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 issue.
A new comic book mural was recently unveiled on a side street in Ixelles. Covering the entire side wall of a 19th century town house, the mural is based on a double page spread in the album “Spirou and the Leopard Woman” (Spirou et la femme leopard) by Schwartz and Yann. Inspired by the original Spirou tales, it shows a scene in Brussels just after the Second World War with a “leopard woman” being chased across the rooftops. Details include an old city tram, the Moustic Hotel and a starry night sky.
Rue de la Croix 9, Ixelles
Rue Haute 64, Marolles www.atelierenville.be
ATELIER EN VILLE
Housed in a former factory in the Marolles, Atelier en Ville has developed into one of the coolest spots in town. The raw industrial space is occupied by a huge café with long wooden tables and a designer furniture workshop where you can order custom-made tables. A metal staircase leads up to two clothes stores – Garçon for men and Fille for women – located in small rooms with bare brick walls. There’s also a hidden garden at the back.
BELGE UNE FOIS
Two young graphic designers from Brussels recently opened a crowdfunded concept store in the heart of the Marolles where they sell quirky objects with a Belgian twist. They stock an inspiring range of art cards, jewellery, notebooks, posters and lamps. They have also created a little Fifties-style bar at the back where you can drink a Belgian beer.
Rue Haute 103, Marolles www.belgeunefois.com
Founded by two art lovers, Maison Particulière organises sublime exhibitions in an elegant Ixelles town house. The aim is to show works from private collections in a relaxed setting, more like a private house than a gallery. You are invited to sit on the sofas, play the piano and even help yourself from a box of Dandoy biscuits. The current exhibition on taboo in art features two copulating deer by Wim Delvoye, nude photographs by Robert Mapelthorpe and some formerly forbidden novels to browse.
Rue du Châtelain 49,Ixelles www.maisonparticuliere.be
Transport minister Pascale Smet has abandoned plans to replace bus 71 with a tram. Instead, he wants to run a more frequent bus service, so you may be less squashed as you take one of the most interesting public transport trips in the city, past Place Royale, the African district and the Ixelles ponds. The eccentric Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb once claimed that bus 71 was one of her main sources of inspiration.
Here is a lively new place to eat dim sum opposite the Eglise de la Trinité. The interior is noisy and bustling, with red and black furniture, graphic art on the walls and elegant Japanese ceramic bowls. The menu lists various soups and noodle dishes, but the main thing to try is dim sum filled with soup. A fun place to stop off for lunch on a tour of Ixelles art nouveau or Rue du Bailli design shops.
Parvis de la Trinité 11, Ixelles
PLACE FERNAND COCQ
More good news for pedestrians. The lively Place Fernand Cocq is to become car-free under a bold new plan announced by Ixelles commune. The square already has an appealing Belgian character, with a mix of cafés, restaurants and local shops, but Brussels transport minister Pascale Smet believes the new plan will “create a more authentic identity in the heart of Ixelles”.
TOUCAN SUR MER
Most Brussels restaurants are quiet places where anything more than a quiet whisper is considered vulgar. But Toucan sur Mer can get as lively as a London restaurant on busy nights. The kitchen staff put together huge platters of fresh seafood, including sublime oysters from the Atlantic coast and little grey shrimps scooped from the North Sea. The white walls and plain wood furniture add to the seaside mood.
Some of the most gorgeous scenes in Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl were shot in Brussels. Not just to benefit from Belgian tax breaks, but because of the city’s “feminine” Art Nouveau architecture. One scene takes place in the spectacular café A la Mort Subite designed in 1910 by Paul Hamesse. Other locations include the Horta Museum, the Galeries Saint Hubert and the Parc de Bruxelles.
Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7, Central Brussels Tel 02 512 86 64
Turn off that phone now. “Real life happens at night in cafés,” insists Edmond Cocquyt. He should know. He has walked the streets of Brussels to create a map that shows almost all the cafés in town. The map pinpoints all 1,251 drinking spots in the city centre and surrounding communes, ranging from local dives where you find yourself squeezed next to an Elvis fan with a ragged dog to hipster bars in the Dansaert district. The free map can be found lying around in most cafés, unless the dog has eaten it.