Posted by: patriciamar | April 8, 2010

The Bonte Koe

We have discovered a new Leiden spot.  Although we have only been there twice, I think it’s exactly the type of cafe that we have been looking for.  We had always heard good things about the Bonte Koe, and finally stumbled upon it on a late evening walk one Wednesday night.  The cafe has one of those amazing locations.  It is hidden behind the Hooglandsekerk on a tiny back street, but somehow is still right off of the Hooigracht, a main Leiden thoroughfare.

The cafe is small and has a sort of wooden windowed patio that extends onto the pedestrian street.  As I first slid the door open, the smell of lilacs surrounded me.  A pot sat on each table, and out of each, three or four lilacs grew.  I’m not sure how lilacs normally grow, but these seemed to be growing from bulbs.  The Dutch could always do amazing things with flowers… Turns out they were hyacinths.

As we sat around the high wooden table, we looked around the cafe and observed our surroundings for the first time.  The cafe has been around since 1890, and the menu is put together like a photo album made from one of those free plastic albums you used to get when you had pictures developed.  There is a section telling all about the first owner with photographs of Leiden students from generations past.

Behind the counter, there is a giant cow painted onto ceramic tiles.  They serve more than a few beers, wines, and warm coffee drinks, most of them a bit more obscure or unique than in other cafes.  The type of cafe that Matt and I like to visit is the kind that has a bit more originality and individuality.  Nowadays, this can come in one of two forms, either the cafe is breaking out of the U.S. chain-cafe style and uses only organic or local products and serves fair trade coffee, or they really are an original cafe, and either never wanted to conform to the new chain-cafe style, or never got around to it.  The Bonte Koe is more in the second category.  They make their own bitterballen, a nice potato-puree-based fried Dutch treat, they serve ringed sausages from a local slagerij (butcher), and they have an unknown beer on tap that costs just 1.60.

These original cafes are quite hard to find, but when you find them, it is always a treat.  Matt’s uncle, a resident of Vienna, always explained the city’s planning in a similar way.  While many other European cities were getting rid of their trams and building highways across the city, the city officials of Vienna were thinking…  Thinking about whether they were ready to get rid of their simple loops of plain red and white trams that circled the numbered districts.  Later, when the cities, newly criss-crossed with highway and interstate systems, were trying to figure out how to restore their once peaceful centers, Vienna continued on, the same tram circling the first district and the offshoots connecting the center with the rest of the city.

I suppose the moral of all this is to be patient.  Good things come and go, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly.  While you might miss out if you don’t hurry up and jump on the bandwagon, good things come to those who wait as well.

Now, off to the Bonte Koe.

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