Perfect Night? (Belgium part deux)
There are things that young people can get away with, and old people cannot. Being shoeless in a public place is probably one of them, yet the woman at the bar was perched on a stool, wrapped in a blanket, wearing a skirt that was slightly too revealing and no shoes. Her 'partner' leaned into her like he may have been having trouble standing. We had no such troubles - this was our first venture into a Brussels bar. It was 3pm.
Choosing the first bar you see is never likely to be the wisest choice, but we had ventured out of the hotel, held our map in various different positions to determine which direction to go in and simply turned around (crossing the road a second time) to go into the bar behind us.
The hi-energy electro music playing within has only now suggested to me that it may have been a gay bar, if so they were the ugliest gay men (and a couple of women) that I've ever seen. The clientele were mostly men, mostly wearing leather jackets and mostly talking about us. Naturally we had no way of understanding them but we were able to order some beers.
As I was soon to discover, Belgium is the capital of beer. I recall not what I was drinking but that it was high in alcohol content, a factor that leads most Belgian beers to be served in halves. A few photos, a bit of banter and some stares from the locals and we were leaving our first bar never to return. This was one sentence that could've summed up the entire trip.
Staggering vaguely towards the centre of town I was allowing myself to be led by those who'd been before, even though some 15 years had passed for some of them. Consequently we passed a couple of bakeries, a number of gift shops and no more than three pubs before our second drink was required. It probably wasn't 4pm.
A corner bar in Brussels The Danish Tavern had an interesting, laid-back ambience. We were able to sit in the window, watching the world go by and drinking beer whilst asking the owner directions to the next pub - he didn't seem offended.
Our travel guide for the tour was a copy of 'The Good Beer Guide, Belgium' an informative tome listing all the best beers and the pubs to buy them in. It was guiding us to the CafÃÂ© Delirium a three storey beer emporium offering a choice of some 2,000 ales - a feat that had earned it a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
We descended into the basement where, despite the reasonably early hour of the day, we were to witness a fairly full house and a ceiling full of beer trays. A request at the bar for copies of the beer 'menu' was rewarded by the provision of a book about as thick as the average bible, war & peace or the last Harry Potter novel. It proved to be something of a 'bible of beer' listing all the varieties on offer with a description/biography and a photo.
We probably spent ten minutes reading the thing before we were ready to order. Naturally I'd had Belgian fruit flavoured beers before, they're widely available in the UK, but I had yet to come across a 'coconut' beer - and being a big fan of the furry nut it was the obvious choice. White and foamy, and delivered in an imitation half-coconut shell it was clearly the cause of a little mirth but it tasted pretty good.
We stayed in the corner of the basement, never venturing into the light of the upstairs bars, for a few hours. I have little idea how many ales were consumed but, even with the five of us making different choices, we made little dent in the apparently 2,000 on offer. I recall a 'pink destroyer' in a tall glass, tasting a little like grapefruit, but the others were to merge into one. When we eventually headed back to the hotel to 'freshen-up' it was dark outside.
As we were blokes abroad 'freshening up' took around 30 minutes, and only that long as two sets were sharing rooms. We then headed back towards the Impasse de la FidÃÂ©litÃÂ© for another Delirium session, but also as we'd seen many restaurants in the adjoining street. It was one of those streets where 'greeters' are employed to guide you into one restaurant or another, offering all kinds of delights and special treats to entice your custom.
Naturally we opted for one of the cheap three-course affairs, mostly because the 'greeter' had offered us a free beer to start and brandy to finish. We didn't get a sniff of the brandy but by the time we'd seen three courses we were keen to get back to the beer. The bar staff seemed to be avoiding us (possibly in order to avoid giving us brandy) so we sent our loudest individual to get the bill.
Lloyd's volume is obvious (in more ways than one) to all who encounter him and he strode towards the bar proclaiming that he wanted "LE CHAT". The Belgian barman was slightly bemused but Lloyd's English companions were falling about the place and soon everyone joined us - as you would if someone loudly asked for "THE CAT" in your local bar.
This time at Delirium we went up instead of down, to the Hoppy Loft and yet more beer. As I have the receipt I know that we had at least two Bon Voeux Dupont IV, one of the house Delirium Tremens and two of the Floris Kriek (cherry for those who don't know).
After a few hours, more piss-taking (occasionally involving cats, and muskrats) and even more beers we were joined by a large party of young people - who seemed intent upon making as much noise as possible dragging chairs and tables across the wooden floors to create a large group. Naturally we imitated them by scraping our own chairs and tables around but I'm not entirely sure they noticed.
Across the Impasse stood one of Delirium's sister bars, The Floris into which we stumbled in wonder at their 350 different kinds of absinthe. A round of caramel flavour (if I recall correctly) went down quite well as we propped ourselves against the wall.
Bizarrely the soundtrack seemed to be the greatest hits of Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground, songs I'm more than familiar with, and as 'Perfect Day' hit its rhythm so we all joined in - to be accompanied by numerous Belgians and other nationalities, who even applauded us at the end. It may have been our finest performance but soon we were to 'reap just what we sew'.
The cherry absinth was not as greatly received, thus we headed towards home stopping briefly in the CafÃÂ© Why for further beers and a Leffe - a beer we all enjoy in the UK but had yet to try on its home-turf. At some point in the Why we lost Biss, who had clearly decided that bed was a better option than more beer. As we went back to join him and re-entered the hotel we encountered a new florid receptionist, as obnoxious as the one we'd met about eleven hours earlier.
He was ranting at us practically as soon as we'd got through the door. Our crime appeared to be that we'd neglected to give him a copy of Biss's passport, punishable by death it appeared. We may have been gently mocking him by this point but he informed us sombrely that the police often come around in the middle of the night and want to see the passports of the hotel guests.
This still seems absurd for an EU country but we'd clearly inflamed his ire, though perhaps not as greatly as that of Biss - whom we had to drag out of bed, passport in hand to the lobby. If there's ever a championship for passport-tossing then Biss may be in with a better chance of winning it than the senior rugby games he regularly appears in.
We retired to bed, leaving Lloyd continuing the argument or trying to calm the angry-man down. Or they may have been discussing Belgian cats.
To be continued (again).