Downtown Brussels is changing fast. But there are still some old places that have kept their authentic Brussels charm. Café Monk is one of them.
This handsome old Brussels bar has been around for decades. It is decorated with wood panelling, mirrors and a grand piano. The panelled back room has survived untouched, as has the cour, or back courtyard, where you find the toilets.
No one could believe it back in 2012 when Monk closed down. It was a Belgian institution. But like many Belgian institutions, it got into financial problems. Time to pull down the shutters, the owners decided.
It could so easily have been lost forever. But Monk was taken over by a young team. They turned the back room into an intimate restaurant serving huge portions of spaghetti. The bar food also improved. You can order a plate of Orval abbey cheese, a tasty meatball served with mustard, or an assortment described in local dialect as een bekke vanalles, a little bit of everything.
The beer list has also been given a makeover to include unusual names you don’t get everywhere. They have Chimay blond on tap. They have the utterly distrinctive Geuze Oud Beersel in bottles. They even have an IPA called Non Peut-Être. No, but Maybe. How very Belgian.
The bar is popular with the young Flemish crowd who hang out in this neighbourhood. But it also has its regulars who can remember back to the days when it was called A la Couronne. And you also get a smattering of tourists speaking Spanish or Finnish or whatever.
It’s like a microcosm of Brussels. Een bekke vanalles, you might want to say.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.