Derek Blyth is the former editor of The Bulletin and author of the bestselling The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels. He picks out ten of his favourite hidden secrets in every issue for The Brussels Times Magazine. These are the picks in the latest February/March issue.
Two local barmen have set up a sublime little cocktail bar in a romantic cobbled street off the Sablon. It occupies a hidden 16th century brick building that was originally an inn. The interior has been turned into a relaxed candlelit space with quiet jazz playing in the background. Alexis Mosselmans works behind the bar mixing inventive cocktails with unexpected twists. Smile nicely and he might pass you the secret code that gets you into the hidden speakeasy.
Rue de Rollebeek 7, Sablon
+32 (0)2 511 95 17
Pim Thomas stocks his favourite new releases in this cool Marolles record shop. This is the place to discover emerging Belgian bands you won’t easily find anywhere else, along with an eclectic range of international music. Music fans hang around here listening to vinyl discs, chatting about finds and drinking coffee.
Rue Blaes 146, Marolles
Named after a postwar art movement, Cobra Bar has been around for more than 25 years. It’s a quiet place for a serious drink with a hidden upstairs den furnished with old sofas and dim lamps. Most of the customers are Flemish, but you can hear a dozen languages being spoken on a busy night.
Rue des Chartreux 1, Dansaert district
+32 (0)473 54 30 61, www.cobrabar.be
Head down to Bozar to check out the new art bookshop designed by Ghent architects Robbrecht & Daem. It’s run by art publisher Walter König, who already manages sleek stores in art galleries across Europe, including Whitechapel Gallery in London, the Nationalgalerie in Berlin and the Stedelijke in Amsterdam. The Brussels shop sells beautiful art books, along with exhibition catalogues, photo books, novels, design objects and toys.
Rue Ravenstein 23, Central Brussels
Here is a fabulous little shop in the heart of the Marolles where you can find some really odd things. It’s run by a woman from Nantes called Pauline Rauzy who posted a fun video on Facebook charting her search for the perfect Brussels location. Having found the place of her dreams, she has turned it into a retro emporium filled with tin toy cars, art postcards and limited edition Japanese art books.
Rue des Renards 8, Marolles
+32 (0)2 502 88 61, www.heyday.be
Forced out of its old premises, the travellers’ café Via Via was homeless in 2016 for a few months. But it finally found a new home in a striking industrial space. The interior has a bare, functional look, with rough brick walls, metal chairs and huge windows. Yet it’s a friendly spot to stop for a drink among a mixed crowd of tourists and Dansaert quarter locals.
Quai aux Briques 74, Central Brussels
+32 (0)472 03 55 77, www.viavia.brussels
This stylish shop is aimed at people who want a bike that creates a bit of a buzz. The friendly owner assembles customised vintage bikes based on parts supplied Belgian brand Achielle. You choose absolutely everything, from the colour of the saddle to the bell.
Place du Jeu de Balle 6, Marolles
+32 (0)2 502 31 29, www.bikkenek.be
Constantin Erinkoglou left his EU job in 1995 to set up a small restaurant serving Greek food. He wanted to prove that contemporary Greek cooking can be just as sophisticated as French or Italian. He now serves fantastic modern Greek food in a bare Nordic interior, with wooden furniture and white table cloths. Specialities include Santorini fava with dried tomatoes and capers, and slow cooked lamb with spices.
Rue de Livourne 154, Ixelles
+32 (0) 513 29 59, www.notos.be
This corner coffee bar opened recently on the Chaussée de Charleroi. Friendly owners Julien and Olivia have decorated the interior in a relaxed Scandinavian style with bare brick walls, pale wood tables and tree trunk stools. As well as great coffee, they serve up organic quiches, sandwiches and cheesecake.
Chaussée de Charleroi 179, Saint-Gilles
Nina Bodenhorst creates original leather handbags using hides selected from a local Belgian tannery. She also designs menu holders, leather aprons and place mats for upmarket local restaurants such as Bozar Brasserie and Bon-Bon. You can check out her latest creations in her downtown Brussels atelier and shop.
Rue de Laeken 86, Central Brussels
+32 (0)2 219 20 74, www.niyona.be
By Derek Blyth