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I do recommend Brussels because the Belgians do take their beer drinking seriously. In their small kingdom there are more than 450 different varieties of beer; although I sometimes ask myself if there would have been the need for so many brews if they had been fortunate enough to have discovered just one good otart. Be that as it may, they do have some delectable beers.
Since the Middle ages Belgium has enjoyed a well-earned reputation for its specialty beers, their variety, character and genuine flavour. The best place to sample but just a few of these is in the traditional beer bars and cafes of their enchanting capitol. I consider myself fortunate that over the years I have been able to visit many of these establishments and am still alive to pass a few addresses on to you. All of the following are centrally located. No busses or taxis required. Depending on your capacity for strong brews, on your two feet or perhaps, on your hands and knees.
Le Becasse, Rue Tabora 11, 1000 Brussels
If you are going to do a tour – a polite word for a pub crawl- then Le Bacasse is a good place to start. It is just around the corner from the Stock Exchange, in a narrow alley set back from Rue Tabora. It is a serious watering hole with old wooden tables, chairs and tiled floors. The house beer is the Lambic, which is as interesting a brew as I have ever tasted being made in an ancient style of brewing, which apparently depends on spontaneous fermentation to produce a bone-dry, profoundly tart, and naturally effervescent drink that improves with years in the bottle – much like wine.
Image de Notre Dame, Rue Marche aux Herbes 6, 1000 Brussels
Just across the street from Le Bacasse is this charming old world bar, which despite having only a small standing space at the bar, is one of my favourites. Although my lack of French and the locals lack of English makes conversation at times stilted and at other times hilarious, I have always been made to feel at home here.
Au Bonn Vieux Temps, Rue de Marche aux Herbes 12, Brussels
Down a small and grimy alley but conveniently placed a couple of doors away from Nr.6 is another of those no-frills establishments. You come here to drink – and smoke. Here you can also try their beer of the same name.
La Mort Subite, Montagne Aux Herbes Potageres, 1000 Brussels
One place you should not miss on your tour. Opened in 1910, the name Mort Subite is derived from an old dice game that became so popular that they changed the name of the cafe but there is also a Mort Subite (Sudden Death) beer. The decor appears to have remained Brussels turn-of-the-century. I have even been known to drink both cherry and peach beer in this establishment and have to admit they were quite ‘peachy’.
La Fleur a papier dore, Rue de Alexiens 53, 1000 Brussels
Opened back in 1846 but its claim to fame came in the 1920’s when the cafe was the meeting place for the Belgian Surrealists and the quiet, artistic/student atmosphere still prevails. Good spot for a bit of discrete courting and drinking.
La Porte noire, Rue des Alexiens 65, 1000 Brussels
Small, cellar bar, dating from the Middle Ages, with a great atmosphere. Frequent live music to accompany the reasonably priced beers. A great place to finish you tour.
There are also many more traditional cafes where you can sample the speciality, Belgian beers in a more sedate atmosphere; my particular favourite being Le Cirio.
Le Cirio, Rue de la Bourse, 1000 Brussels
Here you can relax and absorb the history of an authentic Belgian café. It is the only place where I will occasionally change my tipple from beer, to a glass, literally filled to the brim with the house speciality, a ‘half & half’- white wine and champagne. The cafe, opened in 1886, has maintained its original Belgian decor.
The Cafe of the Hotel Metropole, Place de Brouckere, 1000 Brussels.
A splendidly opulent cafe created in Empire style. A gorgeous place just to sit and sit and sit. You feel as though you are back in the 1890s, which was when the hotel was originally built. Despite the elegant ‘afternoon tea’ impression, the drinks card offers a selection of at least 20 Belgian beers.
The Fastaff, Rue Henri Maus, 1000 Brussels
This Art Deco establishment offers 24 different sorts of beer in the congenial atmosphere of a classical Brussels cafe/bistro. I find the interior so attractive that, even in the summer, I prefer to sit inside rather than joining the crowd watchers, seated on the outside terrace.
So, do not miss out. Brussels is not just about Hiëronymus Duquesnoy’s statue of the Manneken Pis or the EU, it is also about great beer.
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