There are many bars in Brussels trying to do something new and different. Some aim to re-create the music and surroundings of past decades, but there aren’t many places like Booze n’Blues, where you sense the owner’s nostalgia for his youth enveloping you with its dark red walls and jukebox.
References to Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, fraying momentoes and blues music wrapping you in a cocoon: here it is personal, like a bedroom left behind in a family home and not touched since.
The jukebox will accompany your evening, when it’s working. Likewise Fakir Hindou, the fortune
telling box on the bar, might provide an erratic prognosis of your future for 20 cents. Two attempts produced the same result: “everything will go according to your wishes”. I’m not sure it’s a good thing to have everything you want!
Booze n’Blues has been family-run for the last 13 years. The owner lives upstairs. Downstairs you could almost imagine yourself somewhere in rural America. But the owner has never been. “There’s a meeting of blues fans in Los Angeles every year”, his sister tells me. "I’d love to send him there, but he doesn’t like flying.”
Rue des Riches Claires 20, 1000 Brussels
+32 (0)2 513 93 33
Google map: bit.ly/rcdCPW
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At night ring the buzzer and neatly sidestep the doorman to enter this beauty of an art deco bar, with its upstairs gallery, custard walls and wood panelling. The faded glamour of the interior surely calls for a whisky or cocktail, to be sipped while dancing around the piano, or up above, looking down at the assembled heads. L’Archiduc also hosts free jazz concerts, “Jazz After Shopping" and "Round About Five", during the autumn and winter months; and “Tell me why I do like Mondays” jazz and blues in the summer.
If you’re looking for a Festival without the mud and with all the best bands then why not go to Belgium? Travel is easier and just as quick as getting to most of the UK festivals. Book the Eurostar (it only cost me £70 last year) and you can relax until you get into Brussels. The rest of the travel is free with your festival ticket. So no worries about your carbon footprint!
It seems all the decent bands split between the UK festivals meet up in Belgium for one big event. Rock Werchter has won the ILMC Arthur Award for the four times in the last five years demonstrating that things are much more organized and as a bonus there is better chance of avoiding the rain.
Give it a go and you will be going back year after year.
My tip is to visit the bar La Mort Subite on rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7.
This bar has a superb selection of beers, which are reasonably priced, and is frequented by locals rather than being a typical tourist trap.
The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and it's an ideal place to meet up with friends for a good natter.
If that isn't enough, last time I went there an opera singer started to sing, with the whole bar joining in. Beer, opera and conversation - perfect!
For a quiet moment away from the normal hustle and bustle, take some time to sit in the Jardin du Petit Sablon (in between the Palais du Justice and the Royal Palace).
It is an oasis of calm next to the Royal School of Music and you can sit in a small garden listening to superb music.
For a great late night jazz bar go to Archiduc at 6 rue Antoine-Dansaert, Bruxelles.
It'll be a hit with anyone who loves Art Deco, cozy drinking holes, live jazz, fab cocktails and an eclectic mix of people enjoying themselves.
An open air DJ bar with an underground flavour. Held every Friday and Saturday night in summertime (weather permitting) the DJs spin a plethora of discs ranging from electropunk to drum 'n' bass via goa trance, acid house and the occasionally rather commercial dance set. The party is held in what is known as the Royal Park opposite the Royal Palace and starts around 11 in the evening, steaming on until the early hours (6-7am, although the party ended earlier last summer).
It's best to have a meeting place in case you get lost as the crowds are thick and it's easy to misplace friends in the happy chaos. Drink prices are average for Brussels (ie cheaper than most expat bars).
Le Parc de Bruxelles, opposite the Royal Palace; nearest metro: Kunst-Wet/Arts-Loi;
The only big techno club in Brussels. Past guests include Jeff Mills, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier, Dave Clarke, Stacey Pullen and Sven Väth to name just a few. The resident DJs spin classy vinyl, and while the crowd can be rather impersonal, there's a friendly vibe especially around 4 in the morning.
Best to check out the website to stay in touch with events, but events are regularly advertised. Seeing Bukem play there last year was seriously wicked and the club itself is well known as one of the places to be for ravers in Brussels.
Rue Blaes; nearest metro: Porte de Halle; www.fuse.be
Bizon café is a blues bar in the St Gery area. It offers a wide range of chilled vodkas, genevers, Belgian beers and bison blood (try it you'll like it) in a smoky blues atmosphere. About the only party going on in Brussels on a Monday night is the café's jam session, which hosts such blues circuit favourites as Bai Kamara, Geezer Young, Roman, Stevie and Rob Fewster.
A genuine crowd spirit with the chance to get trollied on a Monday night whenever it's been hard getting back to work.
Karperbrug 7; near central station and the Grand Place; www.cafebizon.com
An average Belgian bar might have a couple of dozen beers available. A good Belgian bar might have a couple of hundred. The Delirium Cafe has over TWO THOUSAND beers available at any one time. Not only a terrific range of Belgian beers but also beers from over 60 other countries. The menu actually lists about 2500 beers, but they restrict their claimed selection to "over 2000" as not all are available 100% of the time, though I've never ordered anything they couldn't find. One thing to be aware of, the beer price goes up during live music gigs, which happen twice a week. It's in the maze of alleyways that make up the Ilot Sacre, so can be hard to find at first.
Impasse de la Fidélité, 4A, Brussels. About 100m from the Grand Place and not far from Brussels Central Station. Website: www.deliriumcafe.be/ Tel: 32/2.514.44.34
There’s a great mix of live music available all year round, from French, British and Belgian groups on European tours, as well as world music. Regular gigs take place at Le Botanique and L'Ancienne Belgique, besides the annual Nuits Botanique festival in April/May.
Jazz is performed at The Music Village near the Grand Place, and outdoors during the Brussels jazz marathon. Classical music can be found at the Palais des Beaux Arts and the Opera.
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