Cafe Papeneiland – Amsterdam, Netherlands - Gastro Obscura
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Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cafe Papeneiland

Famed for its pie, this eatery has a hidden tunnel that allowed Catholics to secretly walk to church during the Reformation. 

On its surface, Cafe Papeneiland is the perfect example of  the gezelligheid, or “coziness,” for which Dutch “brown cafes” are renowned. With its brown walls, chandeliers emitting soft light, and display of beautiful Delft plates and tiles, the eatery offers a warm, welcoming place for a hot drink or stellar slice of apple pie. But beneath its comfy exterior lurks a hidden history of religious resistance.

During the Dutch Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries, the government outlawed Catholicism. As a result, Catholics had to worship in secret. This led to the establishment of hidden churches, some of which still exist today. Our Lord in the Attic, for example, is a beautiful, 150-seat chapel, complete with pillars, a giant painting of Christ’s baptism, and a marble-and-gilt altar, all tucked away in (you guessed it) an attic.

In Amsterdam’s Jordaan neighborhood, worshippers once secretly entered a church through a tunnel that ran beneath the canal. That tunnel opened at the building that houses Cafe Papeneiland, and it can still be seen today. The cafe’s very name is a nod to this history: Papeneiland means “papists’ island,” referencing how the building was a sanctuary for Roman Catholics, who were also known as “papists” due to their allegiance to the Pope. 

Today, the cafe is most well-known for its apple pie (or “tart,” depending on where you’re from). The fame is  deserved: The pie has a flaky crust, the perfect balance of tart-sweet apples and cinnamon spice, and a light-yet-rich tuft of whipped cream on the side. Order a slice, then ask your server to point you in the direction of the tunnel’s entrance. It’s behind a green-barred gate along the stairs to the basement. Sometimes obscured by brooms and other cleaning supplies, this doorway to the past can be easy to miss.

Know Before You Go

You can’t go inside the tunnel, but you can look at its entrance through the doorway.

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