More insider guides for planning a trip to Brussels
These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writer visited pre-pandemic.
The admirable flexibility around drinking establishments reflects the deep-down sociability of the Belgians. Bars, cafés, the pub-like traditional estaminets, brasseries and bistros merge along ill-defined borders, so you can usually drink, have a coffee and eat something in any of these. Of course, Belgian beer takes centre stage: excellent and strong, and hugely varied, it is produced by 1,000 breweries, with new ones popping up all the time. Seek out the local newcomers, the Brasserie de la Senne and the Brussels Beer Project.
Le Roy d’Espagne
Here’s an unmissable opportunity to sit on the terrace or in the cosy interior of one of the grand old guildhouses of the Grand Place and take in the glory of the historic setting, while sipping a fine Belgian beer. The former headquarters of the Guild of Bakers, dating from 1697, it takes its name from Charles II of Spain, ruler of the Spanish Netherlands at the time. Light and reasonably priced meals are also available. Snacks include charcuterie and seafood platters to share, while a typical main dish – traditional and substantial – is jambonneau ardennais rôti (roast ham knuckle), cooked with thyme honey.
Contact: 00 32 2 513 08 07; roydespagne.be
Vast, on three floors, with walls and ceilings encrusted with beer memorabilia, thronging and raucous when busy, and offering some 30 beers on tap and over 2,000 more from the bottle, this is a famous magnet for the young beer-drinking crowd. It also hosts live music on Thursday evenings. Delirium, by the way, is the name of a beer made by the Huyghe brewery in Melle, near Ghent. The café’s location, on Impasse de la Fidelité, is also the site of the Jeanneke-Pis, the female version of the Manneken Pis, created in 1985.
Contact: 00 32 2 514 44 34; deliriumvillage.com
A La Mort Subite
A tavern called ‘Sudden Death’ may sound alarming, but it in fact refers to a dice game played by clients of an earlier bar; “Mort Subite”, a brand of gueuze beers (a Brussels speciality), has an associated history. Built in 1928 with a grandeur reminiscent of the Belle Époque, this is a good place to sample a full range of Brussels and Belgian beers, as well as wines, coffee and ‘petite restauration’ (bar snacks and light meals). Because many of the customers may be foreign visitors, you may find some locals dismissing this place as ‘touristy’, but it is their loss.
This is a big, old-fashioned and atmospheric bar in the newly trendy Sainte-Catherine area, with seating at wooden tables round the edge of a tiled floor, in front of oak wall panels and mirrors. From a long bar a young team dispenses Belgian beers, wines and spirits, plus substantial snacks, such as pistolets (buns) with pâté or bread and cheese, all at reasonable prices, and perfect for filling the stomach when you’ve tired of restaurant food. The same décor continues into a large buffet-style dining room behind, where a choice of spaghetti dishes is served.
Contact: 00 31 2 511 75 11; monk.be
This a Brussels institution, opposite the Bourse and close to the Grand Place: a splendid Belle-Époque café founded in 1886, all mirrors and chandeliers, elaborate woodwork and ceiling stucco, with Art Nouveau details. This is where Jacques Brel, and ladies of a certain age with their pooches, came to sip the signature drink, a ‘half-en-half’, a mix of sparkling and still wine. There’s a full menu of beer, wine and spirits, plus local and Italian snacks and full-scale brasserie dishes. The name may ring a bell: the history is linked to the founder of the brand of high-quality Italian tinned tomatoes.
Address: Rue de la Bourse 18, 1000 Brussels
Contact: 00 32 2 512 13 95
Opening times: Daily, 10am-12am
A cool night spot of long-standing (since 1937 in fact), this is an agreeable place to come for an evening drink and a bit of live piano jazz, or fuller-bodied international jazz sessions (usually weekends). Lying just to the north of the Grand Place in a street famed for its cutting-edge fashion boutiques, its style is Art Deco, and its mood elegantly smooth; for a taster, drop by on Saturday after 5pm for ‘Jazz after Shopping’, or on a Sunday after 5pm for a ‘Round About Five’ session. It’s a remarkable institution: high-quality jazz, close-up, for the price of a drink (or two).
Contact: 00 32 2 512 06 52; archiduc.net
Founded in 1916, this large café, bar and bistrot restaurant strongly evokes the Belle Époque, with its mixture of Neoclassical, Empire and Art-Nouveau features, stained glass, gilded stucco, oak panelling and mirrors. Recently renovated, it could seem grand, but retains an authentic Bruxellois air: a people’s palace. It cherishes its tradition of chess: Magritte came here to play. It offers a solid list of Belgian beers, plus a full complement of other drinks, as well as a menu of ‘typiquement belge’ dishes such as moules et frites and ‘carbonade à la flamande’ (beef stew cooked in beer), at reasonable prices.
This is a friendly, unpretentious, old-style café and bar, which rather stands out for its determined authenticity in the up-and-coming Rue de Flandre, where its neighbours are increasingly young, talked-about restaurants. Roskam is above all celebrated for its Sunday night jazz concerts, which can attract big names. They start at 8pm, and take place at the far end of a long room decorated with historic photos of Brussels, with informal seating. The mood is relaxed but respectful, and appreciative: these concerts are, after all, essentially free. There are six beers on tap, including some from the excellent local Brasserie de la Senne.
Contact: 00 32 2 503 51 54; cafe-roskam.be
This is the kind of shrine to beer that all beer enthusiasts hope to find in Brussels: there 42 beers on tap, no less, and several hundred more in bottles. These are selectable through an extensive catalogue, but if you are lost for choice the staff will skilfully be able to diagnose your thirst. Snacks, such Belgian white cheese and bread, help to curb hunger. The Fontainas Moeder Lambic is a large, newer and engaging branch (close to the city centre) of the original Moeder Lambic ‘beer academy’ tavern in southern suburb of Saint-Gilles (68 Rue de Savoie).
La Fleur en Papier Doré
The surrealists – including René Magritte – used to meet here, and mementoes from their era join the throng of curios that line the walls of a series of cosy rooms. This is one of the few surviving traditional pubs called estaminets; slightly off the beaten track, it’s a great place to get a feel for the Brussels of bygone days. Typical Belgian light snacks and dishes – such as boulettes (meatballs) in tomato sauce with frites or stoemp (mashed potato mixed with other root vegetables – very Bruxellois!) – are offered to accompany fine Belgian beers, including the unique Brussels beer called gueuze.
Contact: 00 32 2 511 16 59; lafleurenpapierdore.be