Cafe Belgie – one of my Polish friends was extremely impressed by this bar, describing it as “movie-like”, but he was stoned when we went there. Good, relatively affordable food. Extremely crowded at any time when people are actually likely to go out. An impressive choice of Belgian beers (I like Blanche de Namur).
Olivier – a bar in a former church building, with the acoustics of a football game. Even more crowded than Cafe Belgie, despite being ten times bigger. Also a large choice of beers.
Cafe de Bastaard – the usual beers, a pool table, no food except for tosti’s. Nice music and a hidden back garden. Beloved by leftist activist groups for no apparent reason (and therefore the closest thing I’ll ever get to a “stamkroeg”). However, the Kritische Studenten Utrecht stopped gathering there since they realised none of them is still a student. There’s a gender studies borrel* every week.
Cafe Willem Slok – a cosy small bar. I watched the 2017 election results here with SP Utrecht so I have memories of disappointment associated with the place. There’s a cheap hairdresser next door.
Cafe Averechts – a cute bar slightly outside of the city centre (if we see the big canal – the official name of which escapes me – as a border). Couch surfing meet ups from time to time.
Cafe Tilt – a nice place. Warmed up seats outside in the colder months. They serve fancy food, judging by the menu, but I’ve never ordered any.
Which brings us to…
Gys – affordable compared to other Utrecht restaurants (~€11 for a main dish). Some vegan options. 90% of their customers are young women.
Meneer Smakkers – fancy burgers, several locations in Utrecht. They ask for your name so they can shout it out once your burger is ready.
Hema Oudegracht – €3.50 for a stampot (mushy vegetables with a sausage or meatballs on top), great rookworst (sausage). If you order the biefstuk, prepare for “medium” being “seriously rare” 90% of the time (you probably get a piece of raw meat after ordering “rare”, but I never tried because honestly “medium” gets quite close to this).
Kimmade – a tiny Vietnamese restaurant, Utrecht’s best kept secret which is not that well kept, since it’s often difficult to get a table. The tofu in tomato sauce is the best tofu I have ever tried.
Puschkin – the owners of Puschkin are crazy – despite being Dutch (?), they opened an East German breakfast cafe in Utrecht!
Clubs and concert venues
ACU – a former squat. Another place where you always bump into someone you know if you did any kind of leftist activism in Utrecht, ever. Cheap or free concerts, a disco evening called Vitamine Disco every two weeks (look for the DJs/genre on Facebook). Every second day or so the Kitchen Punx serve creative vegan dishes. Dirtiest toilets I’ve encountered in Utrecht but still usually pretty clean.
EKKO – a more expensive, although rather small, concert venue. They also have club nights. Located next to a really beautiful sluice** on the canal.
Tivoli Vredenburg – a weird big building with several concert halls and multiple events going on at the same time. Terrifying aquaria for smokers, where your hardcore smoker friends disappear for a few minutes and return mumbling about Stoptober:
Derrick – a discotheque in the basement almost opposite ACU. Look at their website to get an idea of what the place is like. Just to be clear, it’s not ironic – first time I’ve been there they had a Baywatch theme (in late September), which also didn’t come across as ironic. They play songs you heard last time dancing in a rainbow coloured top and low rise cargo pants in 2003. Entrance is free (although 21+), but the drinks can be surprisingly expensive.
Chupitos – went there looking for a friend’s lost jacket on a Tuesday, 10pm, and immediately a crowd of people dancing to a remix of Adele’s “Hello” started convincing me to buy tequila shots.
Tivoli de Helling – never been there but it seems cool.
Filemon & Baucis – you go inside thinking you will dance to “so bad it’s good” electropop, but the music they play sounds as if they couldn’t afford that and settled for “bad”. You have to pay for the bathroom.*** Sweaty people will hit on you.
That’s all I can think of right now. Is this list missing any amazing places crucial for Utrecht’s nightlife? (Most likely, yes) Describe them in the comments!
* A confusingly English-like Dutch word for a gathering with alcohol
** “Śluza” for my Polish readers who also didn’t know that word
*** I should create a separate list of places that make you pay for the bathroom after you paid for the entrance – encountered this also in Amsterdam