Tuesday, February 4, 2014


What's this guy about, anyway? Would this fly in the States? How do the Belgians call it kitsch and get away with it?

I suppose we could open the whole Zwarte Piet debate. Or maybe not.

I was struggling with how to describe this fellow. Minstrel statue in the stars and stripes? I don't know.

The fact is that this gentleman, for better or worse, happens to be standing in one of the most characterful and character-full little cafés in Brussels, the Laboureur.

Oh look, there's a character now. I'm not sure if she's waving hello or saying, "Do not take that fucking picture. They will think we are racist." Never noticed her until weeks later.

This is not the old Laboureur that used to be near Gare du Midi until about six or seven years ago. (Remember that one?) This is the one that has been on the corner of Rue de Flandre and Rue Léon Lepage for much longer. How long? My theory is that when Saint Géry came to set up a chapel on the Senne in 580, the Belgae already had the Laboureur set up. It was hardly more than a few logs and a cookfire, plus a jug of proto-lambic.  Over the fire they were frying parsley and hand-breaded shrimp croquettes. It was enough that the Belgae couldn't be bothered with chasing off the Christians. In fact on the wall there is a black-and-white photo of Saint Géry with the tribesmen, crowded out in front of the bar. They're all drinking Stella.

Sadly there is no proto-lambic these days, but there is a hardy list of 35 modern beers. Stouterik is there, Papegaei, Orval, Rochefort 8, Hoppus. To pick a few of the interesting ones.

There is an old numbered charity box on the wall. It looks like the place you'd insert your hotel key, and then never get it back again. Out front the neon is cool art deco, and the street artist Invader has left his little creature there.

You might call this a café populaire in French, but that doesn't mean it's popular. Even though it is. It means it's a bar for the common folk, the salt of the earth types. You might have guessed that by the name. These days the common folk around Rue de Flandre are not as common as they used to be. There are bright streaks of posh mingling with the workers and hobos. But they're all welcome here.

The Laboureur is inclusive, you see.