Friday, April 13, 2012

Take This Post With You to Brussels.

Here is another brief supplement to Around Brussels in 80 Beers. An update of sorts. There have been a couple of others, but never mind them. This is a new one.

I do this because I know you've been wanting to order several of the 500-or-so remaining copies from their stacks in Cambridge, England, so that you can then give them to loved ones for the summer travel season. Now you can print out this post, fold it neatly, tuck inside the pages, and then your friends will know how much they mean to you.

Anyway: This one began as a simple post to tell you that the café Kafka on Rue des Poissonniers has closed. (Then things got out of hand.) This article suggests that Kafka was a popular place but not quite popular enough to pay its rent. The management had other troubles, yet the peanut gallery is quick to blame the smoking ban. That's just politics and gossip to us. The point is that a good watering hole -- with loads of character, Zinnebir on draught, and real lambics in bottles -- has shut. Bummer.

Places do that sometimes. Shut, I mean. But others open or else become interesting. I have a working theory about Belgium's brown cafés in the smoking ban era: Some survive by widening their beer selections. I would not call it a full-on trend, and like I say it's a working theory. But there are examples.

Check out the Cambridge on Rue de Malines 37, a useful beery sanctuary at the far end of the bustling Rue Neuve shopping gauntlet. A clean and well-lit brown café is still a brown café if it has gambling machines and potato chips. I counted 94 beers on the list including Senne, de Ranke, Cazeau, and a few other surprises.

If you like your brown cafés really brown, then you might like the Coq at Rue Auguste Orts 14, very near the Bourse. A few years ago it was mainly InBev beers. Now there is Zinnebir, Saison Dupont and Oud Beersel to go with the long benches, ample wood paneling and mahogany rafters. When I was there in December the beer of the month was Avec Les Bons Voeux. To give you an idea.

Near Nüetnigenough, Poechenellekelder, Moeder Lambic Fontainas and at least half a dozen other good places to drink, the Lombard at Rue du Lombard 1 is an odd mix of early 1900s class and beery kitsch. Despite tourist prices and a chandelier with pink Delirium elephants, it gets a place on the circuit for 130 bottles and the sheer utility of simple brasserie food.

One welcome trend is a wider availability of Saison Dupont, which once was rare in Brussels but now appears in places that might otherwise lack something of interest. An example is Bebo, Avenue de Stalingrad 2, with 20 beers heavy on InBev, but also with the aforementioned saison, Moinette, La Chouffe and a few Trappists. There is an elaborate awning with a wide sidewalk for stretching out the legs on warm days. Just the place for an aperitif ale before the big splurge next door at Comme Chez Soi.

Another example is Cool Bun at Rue Berckmans 34 in Saint-Gilles, a gourmet burger joint where you can wash down the gorgonzola-bacon with any of Dupont's organic range.

The Ste-Catherine fish district used to be mostly devoid of decent beer, instead preferring white wine or Champagne with its mussels. That may be changing. There are positive reports on Merlo at Quai aux Briques 80, with friendly atmosphere and beers from Senne and Oud Beersel, among others. Closer to the church at Quai aux Briques 16, the Huitrière and its Vistro tavern have the steep dining prices typical for this neighborhood but also Boon Geuze, Taras Boulba, Saison Dupont in bottles and Redor Pils on draft.

On the edge of town, the Rob gourmet supermarket in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert has more than 120 beers with better taste than the local chains. To go with hefty wine and cheese selections Rob has beers from Cantillon, Dupont, Senne, Tubize and more.

Two giants that were not yet open when the book came out: the world-class Moeder Lambic Fontainas on Place Fontainas and the Brasserie de la Senne in Molenbeek. Sadly the latter is not open to drop-in visitors, but large groups can make arrangements in advance. Then there is the aptly named Little Delirium at Rue Marché au Fromage 7, also know as Pita Street or Pita Alley. It's got 30 taps. There is much to be said for combining late-night kebob with a couple glasses of Rulles Estivale.

Greenwich has reportedly re-opened after some rehab work and a change of owners. It was never known for the beer but rather the incredible début-de-siècle atmosphere and popularity among chess players. No word on the beer list yet, but fingers are crossed. A halfway-serious bottle selection would instantly make it one of the city's best places to drink. It's that pretty.

The classy and quiet Belladone did close for a while in spring 2011 but appears to be open again.

The excellent Restobiéres expanded into a space on the other side of Rue des Renards and left the old one open as a beer bar at what I presume more flexible drinking hours. Owner-chef Alayn Fayt also wrote a beer cuisine cookbook, and buying one is high on my to-do list.

Closed: Chapeau d'As, StekerlapatteStella Solaris, Ultieme Hallucinatie. No longer beery: Hotel Galia, Imprimerie, Laristo.

The Sleep Well hostel and its bar are shut for now, until it rebuilds after a recent fire.

The Warm Water on Rue des Renards has changed owners, ditched the lambic, and become Zabo. New ownership promises to serve a few local beers and might even be doing so by now.

I've got a longer list of places that may or may not be worth investigating, depending on how you value your time. If anyone out there is feeling intrepid and thirsty, drop me a line.

Additional reports welcome. Insults are welcome too, as long as they accompany useful tips.


  1. Joe...this post could not have come at a better last day in Brussels will be an adventure!

  2. So many tasty bits in one little post!

  3. My pleasure, gents, and if you find the time fee free to report back afterward.

  4. Thanks for the updates, Joe! Checked out the Cambridge yesterday, and was indeed surprised by the number of beers available and even more by the number of 'uncommon' beers. I tried out the Hopus on draft, as I had only tasted it from bottles until now.

    Regarding Restobières, I saw the new venue but the 'old' one seemed to be closed down when I passed in the rue des Renards this weekend... Maybe going through some refurbishment before opening as a bar?

  5. Hey Toine! We'll keep checking on the old Restobières. Maybe the beer bar is more intention or plan than useful reality.

    Have you noticed brown cafés or other formerly smoky dives doing different things to attract customers in the wake of the smoking ban?

  6. Hey Joe,

    I stopped into Cafe Lombard for a beer on Tuesday, nice place. Also had dinner at the new Restobieres Monday night and got a copy of the new French. I don't know if he has it in English yet. I like the new location, and the food is good as ever.

  7. Cheers, Chuck. I did expect the cookbook to be in French, I might have mentioned that, thanks.

    All: Chuck's just had a busy and envy-inspiring trip to Belgium himself, and you can keep up with it here: