Friday, November 18, 2005

Brussels' Best Bars

The Bulletin, the local expat mag, asked me to contribute to their extensive listing of "Brussels' Best Bars". So I did. Here are my five contributions to their list. These aren't my personal favorite bars; they're just ones I thought should be included....

77 Elisestraat/Rue Elise 77

This cozy brown bar can be hard to find, tucked away on a side street in Ixelles’ ULB quarter. But it’s worth the effort. Dominating the candle-lit back room is a wall menu boasting more than 200 Belgian beers, from the lowly Maes to the elusive Fantôme. The selection is categorized helpfully into different styles (sweet blondes, bitter ambers, etc.) that might also describe the student clientele. Thankfully, the place’s charm seems to have survived a modernization effort undertaken a couple of years ago (they still spin vinyl on a turntable).

Cafe Belga
18 Flageyplein/Place Flagey 18
02/640-2569 (but I’d be shocked if anyone bothered to answer)

Fred Nicolay owns the coolest bars in town, and they all share certain traits: poor-to-indifferent service, uncomfortable chairs, unbearably hip clientele. Café Belga is his crowning achievement. What makes this Flagey landmark so great is that everyone loves it even though almost everything about it – the too-cool-to-serve-you bartenders (yes, they are handsome, but must they spend five minutes handcrafting each thé à la menthe?), the horrible view (its terrace overlooks an open sewer), the chi-chi patrons (“I’m saving this seat for my cigarette smoke…”) – is unpleasant. It’s packed all day and all night.

Fat Boys
5 Luxemburgplein/Place du Luxembourg 5

This, sad to say, is the only real sports bar in town (Conway’s, with its craven red, white and blue signage, tries to fool American tourists trapped in the Toison d’Or-bit, but it’s really just a pick-up joint for suburban Belgians). A sports bar is place with more than one television and the courage to tune them simultaneously to different events. Fat Boys usually fits this definition. What’s more, it has something rare for a Brussels tavern: a long bar at which one may sit and drink.

7 Kartuizerstraat/rue des Chartreux

Refreshingly for an establishment in the St. Géry hipster quarter, no trance techno beat pulses through the stereo. In fact, no music at all disturbs the quiet, well-lit Greenwich, where you can read, chat, or even hear yourself think. In fact, you can even hear the chess players at the next table thinking. But don’t let the sound of brains contemplating queen sacrifices and hands slapping chess timers and fingers ruffling ponderously through goatees scare you off. Order an ale and enjoy the silence.

28 Rijke Klarenstraat/rue des Riches Claires 28

It’s late, very late. You’re drunk and in need of a nightcap – or, more precisely, early-morning-cap. You’re still in enough control of your faculties to avoid Celtica, with its desperate lager-louts hoping for one last chance to pull. So you head to this gem hidden behind the Halles St. Géry, where the music is good, the service friendly, and the cocktails delivered in frosty shakers. Speaking of shaking, so is your booty, most likely atop the bar. The place seems sequestered, mischievously off-grid. Don’t go before 3. In fact, don’t go at all, you’ll just spoil it.


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