case, a café on a Friday or Saturday night will be pretty busy and a great place to socialize! Out of the café’s I’ve been to in Amsterdam in the last two months, my favorite is Café Checkpoint Charlie, located in Amsterdam West just outside the trendy town of Jordaan.
Checkpoint Charlie was originally recommended to me by my mother’s friend, her classmate from the University of Amsterdam in the 90s. She still lives in Amsterdam, and it was when I was staying with her after I first landed in August when she told me about this cool café she used to go to. The whole café is a bit punk, though not overtly—they have a disco ball hanging above an open area right when you walk in, and the music is perfect, always making you want to dance. In a typical punk fashion, the bathrooms are labeled “Women” and “Whatever”. You also notice it in the staff—they are all very cool and laid back yet eager to help. You walk along the bar, past a pinball machine, to a downstairs lounge area with a library and a pool table. The library is full of old books, ranging from novellas of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to 1970s sci-fi; I found a book on Led Zeppelin from 1985, full of awesome anecdotes and photos. The outdoor seating is nice, though don’t expect to always get a seat—it usually fills up pretty quickly, especially later in the evening, so you’re probably better off standing. The demographic of the bar truly varies; there are definitely some characters, which makes it great for people watching, though this doesn’t feel distracting or off-putting. However, the bar feels local and communal. It feels especially local for students living in Student Experience Minervahaven, such as myself, because it’s only a ten-minute bike ride away, and ultimately, it’s walkable. For students living at the Social Hub West, it’s only a bit further, taking a little over fifteen minutes by bike. Ultimately, Checkpoint Charlie is inviting, comfortable, and very cool.
Café Checkpoint Charlie is gezellig, a common Dutch word that is hard to translate but means something like cozy, but with a broader application and perhaps a less cutsie connotation; a big party can be gezellig because gathering with your friends is nice and wholesome. Checkpoint Charlie is a great place for an evening drink with friends, a date, or for an afternoon read from their eclectic selection. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
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Despite being a history major and studying history at the UvA this year, I am a passionate musician. I have been playing piano for over a decade, focusing largely on jazz, but I love to play guitar, banjo, and mandolin in my free time!