Toronto is one of the world’s most diverse and cosmopolitan cities, welcoming people from every corner of the planet and with them a seemingly endless selection of delicious dishes, drinks and authentic establishments to serve both. It’s a reality often touted by Torontonians who’ll remind you that you’re never more than a few minutes away from any authentic dish or, at the very least, some delicious hipster-fusion abomination.

Toronto’s cosmopolitanism has benefitted beer drinkers too, who have access to authentic and culturally-distinct drinking establishments, from pubs to cafés, beer halls to brasseries, izakayas to cantinas, and many, many more. It’s a pretty great place to be.

Yet with all of these delectable choices, one nationality has been (un)noticeably absent: the Dutch. And with them, a cozy drinking establishment they’ve perfected over the past 700 years: the brown cafe. Named for the dark, patina-coated wood that often lines the floors, walls, and at times ceilings of these cozy spots, brown cafes are a Dutch staple – the best of which could go head to head with Ireland’s top pubs any day.

Justin Go and Alison Broverman are the husband and wife duo behind Borrel, Canada’s only brown cafe. Though newly opened in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood, Borrel has been years in the making. Beginning as a Dutch-themed dinner party over a decade ago, the duo’s concept steadily gained a dedicated following as one of Toronto’s favourite pop-ups before seeing its bricks and mortar location open this fall.

Borrel, a Dutch word that refers to a casual gathering over food and drink amongst friends, embraces the brown cafe motif with an abundance of dark wood, dim lights, and classic touches like Delft blue glass accents, vintage speed skates hanging from the wall, and a neon sign out front reminiscent of some of Amsterdam’s most iconic spots. It’s a bar that truly embodies the spirit of gezelligheid in every way, shape, and form. What…you don’t speak Dutch? Fine

While the bar serves familiar Dutch beers in a format any expat would recognize (this may be the only spot in Canada you could order a fluitje – a thin 25cl glass that is the norm in brown cafes across the Netherlands), it also features a great rotating selection Ontario craft beer. During our first visit, the menu included Toronto east end favourite Left Field Brewery, as well as the Oost Indie Beer from Niagara’s Oast House Brewery, based on a unique and historic Dutch-style Ale that was brewed in the region before the rise and dominance of the now ubiquitous Pilsner. Keep an eye on the beer menu at this already bustling cafe. While Dutch beer can be rare in Canada outside of the recognized brands, Go and Boverman are looking for any opportunity to bring Dutch craft beer options to Ontario. Yes… Dutch craft extends beyond the realm of wooden shoes and water management systems.

To accompany the great beer selection, their food menu will induce a heaping dose of nostalgia in anyone with Dutch roots. For the uninitiated non-Dutch patrons, simply know that Dutch food may just be the perfect thing to accompany an after-work beer. Check out dishes like their bitterballen, deep-fried balls with a meat and potato filling served with mustard; frikandel speciaal, a deep-fried homemade sausage topped with curry ketchup, mayo and raw onions; boerenkool, a hearty and seasonally-appropriate mashed potato with kale, bacon and gravy, and; snert, yep…SNERT, possibly the best pea soup you’ve ever had.

As if you needed icing on this windmill-shaped cake (OK…I’m done), Go and Broverman have incorporated beautiful illustrations by London-based Dutch artist Nanna Koekoek into every nook and cranny of Borrel, from their charming menu, to a gallery of Borrel pop-up posters, to bathroom murals of Holland’s who’s who, where Van Gogh holds court among true Dutch heroes like Tiësto, Nijntje, and Eddie Van Halen.

All in all, Borrel is a welcome edition to Toronto’s beer scene. Its the perfect spot for a beer (classic or craft) and delicious meal. If you love a cozy bar (and regardless of whether you love the Dutch), this is a spot worth checking out.


Borrel is located at 1333 Danforth Avenue in Toronto. Photos by James MacDonald and JP Bervoets.


Jean Paul Bervoets

Jean Paul Bervoets

JP has spent the last decade working in the not-for-profit sector and has called Canada, the Netherlands and South Africa home. He’s travelled to over 30 countries and currently lives and works in Toronto, Canada. His interests include photography, cycling, playing guitar and working on Departful.com and Prostly.com.

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