I stand in front of the lines of bottles at La Canne à Sucre and take stock. Once again I am in the presence of copious quantities of rum. But here no bottle appears the same, all are superior quality, and after 30 years they are jostling for space in the nursery. Children have grown up and moved on, but the rum will stay and probably last forever - the owner is even writing a book on the subject.
Jean-Claude and Christiane’s rum bar behind Place Sablon is a loving homage to several years spent in the French Antilles: banana plants, banana leaves, unobtrusive steel pan music and a glowing fruit-adorned bar. There is a food menu that features recipes from Martinique, Réunion, Guadeloupe and Mauritius, but more than anything it features rum.
But first, Christiane suggests I try an aperitif. She hands me the drinks menu and leaves me to peruse it for some while. There are 250 cocktails to choose from: enough for weeks (years?) of cocktail drinking.
While we sip our delicate creations and allow the rum to creep up on us, Jean-Claude is cooking. Not the intriguingly-named “poisson à la sauce chien” this time; but parrotfish in a creole sauce of lime and coconut milk, and the same fish prepared in absinthe. Not only do these turn out to be delicious, but it is also the first time I’ve eaten such a photogenic fish.
Our chef is an experimenter. He tells us he’s currently trying out a variation of the staple deep-fried Belgian croquette, but with chicken inside and accompanied by a mango sweet and sour sauce. “I tried it out on my friends”, he says. We nod encouragingly and say it sounds good. “Yes, that’s what I thought”, he muses.
Later on Friday and Saturday nights, Jean-Claude sheds his chef’s clothes for something more comfortable, and joins in with the group of musicians and drums in the corner. Fridays and Saturdays from around 10:30pm is the time to pitch up: there’s no need to eat, just pick a cocktail (at random?) and make the most of it all. A place that should appeal to everybody!
Rue des Pigeons 12, 1000, Bruxelles
+32 0475 472023
Google map: bit.ly/LL1U2X
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Whisper the words “cocktail bar” and probably associations of classy, candlelit establishments, muted pianos and mojitos will come to mind. There are plenty of cool-kid places in the Saint-Géry area which will mix you a pretty decent cocktail, catering for the tastes of 20 and 30 somethings who flood this area, seeking beer and more. A few strides from all of these bars is Coaster. It has peeling brown walls, candles tilting precariously from rum bottles and an operating table light casting a dim glow over proceedings. You could say this is a cultivated neglected look, as if the squatters have moved in and the Bar Police haven’t the time or inclination to evict them. The clientele doesn’t mind about roug decor and approximate spirit measurements, which anyway still produce good results.
We are generally young, cradling glass shakers protectively as we huddle around copper- topped tables. Meanwhile, the pulsing 90s dance mix is discouraging us from lapsing into conversation (even on a Monday), and why would we want deep conversations anyway while the blackboard has a list of around 40 cocktails to peruse, a twitchy dancing barman, and the television in the corner, inexplicably showing an evening chat show with my least favourite person on French channels, Laurent Ruquier. Every day between 20:00 and 23:00 except the day of rest, Coaster offers the appealing prospect of two 10cl or 15cl shakers for the price of one - it’s Happy Hour seemingly for most of the time the bar is open, or at least the hours when you’re most likely to want to frequent it. Well, I exaggerate: I haven’t yet hung out here until 6am! But I have slunk into the office wearing my hangover in a secret smile. Like a proper self-respecting Belgian bar, Jupiler is on tap. And of course the cocktails (be they mojitos, jet sets or teddy bears) are generous and colourful. And definitely not wimpish.
Rue des riches Claires/ Rijke Klarenstraat 28,
Google map: bit.ly/KCw1bM
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