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Some say the charm of Brussels is best sampled in
conjunction with a half-empty beer glass. Here at UP
Front we are not inclined to disagree. Belgium is
home to some of the finest beers on the planet and
the majority of bars in the country's capital serve them
with grace, style and a deserved reverence.
Then again, there are haughty waiters and waitresses
in abundance, but that's part of the fun - plus
impossibly skinny Belgian stick-insects blowing air
kisses at each other in the trendier joints. And if you
fancy an Irish experience, well, you won't be short of
one in this town. Pseudo Irish pubs are as ubiquitous
as the city's legendary dog muck, but much better for
you! Here's a quick (alphabetical) run-down of some of
the best bars to tumble in and out of, both ex-pat and
Gigs, movies, bars, hotels and more. Find out what's
going down in Brussels town!
For punchy live music try a visit to this steamy bar
which boasts excellent blues/rock music each Sunday
night, and really kicks butt. Mainly catering for
students and the younger end of the market, it's ideal
for meeting people - such as staff from other bars
who've just come off shift - in the early hours of the
morning. It's a bit like Conway's (below) in that it's a
renowned 'pulling' place - so don't be surprised if you
wind up sharing breakfast with a complete stranger.
You have been warned. But the place rocks. Just be
carfeul on leaving, though, as it can be a bit rough in
that area early in the morning.
55 Rue de Marché aux Poulets, tel 02/514.22.69.
Seriously famous and seriously gay. Well, mostly.
Watch transvestite ‘Maman’ strutting ‘her’ stuff behind
the bar of this tiny venue – a fire trap in other words,
as it can get outrageously busy, hot and sweaty.
Maman’s revels in 70s drag atmosphere of the
weekends, but is very different during the week when
it is (allegedly) possible to have a quiet drink. One of
many gay bars in Brussels.
7 Rue des Grandes Carmes, tel 02/502.86.96.
Starting life as an American bar, Conway's is a lot
more cosmopolitan than that these days. It's a popular
haunt for the younger end of the market (but that
doesn't discount the slightly more mature) who flock to
this two-floor hostelry on the chic Toison d'Or run. Not
that the place is particularly chic - it's more tinsel,
spinning disco-balls, film star photographs and cheesy
Bee Gees tunes. The outdoor terrace is fun in the
good weather, though: perfect for watching the rich
and not-so-rich trip down the street, and the
American-style diner at the back serves tasty food.
The beer list is not particularly imaginative and it's a
little pricey but, ultimately, if it's a night of drinking,
dancing and no-strings romance you want, this is the
place to go. Just be careful who you wake up with!
10 Avenue de la Toison d'Or, tel 02/511.26.68.
Fabian O' Farrell's
Busy bar located close to the European Parliament
and now in its sixth successful year. Like all bars on
this developing square, it has outside seating and
serves excellent food (including a popular daily special
that wouldn't be out of place in a good restaurant). O'
Farrell's also offers one of the best pints of Guinness
in the city, served by a mixture of Belgian, Irish and
British staff - all of whom are friendly and speak
English (yes, even the Irish!). Crammed with chunky
wooden tables, memorabilia and usually packed early
on Thursday and Friday evenings, this is altogether a
great spot for liquid lunches or after-office revels.
Happy hour runs Monday to Thursday from 5-7pm
(two for the price of one). Just watch out for Men in
Suits, opinionated politicians and nosy journalists!
Incidentally, it's supposed to be an Irish bar but, apart
from the name, you wouldn't really notice.
7 Place du Luxembourg, tel 02/230.18.87.
Launched in early 2000, Fat Boy's quickly emerged as
probably the biggest player when it comes to the
combination of sport, music and food - in fact Euro
2004 and the Red Sox-dominated baseball series
arguably proved it. Decorated with sporting
memorabilia and boasting no less than ten screens
(including a permanent giant one and an extra large
screen for outdoors), it's a great place to watch the
action - especially as several games of varying sports
can be shown at once. The long wooden bar was
salvaged from a brothel, so that's seen plenty of action
too. The staff all speak English, the terrace is lively in
summer and the American-style burgers are among
the best around. There's even live music on
occasional Friday nights, plus regular barbecues - and
a dart board too. If you happen to be in Brussels for
the Super Bowl final, this is the place to go - but book
early. It appears that some women tend to find Fat
Boy's a bit too male dominated, due to the prevalence
of sport - but come on girls, think of all that
6 Place du Luxembourg, tel 02/511.32.66.
The Fou is an extremely hip bar/resto where
canoodling customers can retreat to comfy sofas at
the back for candle-lit snuggles away from prying
eyes. Hugely romantic at night and trendily busy by
day. Eye-catching art on the walls and multi-lingual
newspapers make it easy to pass a stimulating couple
of hours, even if you're alone. Look out for the
chandelier made from wine glasses. The L'Amour Fou
is opposite the Maison Communale in Ixelles and is
staffed by typically aloof, French-speaking waitresses.
