Derek Blyth is the 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 September issue.
Founded back in 1888 by Louis Verscheuren, this café used to brew its own beers. It’s a friendly local spot with a mix of older locals, students and young professionals. The cafe has kept its gorgeous interior dating from the 1930s, including the tiled floor, plain wood furniture and old football scoreboard. The perfect place to stop off for a bowl of homemade soup and an authentic local beer.
Parvis de Saint-Gilles 11-13, Saint-Gilles
Café Pastel opened its doors last summer in a space that was until recently occupied by the restaurant Et Qui Va Ramener le Chien? The owners have transformed it into a relaxed Nordic-style café with a terrace furnished with wooden benches and cushions. They have also brought some vitality to the ancient cobbled Rue Rollebeek by organising Aperollebeek afterwork drinks on Thursday evenings and stringing lamps across the street, making it the perfect new hotspot to take your friends from out of town.
Rue Rollebeek, Sablon
This is a new spot to eat out in the lively Place de Londres neighbourhood where you can pick up a drink and nibble some tapas. Based on a concept launched in Marseilles, it also serves as a local delicatessen with tall wooden shelves lined with tins to take home. And you might even find a group playing jazz when you drop by in the evening.
They started with a coffee shop on Rue du Bailli. Now Belga & Co have opened a new coffee bar in the Place Boniface quarter. Just a few steps from the almost car-free Chaussée d’Ixelles, it’s a relaxed spot to drop in for one of the best coffees in town, made with beans from an Antwerp roastery. You can sit in an interior with high ceilings or perch outside on a round metal stool.
Most Art Nouveau tours focus on the extravagant town houses built by Victor Horta, but the city is dotted with more modest houses designed by Ernest Blérot. You find a fabulous cluster of 12 of his creations dating from 1900 in the St Boniface neighbourhood. Take a stroll on a Saturday morning to look at the houses around St Boniface church. You can easily spot the typical Blérot elements including turrets, gables, sgraffito panels and loggias, all in need of some gentle restoration.
Rue Ernest Solvay / Rue St Boniface, Ixelles
This convivial family-run bakery in the heart of the Matonge has been around since 1912. The neighbourhood is dominated by shops selling hair extensions and companies shipping boxes to Kinshasa, but this feels more like a Parisian café. It’s the perfect address to sit with a book and a coffee at a little round marble-topped table. They also sell delicious home-made chocolates.
Chaussée de Wavre 111, Ixelles Tel 02 514 30 17
The plant people at Agave moved location a few months back into a beautiful interior across the street. Here they sell stylish potted plants to help you create your own urban jungle, as well as books, gardening tools and advice on nurturing your plant.
The city’s street artists often work in strange places, but it takes some nerve to create a mural in a sewer tunnel. The Brussels artist Parole showed how it is done when he produced a bold work in a long underground tunnel linked to the sewer museum. Titled Collecteur des Traces, the work is composed of words taken from stories told by local sewer workers. Until 6 October.
With its avenues, roundabouts and enamel street signs, Ixelles Cemetery feels like a small town. It’s a fascinating place to wander if you are interested in funeral architecture, romantic sculpture or rare wildlife. Buried here are Victor Horta, Constantin Meunier and Ernest Solvay. Look out, too, for the strange gravestone of Surrealist artist Marcel Broodthaers decorated with mysterious symbols including a pipe and a palm tree.
Chaussée de Boondael 478, 1050 Ixelles
HOME MOVIE FACTORY
Having toured 15 cities since it launched in 2008, the amateur film-making project Home Movie Factory arrived last May in the new Kanal art centre. Curated by French film director Michel Gondry, the project allows anyone to create a film on an actual movie set. Professional staff accompany your group during the three-hour session to teach the skills of screenplay writing, lighting and filming. There are several film sets waiting for you to shoot your very own horror movie or romcom, including a vintage video store, a campsite and a bar. It’s free and very friendly. You just need to book a weekend slot.