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Brussels Best Bars
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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 more traditional.
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 &endash; 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 testosterone!
6 Place du Luxembourg, tel 02/511.32.66.
Another quiet night at Fat Boy's...
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 underpants...
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 staying power.)
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 beyond.
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.
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.
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, OK?
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.
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