Many Brussels residents love their city. This is certainly the case for young writer Stephane Lambert, who has just published two books about the Belgian capital. Bruxelles et l’amour (2005) details love stories in Brussels over the ages, and Bruxelles. Identités plurielles (2006) is a study of the diversity of the city.
“Visitors’ first impression of Brussels is always negative. I admit that there is room for improvement - the public transport system is terrible. But this modest city shouldn’t be judged on first impressions.” Stephane Lambert defends his city with passion: “There is something special about the place that makes it different. Although many would disagree, I think the city is a lot more exciting than Paris – thanks to individual initiatives more than political measures.”
A Cultural Laboratory
Stephan Lambert has recently been appointed general manager of the ‘Maison du Spectacle – La Bellone’ (46 Rue de Flandre). This cultural centre is a performance, cultural activity and tourist information space and is definitely worth a visit. The Bellone Café is the perfect place to enjoy a drink afterwards.
Stephane Lambert emphasises the cultural energy of the city. “Our theatre is excellent - Brussels is a great centre for dramatic art and dance. There are regular art exhibitions all over the city. We have the biggest film library in the world and a really good museum of contemporary art,” he adds.
Lambert takes us to Saint-Gilles to illustrate the cultural richness of the city. This district does not feature in many tourist guides, despite its close proximity to the city centre. Most tourists visit the house of Victor Horta, a founding father of art nouveau, and its adjacent museum. Few explore the surrounding areas and meet artists and immigrant communities from Portugal, Spain and, more recently, the Maghreb. “The houses here are very affordable, but it is difficult to buy anything here due to property speculation over the last five years,” comments the young writer.
Lambert recommends a stop at the Art Deco style café ‘La Porteuse d’Eau’ (48a Avenue Jean Volders, Saint-Gilles). Then you can head to the Saint-Gilles church where eating out is great value. Why not try a Moroccan couscous, or a meal at ‘La Brasserie Verschueren’ or ‘Le café de l’Union’? If you’re there in the morning, you can visit the lively market any day of the week. Not far you can find the fountain and the luxurious town hall, the ‘Hotel de Ville’ (39 Place van Meenen).
If Lambert had to pick one street in Brussels as his favourite, it would be Rue Jef Lambeaux. A good place to grab a beer is ‘Chez Moeder Lambeaux’ (68 rue de Savoie), where there are over a thousand different varieties!
Ixelles boasts great culture and nightlife. Let’s drop in at the Café Belga (Place Eugene Flagey Plein), an important venue for gigs. “It’s full of young people, and I feel very at home there. If only they’d get the works in the square finished – they’ve been doing them for ages!”
“It might sound cliché, but it’s true. The Belgian are passionate about gastronomy. Although some restaurants are pretty mediocre, others are excellent.” Thai restaurants are becoming increasingly fashionable. “It’s strange, Thai restaurants are popping up all over the place where Chinese restaurants used to be. I guess they attract more customers!” The writer recommends ‘Tom Yam’ (341 Chaussée de Boondael), where the quality-price ratio is good. He also suggests a Japanese restaurant called ‘Yamayu Santatsu’ (141 Chaussée d’Ixelles), where “you often see Japanese people eating, which is always a good sign.”
Partying in the cemetery
Well, OK, next to the cemetery. Every night students party in Brussels’ university quarter, right next to Ixelles cemetery. “Brussels is full of students, many studying at one of our many art schools. A lot of them choose to stay here after they finish their studies.” Partying begins in the Place de Boondael. “There’s something going on every evening, unlike other areas of Brussels where people only go out at night from Thursday onwards.”
In the Dansaert district, the gay quarter that surrounds Rue Antoine Dansaert, our guide raves about ‘Dirty Dancing’ (38 Chaussée de Louvain) just off Place Madou. Monthly gay night are hosted at the heterosexual club ‘Le Fuse’ (208 Rue Blaes) and ‘Le Cabaret’ (1 Galerie Louise), three spots in the city’s abundant nightlife scene. Zone 02, a free publication, will keep you up to date with the rest of the city’s cultural and nocturnal events.
Written in Brussels with the collaboration of Vanessa Witkowski and Graziella Jost.
Photos by Marc Serena.