It’s been around 18 years since I last wandered the streets of Amsterdam for Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) but the imagery in Britta Bolt’s Pieter Posthumus novels brings the memories flooding back….
Writing here for LifeOfCri.me, Britta Boehler and Rodney Bolt, the duo behind Britta Bolt talk to us about Amsterdam’s ‘Brown Cafés’
The ‘brown café’ or ‘brown bar’ is an Amsterdam institution. De Dolle Hond, in our Posthumus books, is a fine example. The ‘brown’, people will tell you, is because of tobacco smoke that has for eons stained walls and ceiling. Shift a picture frame in an old establishment and the chocolate-coloured wallpaper appears white beneath it. Some of these bars – like de Dolle Hond – date back to the Golden Age, when the Dutch had a saying: “If a Hollander should be bereft of his pipe of tobacco he could not blissfully enter heaven”. In today’s more healthy world, the dark wall-colouring is more likely to be the result of a coat of paint. But the basic ingredients of a brown café remain: wood-panelling, dark wooden furniture, a burnished bar. Décor is unfussy – though sometimes it’s been around for centuries, so you might be sitting beneath a priceless lamp, beside a time-stained oil painting. Something startlingly modern may join the flotsam and jetsam of past years, but the word ‘designer’ is anathema. There’ll be wooden barrels along one wall, perhaps, old prints, posters for a local theatre, quirky bric-a-brac reflecting one person’s obsession with football, love of Amsterdam, or downright curious taste – for these cafés often belong to the individuals who serve you. Some have been in the same families for generations. All very like De Dolle Hond. Among our real-life favourite brown cafés are De Dokter, which Rodney found closed one evening because the owner was at home putting up Christmas decorations, and De Englese Reet, which, because the eldest sons of each successive generation of the owner’s family are all given the same name, has had a barman called ‘Teun’ for nearly 100 years.
Published by Mulholland, Lives Lost is available to buy now. Read the LifeOfCri.me review here….