But the food they serve comes particularly
recommended. Just beware of one of the UP Front
team who is often to be found breakfasting there in his
185 Chaussée d'Ixelles, tel 02/514.27.09.
Marvellously different Art Deco hostelry close to the
Bourse. This legendary bar is popular with the jazz
set, old bruxellois and serious cocktail drinkers. Opens
from early evening - and you can sit there happily until
the small hours. The two-floor interior is easy on the
eyes - you could be watching the launch of the Titanic!
- and the music is great.
6 Rue Antoine Dansaert, tel 02/512.06.52.
200 beers, hundreds of students and lots of noise,
l'Atelier is not the place for a quiet chat. It's close to
the university so expect well-educated yet intoxicated
youngsters blathering on about anything from football
to quantum physics. You may not find life's answers in
the bottom of a beer glass, but drink enough Belgian
beer and you'll at least forget the question...
77 Rue Elise, Ixelles, tel 02/649.19.52.
Le Bier Circus
Le Bier Circus is famous for its staff, who know just
about everything there is to know about booze in
Belgium, and its fine array of beers. Not only that, but
the walls are adorned with the country's most famous
comic strip characters. So, ponder Tintin's adventures
as you down one of the bar's many rare beverages.
The furniture's not up to much but one look at the beer
menu and you'll stop noticing. Four or five beers later
and you'll be a long way past caring about anything.
89 Rue de l'Enseignement, tel 02/218.00.34.
Le Booze 'n' Blues
This slightly seedy bar boasts probably the best juke
box in Brussels. Sit sipping locally brewed gueuze
while listening to Otis Redding's Dock of the Bay
belting out from the ancient Rock-Ola in the corner.
The place is certainly a bit scruffy - and there's a
distinct lack of English-speaking staff - but, when the
occasional live blues is playing, it rocks big-time.
Atmospheric, to say the least...and very close to the
trendy Place Saint-Géry.
20 Rue des Riches Claires, tel 02/513.93.33.
This is definitely one for the night owls. Le Fourquet's
interior has definitely seen better days but, in its
heyday, the bar must have been all the rage. Sit in the
big windows and watch life go by while downing a
drink or three. The crowd is mixed - and the hours are
very, very late (or very, very early, depending on your
13 Place Flagey, Ixelles, tel 02/649.58.47.
L'Horloge du Sud
It can be difficult to tell which part of the world you are
in on entering this bar: the décor is a Belgo-African
and so are the customers. Live music brings in the
younger ones, who are more often than not stagiaires
at the EU institutions, but there's a very cosmopolitan
feel all round. Musical instruments and pictures of
African warrior heroes add to the 'where on earth am
I?' feeling. A final note: beware the huge mirror, unless
you look like Johnny Depp or Julia Roberts.
141 Rue du Trone, tel 02/512.18.64.
A warm and traditional bar this one, much loved by
locals and just far enough away from the EU
institutions to still be a fairly well-kept secret. Good
variety of beers, snacks too - but smokers beware:
there's no ciggie machine, so buy some first! The
'Stumblings' is very Belgian and the prices reflect that -
it's much less expensive to drink here than it is in the
ex-pat bars. Lots of atmosphere and character, so well
worth seeking out.
7 Place de Londres, Ixelles, tel 02/512.43.74.
This typical Belgian bar is a must-visit. With its outdoor
seating, trendy location and marvellous beer menu, it's
a brilliant establishment. Even the waiters are efficient
and friendly. Highly recommended, especially in
summer when the terrace is packed. The food's good,
too, with plenty of Belgian specialities up for grabs.
Don't be surprised to find 'Madame Pi-Pi' guarding the
lavatory doors with her money tray, mop and Mr
Propre cleaning fluid. So keep plenty of eurocents
handy if you're busting for a wizz...
Avenue de la Toison d'Or, tel 02/511.79.27.
This popular bar-resto lies deep in the heart of Ixelles
and is never quiet, ever. It is bright, cheerful and
popular at all times of the day and night. The
brasserie, which serves food all day until late, offers a
broad menu and there's a large selection of drinks
available. If you don't fancy eating here, no worries -
the square in St Boniface is peppered with excellent
restaurants for every taste and pocket. L'Ultime Atome
has a mixed bag of customers, all nationalities, ages
and colours but the majority are the city's bright young
things. Unfeasibly sexy waitresses waft by and serve
customers in an efficient and friendly manner. It's a
truly eclectic place with an on-street terrace, that's
well-worth finding - even if only for a coffee and a skim
through the papers on a Sunday morning.
