Maybe it was the weather, frigid, damp, and windy, that led me here. But personally, I like to believe that the universe has a way of uniting people with the things that make them most happy. For me, those things are tender hunks of meat and a piping-hot pot of steaming, gooey cheese. Regardless, on a fated night in November, I found Cafe Bern.
Looking at a map, it doesn’t look that hard to find. It’s right in Nieuwmarkt Square amidst the most heavily-trafficked section of town. But in the evening, when it becomes dark and eyes are drawn to the bright lights of the more tourist-centric spots in the square (read: coffeeshops), Cafe Bern plays it low-key with dim lighting and an understated facade, drawing curtains high over the windows so as not to attract unwanted attention to the glorious spectacle within.
You’ll want to arrive around eight o’clock, when it’s already filled by the smell of cooked meat and bubbling cheese, which causes you to forget at all why you’ve come here, leaving you in a momentary state of meditation and oneness with the aroma. Oh yeah, we need a seat, you’ll think, and step up to the bar where you’ll put your name in. It’ll be about 45 minutes until a table opens, but that’s exactly the right amount of time to wander around Nieuwmarkt and work up an appetite.
When you return, you’ll likely be led to a medium-sized table that most American restaurants would use for couples; you’ll be sharing it with another. But this is all part of it: watching each other break the crusty-yet-soft bread apart, stirring the cheese, inhaling the now-cheesed up bread. That we eat is one of life’s great common denominators, and that we all enjoy this beautifully simple meal creates a closeness that goes beyond the physical and into the spiritual, cyclic nature of nourishment. If there can be any perfect example of gezelligheid–that untranslatable Dutch word of coziness and togetherness–it is this place.
You’ll get a menu, and as the picture shows, it’s not too diverse. It doesn’t matter though, because like everyone else, you’re here for two things: Entrecote and Fondue. Very soon, the accouterments will arrive: fondue forks, steak knives, a frothy vat of gruyere, and a tin tray over a miniature bunsen burner for cooking your own steak. Almost as amazing is the price, which will lighten your wallet by a paltry 15 euros per person. And while the locals and owners are probably already shooing away the droves of tourists growing savvy to this spot, it’s honestly something I hope every taste-budded creature gets to experience in their short occupation of Earth.
Cafe Bern – Nieuwmarkt 9, 1011 JR Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 20 622 0034