Brussels is a city where thousands of people come on a business trip, spend a day or two in the glassy institutional European quarter and then stigmatise it as being boring and unattractive. But Brussels is essentially different from this widely-shared perception. It has its well hidden, private, enchanting side. And a part of it happens to be underground. Bars, restaurants and even a theatre lead their enigmatic existence in numerous caves like a secret, which the city is prepared to share only with those who have the unprejudiced mind and curiosity to truly get to know it.
The readers of this article should belong to this category. So here we go.
The couple of tables one sees from outside at 9 Rue des Pigeons suggest this wine bar is a tiny charming place. Simple and romantic. The passers-by might never guess that the name comes for a reason. Under the petite space, a large cave accommodates an elegant restaurant offering a list of exquisite dishes, a rich wine selection and indeed romantic atmosphere. The discreet light contributes to it.
Just behind the corner of Les Caves du Sablon at 16 rue de la Samaritaine is Theatre La Samaritaine, a legendary place in Brussels cultural life. A small door and a couple of steps down lead to the corridor-like bar. Once again, there is no hint of what awaits the visitors a few steps further – a spacy pub with long wooden tables and benches which ends with a stage. Theatre performances and jazz concerts fill the agenda and crowd the space almost every night. It is advisable that you book your tickets in advance as usually on the eve they are sold out. The bar, along with the usual drinks, offers its special cocktails, which make perfect combination with the quality programme.
The Russian restaurant Les Nouveaux Russes is in the same neighbourhood, in Rue Haute 4. Its elegance, differently arranged corners, including sofas with small pillows, table and wall lamps and lampions, heavy decoration in Russian style and menu of specialities provide for a different and enjoyable experience.
Judging by the simple label and the even more plain entrance of Barrio Café in Place de la Chapelle 6, one would never guess that this is a trendy bar in disguise. This large but cosy place hosts thematic parties and events that will take you to a parallel world to the city daily business.
Hortense Spirits & Cocktails is an exclusive place. The potted candles at 7 Rue des Sablon, which discreetly indicate of its existence, the stony gate, the tunnel, the soft light in the stairs, the heavy red curtain…every step prepares the visitor for a special, intimate experience. Or at least for the right setting for it. And they don’t mislead. Small, yet offering comfort and private spaces, relaxing while exciting, candle-lightened…Hortense is all that. The exquisite cocktails with seductive names and the long list of whiskies and bourbons add their touch to the promise of time beyond time.
There are many more places which comprise this exceptional underground world of the city beneath the city. The ones, presented here, however, give an idea of how Brussels could be. Inspirational, creative, exciting. Welcoming those who have followed their instinct, suggesting that there was more to it than the glassy buildings and complex politics. Celebrating the different dimensions of reality and the curiosity of the true explorers.