14 Rue St Boniface, tel 02/511.13.67.
As you'll discover, Irish bars abound in Belgium's
capital and this one is run along much the same lines
as the rest. It has the advantage, though, of being
handy for shopping, being close to swanky Avenue
Louise and all those trendy shops - think Louis Vitton
rather than Gap. Noted for a decent pint of Guinness
and friendly staff, Mac's has a convenient terrace
that's ideal for summer days. Soccer fans will find the
big screen handy for the new footie season and
24 Rue Jean Stas, St Gilles, tel 02/534.47.41.
Make mine a ‘Matonge’
Deep in the heart of the commune of Ixelles, a stone’s
throw from L’Ultime Atome and the restaurants of Rue
St Boniface, is a bustling ethnic quarter. Nicknamed
Matonge, after a part of the Congolese city of
Kinshasa, this bit of Brussels is a must-visit (although it
can get a bit dodgy late at night).
Specifically, the pedestrian section of the street Rue
Longue Vie features bar after bar and, while none of
them particularly stand out individually, the cumulative
effect of lots of outdoor tables, brightly coloured
national costumes, music and general chit-chat in a
multitude of languages and dialects makes for a
cracking evening out. Especially on those (rare) hot
summer’s nights. Not to be missed.
This 20-year-old place suits its name, being a tiny bar
located on the thriving, cosmopolitan Rue Jourdan, a
stone's throw from Place Louise. Jourdan boasts
plenty of restaurants and, on warm evenings, the
whole of the street becomes one long terrace
swarming with revellers. Owner Kelly features a live
band once per month and the bar rarely closes before
2am. Pop in around 10 am and you'll probably find the
bar peopled with soon-to-be divorced men downing
some courage on their way to untying the marital knot
at the nearby Palais de Justice.
3 Rue Jourdan, tel 02/539.37.23.
Enjoy the Craic at O'Reilly's
Soccer fans and downtown drinkers flock to O' Reilly's
for its big screen, central location and pints of
Guinness. One of the city's busiest Irish bars, it is
located on the thriving Boulevard Anspach opposite
the Bourse (the Brussels stock exchange), within
striking distance of Place Saint-Géry and its many
bars. The often-packed outdoor terrace can be
entertaining as you sit sipping a cold beer watching
the shoppers struggle with their bags. A bit pricey and
the barstaff can be a little slow, but the Sunday lunch
comes highly recommended.
1 Place Bourse, tel 02/552.04.80.
And Gery good it is, too!
Just a hop-skip and a jump from O'Reilly's and the
Bourse, and a mere two minutes from the traffic hell
that is Boulevard Anspach, you'll find the oh-so-trendy
Awash with bars such as Mappa Mundo, Roi des
Belges and Zebra, it's a marvellous place to sit and
read the papers, people-watch or generally sup until
you need a taxi home. And that's just during the day.
At night, the whole area is buzzing, with Mappa a
particularly popular spot (thank God it has several
floors) and, to cap it all, there's loads of restaurants
nearby (Chinatown is just around the corner, for
example). And just so you know, Place Saint-Gery is
also handy for Brussels' gay area, if that's what floats
One of the more recent additions to Place du
Luxembourg this bar is astonishingly popular with the
young and beautiful. Chic and trendy, and offering
good-quality wine served in generous glasses, Ralph's
rocks - especially during its regular happy hours. Food
also served during the day.
13 Place du Luxembourg, tel 02/230.16.13.
Tierra del Fuego
This bar is one of the city's best-kept secrets, although
it's easily accessible from Avenue Louise. Located just
off Chaussée de Charleroi, this latino-american bar
and restaurant boasts a truly southern atmosphere
and one of the best beer gardens in the city. Cross the
little footbridge to the high-walled courtyard at the
back to sip a Cuba Libre surrounded by exquisite
tiling, greenery and a heady, intimate atmosphere.
Give it a try, especially in summer, but keep it quiet,
4 Rue Berckmans, tel 02/537.42.72.
The Bank used to be what it says it is, and the old
safety deposit boxes from its previous incarnation still
line the walls. It's allegedly an Irish pub, but attracts all
nationalities, especially on the occasional live music
nights. The waitresses are efficient rather than
particularly friendly, the prices a little steep, but all in
all it's a good place to relax. A bit off the beaten track,
perhaps, but it's close to the lovely Place Chatelain
and on a direct tram line.
79 Rue de Bailli, tel 02/534.86.57.
The Old Hack
Wonderful little bar opposite the monumental
Berlaymont that is always busy at lunch times due to
the splendid food on offer. The Hack has been around
since the dawn of time, but has been revamped by a
Dutch couple (he cooks, she's front-of-house). Book
your table well in advance if you want a tasty and
keenly priced lunch. The bar is often lively in the
evening too, but is closed weekends when most of the
Schuman area simply shuts down. It's also closed
throughout August for precisely the same reason. Pity
- it's an UP Front fave.
176 Rue Joseph II, tel 02/230.81.18.