On the first floor of the ISS building, you will find a hidden gem: the Butterfly Bar. This is a small, trendy bar which has been refurbished by bartender Sandy Kamerling with the help of a group of PhD and master students.

“Do you mind if I light the candles first?”, Sandy asks around five o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. The Butterfly is not open yet, but we are already welcome for a beer. “Sit down, I’ll tell you everything.” Meanwhile, her phone keeps ringing. “I work at a gallery on Noordeinde (the chic shopping street opposite the ISS), during the day”, she explains. “My hours have been adjusted so that I can work here in the evening.”

Friday night, party time

muziekinstallatie butterfly bar

After half past six – when the Butterfly opens – the phone goes away. “I only have two rules here,” Sandy points to a sign on the wall. “What happens in the Butterfly, stays in the Butterfly. And: talk to each other, not your phone.” She lives by that rule herself. What’s more, her phone is needed for the music system, which she shows smiling.

“It looks a bit improvised, but it’s great,” says Sandy. “On Friday nights, it’s often party time. The tables are put to the side, I turn on the disco ball and students can pick their own songs here behind the bar.” Regularly, a group of South Americans dance the salsa all evening.

Please is the magic word

Sandy has been running the Butterfly for fifteen years. Her ex-husband worked in the finance department at the time and the ISS was looking for someone who could revive the Butterfly Bar. Sandy had quite a lot of experience working in restaurants and bars. “At first, I had to get used to working in a pub where so many different cultures meet,” she says.

But now, she knows exactly how to deal with cultural differences. “When they come here for the first time, African students, for example, are not always used to ordering a beer politely. ‘Beer!’, they say when they come to the bar. ‘Please is the magic word’, I always answer. Not to correct their manners, but because otherwise they won’t be able to connect in the Netherlands. In a bar on the Grote Markt, you won’t get away with ordering a beer like that. “

Aldi crisps

kassa butterfly bar iss

Around six o’clock, a group of people walk in for a drink after a lecture and at the back, a couple of students are enjoying a beer after a day in the library. It’s one of the students’ birthday and Sandy starts singing ‘Happy Birthday’. Everybody – with twenty punters it’s quite full in the Butterfly – joins in. “We can fit up to fifty people in here,” Sandy says. “But then it’s really full.”

Beer, wine and soft drinks are only 1.50 euros. “So we buy the snacks from Aldi,” Sandy laughs, holding a bag of nachos and handing out bowls of crisps. Many PhD researchers and students celebrate their birthdays in the Butterfly. “We make all the snacks for birthdays ourselves.” In return, ‘Miss Butterfly’, as the students lovingly call her, is always welcome to their getaways. “Recently, I went to Giethoorn in a bus full of international PhDs.”



A PhD student orders a red wine, in Dutch. She gets a hug from Sandy. “Your Dutch is getting much better!”, she says. “She sanded the whole bar and painted it this year”, Sandy tells us a few minutes later. The ISS building was renovated last year, but there was no budget left for the Butterfly. In the end, Sandy received help from twenty PhDs and seven students, 750 euros and a little extra for beer and pizzas were available. Together, they gave the Butterfly a makeover.

And that was necessary. Old pictures on the wall testify to what was once a rather dusty old fashioned bar. Since the renovation, the Butterfly Bar also has a butterfly. A white butterfly was painted on the black wall opposite the bar. Its wings bear the word ‘welcome’ in fifty languages. The name is derived from a long lost past. Between 1977 and 1993, the ISS was located in Hotel De Wittebrug. “There was a hotel lobby with red plush banks and a big silk butterfly hanging on the ceiling,” says Sandy. “Now the interior has something to do with the name again.”