Brussels isn’t a party city like Berlin or Barcelona. Brussels’ residents — or Zinnekes, as they’re known — prefer to while away the evening hour with conversation and a cold beer. And why not? In winter, their ‘brown cafés’ are snug dens in which to shelter from biting rain storms and in summer, the doors are thrown open and tables and chairs assembled on the pavements so locals and tourists alike can enjoy the inimitable tradition of the ‘terrace’.
Mixed in with this, is a real love of live music and theatre and BOZAR (Palais des Beaux-Arts, Rue Raventstein 23; www.bozar.be) is the dynamic organisation which arranges a variety of exhibitions, classical concerts and theatre productions. Tickets for performances can be bought from the shop (open: 11am—7pm Monday—Saturday) or online. Magazines with full monthly listings are available in stands at the entrance of the building.
Bars are an integral part of the ‘Brussels experience’ and virtually every street is home to at least one port in the storm; many of them have been in business for centuries. As a result, there are a few favourites that regularly crop up in guidebook listings because of their historical or architectural significance. These include: A La Becasse (Rue de Tabora 11; open: everyday from 10am) famous for sweet Lambic served in authentic ceramic jugs; A la Mort Subite (Rue Montagnes aux Herbes Potagères 7; open: 11am—1am Monday—Saturday, 1pm—1am Sunday) serves a tart and fruity Gueuze beer; Au Bon Vieux Temps (Impasse Saint-Nicolas 4; open: from midday), which serves Morte Subite Kriek from the barrel; La Fleur en Papier Doré (Rue des Alexiens 55; open: 11am—1am Monday—Thursday & Sunday, 11am—3am Friday—Saturday), which was once the haunt of Magritte and his Surrealist posse; L’Imaige Nostre-Dame (Impasse des Cadeaux 3; open: 12pm–12.30am Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, 12pm—7.30pm Wednesday, 2.30pm–1am Saturday, 4pm–midnight Sunday), another authentic estaminet forged from two houses dating from 1664; Falstaff (Rue Henri Maus 19—25; open: 11am—1am everyday) whose Art Nouveau interior was designed by Emile Houbbion — a pupil of Victor Horta; and Le Cirio (Rue de la Bourse 18—20; open: 10am until late) famous for its house specialty half en half — a mix of still and sparkling white wine — and the fabulous time-warp décor.
This city’s club culture was, up until a few years ago, rather pathetic, but nowadays there are a number of edgy/raw venues, as well as some slightly classier cocktail-and-lace joints, that provide some variety to the evenings spent chatting over a potent Belgian beer. In addition to this, several of the newer hotels have resident DJs that play in the hotel bar on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Most clubs start to get busy around 11pm and stay open until dawn. Gay nights are well catered for (I’ll post details soon).
There are around 50 nightclubs in the city, but most people you ask tend to opt for either Studio 44 (Avenue de la Toison d’Or 44; www.studio44.be), which plays lively R’n’B, soul and up-tempo reggae, or Fuse (Rue Blaes 208; www.fuse.be) famous for its techno. The latest spot to ‘be seen’ is The Wood (Avenue de Flore 3—4; www.thewood.be) in Bois de la Cambre south of the city centre and The Flat (Rue de la Reinette 12; www.theflat.be), an über-cool lounge bar housed in a two-storey townhouse: sip your Champagne by the bathtub! See www.noctis.com and www.netevents.be for up-to-date listings of parties.
Live popular music has always been a particular strong point for Brussels and there are half a dozen well-established venues that bring in big-name acts on a regular basis and provide a forum for all styles of music, from jazz to reggae. Classical music also has outlets in the capital and, along with theatre productions, tend to be hosted in the city’s classier venues. Tickets for most events can either be bought online, at FNAC newsagents (City 2, Rue Neuve; www.fnac.be; open: 10am–7pm Monday–Saturday, 10am–8pm Friday), or through the tourist information centre on Place Royale.
Bars offering live music include: L’Archiduc (Rue Antoine Dansaert 6; www.archiduc.net) an Art-Deco darling that has hosted the likes of Nat King Cole and Miles Davis and still offers early-evening concerts in winter; Sounds Jazz Club (Rue de la Tulipe 28; www.soundsjazzclub.be) which books some of the genre’s best talents to perform almost every night of the week; Bizon (Rue du Pont de la Carpe 7; www.cafebizon.com) a cosy blues and rock bar with live performers every night of the week and jamming sessions on Mondays; and Music Village (Rue des Pierres 50; www.themusicvillage.com) a well-known jazz club located in two 17th-century townhouses sat just behind the old Bourse stock exchange– concerts start at 9pm.
Theatre and concerts
Brussels’s two leading concert halls are: Flagey (Place Sainte-Croix; www.flagey.be) Ixelles’s famous Art Deco building which offers an eclectic mix of jazz, classical and contemporary music concerts, and Théâtre de la Monnaie (Place de la Monnaie; www.lamonnaie.be) the infamous opera house - site of the Belgian’s break for independence in August 1830.
Its two main theatres are: the National (Boulevard Emile Jacqmain 111–115; www.theatrenational.be) and the Royal Flemish Theatre (Rue de Laeken 146; www.kvs.be) that produce classical high-brow performances. In addition to this, there are several companies that run contemporary (often wacky) productions, including the Théâtre de la Toison d’Or (www.theatredelatoisondor.be) and Théâtre Varia (www.varia.be), and the Théâtre Royal de Toone (Impasse Schuddeveld 6; www.toone.be) run puppet-show performances of Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet in the Bruxellois dialect. The majority of plays are performed in French and Dutch, but look out for the occasional show in English in the Brussels Unlimited events magazine.
Cinema is popular in the capital and films range from the latest blockbusters in multi-screen complexes to art-house classics shown in small traditional theatres. The majority of mainstream films are likely to be shown in English (check the listing features the (VO) version originale code alongside it) with Dutch and French subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Dubbed films will bear the code (VF) version française, and if subtitles have been added look for the (ST) code. For mainstream Hollywood movies opt for: the 27-screen Kinepolis (Brupark, Boulevard du Centenaire 20; www.kinepolis.com), or 12-screen UGC De Brouckère (Place de Brouckère; tel: 0900 10 400). For something a bit different try: Musée du Cinema (Rue Baron Horta 9; www.cinematique.be) a two-room cinema under the Palais des Beaux Arts, which shows silent movies (accompanied by a live pianist), old black-and-whites and modern cult films. There’s a schedule posted outside.