The Petit Four: A guide to cafes in Brussels
Emily Miller's list of the best pubs, bars and cafes in the Belgian capital.
I was recently asked by RyanAir’s Inflight Magazine to put together a little restaurant and café guide for Brussels. It was a lot of fun to make the list, so I thought I would share a more expansive one for those of you who won’t have a chance to see the article while flying on Europe’s favorite discount airline.
So, without further ado, here is the first installment of my personal top places to grab a drink in Brussels:
Maison du Peuple: This trendy bar right on the Parvis St. Gilles attracts a fun mixed crowd. On weekend mornings it’s full of bougie young families that brunch and slightly hungover college students studying, while during the weeknights you’ll find people from all age ranges talking to friends over their wide array of beverage options. The weekends host great DJ and band sets too. The café’s managed to hit that sweet spot of being a cool neighborhood bar that attracts young hip twentysomethings without being too pretentious for older people. They also have a dangerous happy hour from 19h – 20h where cocktails are two for the price of one.
39 Parvis St. Gilles
1060 St. Gilles
L’Atelier: L’Atelier is the café to experience for those on a student budget but wanting to sample more of Belgium’s esoteric beers. Located near the campuses of the VUB and ULB, this windowless, modern take on the traditional Belgian brown café is an easy way to spend hours expanding your beer knowledge. The atmosphere encourages conversation amongst those at your table and those sitting next to you. Striking up conversation with strangers is made even easier by the extensive availability and ever-changing roster of Belgian beer.
77 Rue Elise
Poechenellkelder: Poechenellekelder is a serious beer bar highlighting the best of Belgium’s rich beer culture. Despite its location directly across from the Manneken Pis, this atmospheric café is usually only frequented by local Bruxellois. Sometimes it’s possible to overhear conversations in Brusselaar, a special dialect spoken only in the city. This café mixes its extensive beer menu with a varied selection of jenever, like blood-orange, mocha, limoncello and about twenty others. All of this liquid culture is happily washed down alongside a quirky decorating scheme featuring eclectic memorabilia like crossbows, smoking goats and a collection of costumed Manneken Pis statuettes.
Rue du Chêne 5
Le Corbeau: Le Corbeau suffers from a serious personality disorder. Sunday to Thursday, it’s a traditional Brussels brown café. Seeing old men flip through their daily papers while slurping up a big bowl of bolognaise isn’t too uncommon. Then comes Friday and Saturday nights. The Corbeau serves up serious beer in a serious glass: the Chevalier. A litre glass of beer (the bar proclaims that it costs 500 euros, so if you break it, you buy it. However, I think it’s more for theft prevention) has a tendency to function like a series of quick shots of tequila – in that it makes everyone do crazy things, like dance on the tables. The main selling point of this bar is that, without fail, at some point on Friday and Saturday evenings, someone will be so moved by the song that’s playing (Gwen Stefani’s ‘Bananas,’ a disco version of Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you,’ etc) that they just need to dance…on the table. It’s actually a genius move because, with everyone dancing on the tables, there’s more room for people to come in since the floor space is left available.
Rue Saint-Michel 18
Old Oak: One of the benefits of living in Brussels is the international base of the city’s population. Its proximity to the British Isles means that yes, there’s a decent amount of Brits in the area and that means one thing – pub quiz. The Old Oak is a smallish, darkly wooded bar in the Schuman area of the EU quarter and has the city’s best pub quiz. The sound system is top notch so you can hear the questions, which makes it leaps and bounds better than the other questionable sound systems like at Michael Collins. The MC, a cheeky Irish man who appears to have eyes in the back of his head, makes it worth a go as well because he calls you out for doing something stupid when it appears that he can’t even see you.
Rue Franklin 26
Goupil le Fol: While Belgium is known for its beer, Goupil le Fol offers a respite from all the yeast and hops with its deliciously refreshing house-made fruit wines and cognac. This multiple-level lounge/bar is a haven for lovers and drinkers in search of a cozy couch. A former brothel, the atmospheric twists and turns of the old building are livened up by the always-changing paintings, antique books and odd knick-knacks. You can easily spend hours sipping away on one of the cafes chilled drinks while listening to the crooning chansons of Edith Piaf and the hometown hero, Jacques Brel.
Rue de la Violette 22
Reprinted with permission of The Petit Four.
The Petit Four, a space for all things related to food, pleasurable drink and the good life, is maintained by Emily Miller, an American expat who first fell in love with Belgium as a study abroad student. Since then, Emily has returned to Brussels to further her exploration of Europe's capital city.
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