Now you’re talking. Bars are where Brussels lives. It’s hard to be disappointed, whether you pop into a neighborhood watering hole where a chope or pintje (a glass of beer) will set you back a mere 2.50€, or fork out several times as much in sleek, designer bars. In fact, even the expensive bars around Grand-Place are worth a visit for the scenery and grandeur of both architecture and service. Of the hundreds of bars in Brussels, the following all have their own distinct style and ambience.
A Brussels favorite, A la Mort Subite, rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères 7 (tel. 02/513-13-18), is a bistro of rather special character whose name translates to "Sudden Death," which is the name of one of the beers sold here. Don't worry. The name is just a name -- it comes from a dice game regulars used to play. The decor consists of stained-glass motifs, old photographs, paintings, and prints on the walls; and plain wood chairs and tables on the floor. Specialties are traditional Brussels beers: gueuze, lambic, faro, and kriek; and abbey brews like Chimay, Maredsous, and Grimbergen.
In a quite different vein is La Fleur en Papier Doré, rue des Alexiens 55 (tel. 02/511-16-59), in a 16th-century house. From its beginnings in 1846, this bistro and pub has been a mecca for poets and writers. Even now, about once a month, young Brussels poets gather here informally for poetry readings -- the dates vary, but you might inquire by phone or, better yet, drop by and ask in person. This is a wonderfully atmospheric old pub, much like a social club, where patrons gather for good conversation and welcome any and all newcomers. The place serves what is possibly the best onion soup in Brussels, a great late-night snack.
The following are only a few of the many Brussels pubs and bistros worthy of recommendation. Au Bon Vieux Temps, impasse St-Michel, rue du Marché aux Herbes 12 (tel. 02/217-26-26), hidden away at the end of a narrow alleyway, is a gloomily atmospheric old tavern that seems to hearken back to a bygone era. You should try the appropriately named Duvel (Devil) beer here -- just go easy, that's all. A l'Imaige Nostre-Dame, impasse des Cadeaux (tel. 02/219-42-49), off rue du Marché aux Herbes 8, is a good, quiet place to drink and read or reflect if you're alone, or to converse with a companion without having to compete with a blaring jukebox.
Le Cirio, rue de la Bourse 18 (tel. 02/512-13-95), is across the road from the Stock Exchange, and indeed many of the bar's customers look like they've just made a killing on the stock market and have retired to a state of genteel splendor. And what better place to do it in? Le Cirio is a quiet, refined sort of place to sip your beer, in attractive surroundings that make the whole exercise seem worthwhile. Toone VII, impasse Schuddeveld 6, Petite rue des Bouchers 21 (tel. 02/513-54-86), is the home of the puppet theater and an artistic hangout.
Art Nouveau design from 1904 by master Paul Hamesse (incorporating a plaster-covered interior wall that mimics a rock face) and an extensive range of Belgian beers are two good reasons to visit trendy bar-brasserie De Ultieme Hallucinatie, rue Royale 316 (tel. 02/217-06-14; Métro: Botanique). You sit in little booths on 1930s railroad station benches designed by Henry Van de Velde or at a long bar. In summertime, tan while you quaff beer on a courtyard terrace at the back. Salads, snacks, and full meals are available in the brasserie. Le Falstaff, rue Henri Maus 17-25 (tel. 02/511-87-89), a legendary 1904 Art Nouveau tavern, has stunning decor, stained-glass scenes in the style of Pieter Bruegel the Elder depicting Shakespeare's Falstaff tales, and reasonably priced brasserie food.
Rick's, av. Louise 344 (tel. 02/647-75-30), brings a touch of Humphrey Bogart and Ernest Hemingway, accompanied by American and Mexican food, to the stylish avenue Louise. The decor might give you the creeps at Halloween, rue des Grands-Carmes 10 (tel. 02/514-12-56), where gargoyles, devils, and other assorted creatures from the darker recesses of the mind help create an unforgettable ambience. Fortunately, it's a pretty good bar. Something sad has happened to the painfully chic denizens of L'Archiduc, rue Antoine Dansaert 6 (tel. 02/512-06-52) -- they've loosened up a little. Not much, mind you -- just enough so that you don't see a hundred lips curling with disdain when you enter wearing clothes that were de rigueur last week instead of today.
Belgian Brews Pack a Punch -- Brussels is known for its lambic beers, which use naturally occurring yeast for fermentation, are often flavored with fruit, and come in bottles with champagne-type corks. They're almost akin to sweet sparkling wine. Gueuze, a blend of young and aged lambic beers, is one of the least sweet. If you prefer something sweeter, try raspberry-flavored framboise or cherry-flavored kriek. Faro is a low-alcohol beer, sometimes sweetened or lightly spiced.
Gay & Lesbian Bars
In comparison with the “out-there” vibe of the Amsterdam gay world, the Brussels LGBT scene appears quite subdued, but there are several gay and lesbian bars along rue des Riches-Claires and rue du Marché au Charbon. Macho Sauna, rue du Marché au Charbon 106 (tel 02/513-5667; www.machosauna.be), houses a gay sauna, pool, steam room, and cafe. It’s open daily from noon to midnight.
Brussels Gay Pride takes place in May each year, a vibrant street party taking over the center of the city. For details of dates and schedules, click onto http://web.thepride.be.
For the inside slant on gay life in Brussels, stop by the gay and lesbian community center, Tels Quels, rue du Marché au Charbon 81 (tel 02/512-4587; www.telsquels.be), open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 12:30pm and 2 to 7pm. On the same street there is a gay meeting room and cafe at Rainbow House, rue du Marché au Charbon 42 (tel 02/503-5990; www.rainbowhouse.be). Both venues are run by volunteers.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.