Brown Bar

How can brown bars survive modern times?

by Thijs • April 14, 2023

There is an establishment in the center of Amsterdam, located just off of one of its busiest shopping streets, which will transport you back in time a hundred years. Heavy curtains must be draped aside to enter, the wooden stools and tables are shoddy, their surfaces mottled and scratched. The walls are a deep dark brown color from decades of cigar smoke, and tilting to the side one of the many picture frames that adorn them will reveal the bright white color they once were, a long time ago.

This is not a regular old bar. This bar has wood-paneled floors that are covered in a thin layer of sand which soaks up spills and is swept up and renewed at the end of each night. There is no music to drown out your conversation; instead the locale is filled with the animated chatter of its frequenters, many of them older gentlemen whose faces are etched with the folly of that day and the general disillusionments brought on by life and the city. There is also no actual bar to speak of: an impeccably dressed ‘kastelein’ — a sort of ancient barkeep — will take your order of beer and ‘jenever’ — a traditional Dutch spirit — and prepare it in a tiny back room.

If you get peckish, you might ask for some ‘ossenworst’, a soft, raw beef sausage served with pickled onions and mustard, or simply put a 50-cent coin into the gumball machine-like dispenser in the corner and twist the knob, prompting it to drop a hardboiled egg into your hand. The communal salt shaker is right there, too.


Brown Bar Patrons

The end of the brown bar?

Tebi itself was founded by people who met each other in one of Amsterdam’s brown bars. Their mission: to help small businesses compete with integrated tooling at a low price point. Learn more about the Tebi platform.

A number of these bars (called ‘brown bars’ after their smoke-stained walls) can still be found in the city. However, as reported by several outlets, including Dutch newspaper NRC, the brown bar is slowly disappearing from the streets of Amsterdam. Modern times and tendencies (not to mention a pandemic) have brought a threat to their livelihoods, with their regular clientele dwindling (of natural causes) and owners struggling to find a younger crowd to fill the walls with new conversation and merry-making. And when they do, one bar owner attests, they are often not chatting or playing cards, but looking at their phones. Are new tastes and norms to blame for the disappearance of many of Amsterdam’s (brown) bars? Research institute OIS estimates that more than 1 out of 4 brown bars has closed up shop in the last ten years.

Meanwhile, owners themselves, too, are getting older and find it more difficult to muster up the required etiquette and attention to detail. If they manage to find a buyer for their cafe, there’s no guarantee that new owners will want to keep the spirit of the brown bar intact. The status quo for brown bars has become so dire, in fact, that the municipality of Amsterdam is looking for ways to help them, including branding them as protected heritage with the status “Authentic to Amsterdam”.

Staying brown without going down

It’s clear that Amsterdam’s cafes in general, but brown bars in particular, face difficult challenges. We have identified several strategies owners might adopt to keep their head above water. For owners of brown cafes however, it seems most imperative that they keep costs down while keeping up with the times. This means reducing operational costs and dependency on pricey intermediaries such as accountants, finding the best suppliers for products, developing a better sense of how business is going, and adopting tools that allow doing all of these things and more.

Tebi is a tooling platform for small business owners that will save time, money, and help them focus on what matters most: their customers. As an automatic accounting system with integrated POS, purchasing and invoicing, inventory management and more, it allows owners to take their business into the 21st century without breaking the vibe that a brown cafe has to offer. No need for large, anachronistic screens or tablets everywhere: Tebi also runs effortlessly on Android-enabled payment terminals such as the AMS1 and the S1F2. Since most, if not all, brown cafes have already adopted payment terminals, it’s a small step for them to make their establishment truly future-proof without losing even a hint of the atmosphere that makes them so unique.

AMS1 Terminal

Tebi’s pricing model is success-based, meaning you get billed based on the revenue you bring in over a month. There is a free plan for the smallest businesses: generate less than €10k in monthly revenue, and you won’t pay anything for the Tebi app. Per bracket of €10.000 after that, you pay €20/month. That’s it. You’ll be billed less for slow months, which seems only fair. We feel this success-based model keeps Tebi accessible to all business sizes without putting limitations on how they run their business, such as the number of devices they can use. Read more about our pricing and start saving costs immediately.

So the next time you’re in Amsterdam, visit a brown cafe and order as much jenever and ossenworst as you like. If your host is using Tebi to run their business, they’ll have time to spare!