It’s is deeply unfair, but Bruxelles is unfortunately for many Europeans become a concept that is rarely accompanied by positive vibes. Bruxelles is colloquially become equivalent to EU and NATO, to paper pushers, fishing quotas, high taxes and yuppies. Bruxelles is no longer just the name of Belgium’s beautiful capital and this is a shame because the city has much to offer its visitors.
The 11th Commandment
The Belgians love food and beverages, they even have (unofficially, of course) an 11th commandment – “Het Elfde Gebod” which commands them to eat and drink well. And one certainly does in Bruxelles, which is a paradise for gourmets. Here you will find any kind of eatery from around the world, from humble cafés to elegant and distinguished restaurants with plenty of Michelin stars.
Bruxelles is also the mekka of beer drinkers or the “Disneyland of Beer,“ as some have called the capital of Belgium. The watering holes can be found all over the city, there are only a few tourist traps but very many true pearls, where you can enjoy the local beer in company of the locals. The prices are very fair, the service level is high and everything happens with a deferential respect for the golden drops. And then it’s quite charming, that all types of Belgian beer have their own kind of glass.
The Big Square
Grand-Place or Grote Markt is the city’s historical and geographical centre and the biggest tourist attraction of Bruxelles. Grand-Place is surrounded by majestic mansions and narrow Gablefront houses, most of them built in the late 16th hundred and erected in a wonderful mixture of southern and northern European architecture.
Here you will find renaissance and baroque, and the many decorations on the facades add to the very special atmosphere of the square. There are always people on this beautiful and homogeneous cobblestone paved square, also on the numerous cafés, restaurants and pubs.
We enjoyed one late Christmas ale in front of the crackling fireplace at the cosy Le Roi d’Espagne in the northern end of the square, before we tiptoed to the south eastern corner and found Les Brasseurs on the corner of the square and Rue de la Colline.
Les Brasseurs is a new microbrewery in a wonderful old building, the rooms are on displaced levels and on three floors. Several bar counters and small booths for confidential and romantic gatherings, create an intimate and very cosy feel. The speciality is its own beer labels which vary with the seasons.
When we visited in January there were three kinds; blond, ambrée and blanche (wheat beer). They are served in sizes of a quarter, a half and a whole litre and despite its location, the prices are very fair. If you’re very thirsty, you can buy a 5 litre jug or a “Palette de degustation” with 12 cl. tastings of all the three kinds. Les Brasseurs also tempt with a menu of local delicacies and a lot of “today’s specials”.
The Belly of Bruxelles
East of and parallel to Grand-Place we find the busy shopping street Rue Marche aux Herbes, where to both sides one can get lost in a small labyrinth of crooked and narrow alleyways. One of those is Rue de Bouchers, a pedestrian street, commonly known as the Belly of Bruxelles. It’s packed with restaurants and cuisines from all over the world.
The selection of the culinary specialities are displayed towards the street, mainly seafood is displayed in large boxes with crushed ice. They all seem quite identical, with fair prices and Moules Frites everywhere – the Belgian national dish with mussels and pommes frites. The waiters make a great effort in trying to hijack the passers-by, but there are no grumpy looks if you – as we – just browse and pass by.
Beer in the alleys
We had been recommended two very local and good pubs, discreetly located in small passages near Rue Marche aux Herbes. The time had come for us to experiment with the divine, alcoholic and addictive trappist and monastery beer. L’Imagine Nostre-Dame lies at Rue Marche aux Herbes no. 8 and it felt like everyone in here were acquainted. We tasted some wonderful dark draught Affligem abbey beer, a Westmalle Tripel and at the suggestion of the bartender we tried our Bourgogne de Flandres from Anthony Martin – very special and very tasty with notes of liquorice.
Next stop was the Aux Bon Vieux Temps. The name of the place translates as The Good Old Days and inside the slightly dark rooms, you feel the time stand still. The building is said to be from 1695, and we were told that little has done at the interior design over the last 60 years. There is a small horseshoe formed bar and several smaller rooms all equipped with dark wooden panels, colourful glass mosaics, wooden benches and chairs with leather coating and solid oak tree tables.
We ventured into Trappist beer from Rochefort, Chimay and Orval, and as a lovely finale the nice old lady behind the bar convinced us to try a light Agnus and a dark Pater – both from Corsendonk brewery. Rarely has such extraordinary and atmospheric surroundings provided the backdrop for the consumption of such wonderful barley products.
A quick death
A la Mort Subite lies at the end of the glass vaulted and impressive shopping arcade Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. When exiting the arcade, turn right and across the street lies this art nouveau café, which is owned and run by Bernard, grandchild of Theophile Vossen, who moved the establishment to its present location back in 1928. At that time, the regular customers were local bankers and they had custom of ending their visit by playing dice for the bill. The loser paid. And the game ended up giving name to the pub.
Mort Subite has style. There are mirrors everywhere, which obviously makes the room appeared bigger than it really is. You don’t just hang at the bar at A La Mort Subite, but wait patiently for your table to be waited on. And we didn’t have to wait long when we visited. The lovely middle-aged lady was dressed in dashing white and newly pressed apron and told us enthusiastically about their speciality: the lambic beer. There are four kinds to choose from and we settled on a Gueuze, a Kriek and a Faro, all with 4% alcohol and a fair price. Gueuze and Kriek taste like cider and is almost brutally acidic. The Faro surprised with notes of caramel while still maintaining a crisp acidity.
Disneyland for beer lovers
If you’re a beer enthusiast, Europe will feel like Disneyland. Everywhere you go; every little city; every part of the country produces its own beer. This is even more the case in Belgium. The quality is uncommonly high, the selection is almost infinite and in a Belgian pub, you will get a lot of wonderful beer for around three euros per glass.
Especially famous and popular are the Belgian abbey beers. There are two types of abbey beers. One is called Trappist beer, named after the Trappist Order that used to be part of the Cistercian order before they broke away and became independent. The other one is a more common abbey beer.
For more information about either one of these superior beer types, check out this article about Belgian beer.
Op uw gezondheid!