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 February issue. LA FLEUR EN PAPIER DORÉ
The lovely Fleur en Papier Doré is one of the city’s oldest cafés. Three little rooms in this dark artists’ bar are crammed with odd objects, including an iron stove, oil paintings and a dusty South African parrot. Order a bowl of onion soup and a Belgian beer and you can forget about winter for a while.
Not many people know about the sleepy Place de la Liberté in the heart of the government district. Shaded by ancient Caucasian walnut trees, it’s a nostalgic 19th-century urban spot that has so far survived the developers. The grand houses around the square were originally built for the country’s élite, including the fabulously rich Edouard Empain, whose bank financed the construction of the Paris metro and the Cairo district of Heliopolis. Now the square is home to an Italian ice cream salon, a cool café and an escape room.
Place de La Liberté, Government Quarter
Founded by Marc Filipson in 1983, Filigranes has evolved into one of the world’s largest bookshops. The sprawling store on the edge of the EU district has sections dedicated to fiction, art, travel and international magazines, along with a bright literary café where you can sit with a Ponti espresso coffee while someone plays the piano.
Anarchist filmmaker Jan Bucquoy has been making mischief in Belgium since he filmed his semi-autobiographical La Vie Sexuelle des Belges in 1994. He has organised several unsuccessful coup d’états, founded the Belgian Underpants Museum and annoyed Hergé’s widow with his comic book parody of La vie sexuelle de Tintin. He now sells framed underpants of famous Belgians and signed copies of his erotic Tintin pictures in a gallery in the Marolles.
The tiny Parc Faider is one of the city’s most hidden green spots. A passage leads from the street into a small park with ancient trees, some benches and a playground. Forgotten for many years, the park is currently being restored by a group of local residents as a space for urban initiatives, recycling and pop-up events. But it’s also just a friendly place to meet the neighbours.
Rue Faider 86, Ixelles
BELGA & CO
Antwerp coffee roaster Charly Meerbergen hit the right note with his first Belga & Co coffee bar in the Rue du Bailli. One year on, he opened a second outlet in an Art Nouveau town house in the Saint Boniface district. Furnished with vintage tables and wooden bookshelves, it has the same relaxed mood as the original. The team behind the counter offer the best Latin American coffee, along with fresh croissants, cookies and lunchtime sandwiches served in brown paper bags.
This cavernous bar on two levels is located in an old industrial building near the canal. It’s furnished in a rugged rustic style with massive wood tables, low lamps and ancient metal stools. Not the most comfortable spot in town, but it attracts trendy locals with tasty Japanese food, craft ales from Brussels Beer Project and live bands.
Rue d’Alost 7-11, Dansaert Quarter +0476 84 12 86, kumiko.be
Located in a quiet street off Avenue Louise, Hygge is an inspiring low-cost hotel designed by Michel Penneman. He has merged an old Brussels town house with a drab office building to create a contemporary urban nest inspired by snug Danish hygge. The hotel has a roomy lounge, grand staircase and bathrooms decorated with vintage tiles. The perfect Brussels base to recommend to your friends.
Rue des Drapiers 31-33, Ixelles +32 (0)2 274 28 00, hyggehotel.be
One of the city’s most secret spaces, the Horta Gallery is hidden away inside Central Station. Closed for many decades, it was recently renovated as a shopping arcade, but failed to attract many people. Now it has been reinvented as a cool music venue called C12. With space for almost 2,000 guests, it is starting to attract music fans from across Belgium with its programme of DJ concerts and art events. The aim ultimately is to create a museum dedicated to Brussels, but until that happens, this is a great music venue with a cool northern European vibe. Events are listed on Facebook.
Rue du Marché aux Herbes 116, Central Brussels
RUE BREDERODE 10
No name. Nothing. The strange wooden building at Rue Brederode 10 is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Built for King Leopold II in 1906, it was modelled on a Norwegian chalet he had admired at the 1899 Paris Universal Exhibition. Leopold briefly ruled his vast African colony from a small office inside this eccentric hideaway. But the only clue is the star of the Congo Free State, repeated five times, on the façade.