Drinking in Brussels, as in the rest of the country, is a joy. The city has an enormous variety of bars and cafés. Sumptuous Art Nouveau bars sit alongside swanky, Parisian-style, terraced cafés; traditional drinking dens with ceilings stained by a century's smoke nestle next to hi-tech cyber bars; and speciality beer bars offer hundreds of different types of ale.
The city's bars are concentrated mostly in the centre : around the Grand-Place, Bourse and the place St Géry. Recently, the area has seen a proliferation of trendy bars in which the fashion-conscious youth of Brussels drink beer, cocktails and flavoured vodkas until the wee small hours. When the weather allows, crowds spill on to the terraces and streets, making for an amazingly upbeat ambience.
Although the Upper Town doesn't have as much to offer, there is a number of smoky, velour-furnished bars near the Toison d'Or shopping area, on the chaussée de Charleroi. Venturing out of the petit ring can also be worthwhile, especially if you head to laid-back Ixelles or St Gilles , where you'll find a selection of fashionable bars and cafés and an almost inexhaustible supply of small local hangouts. The EU quarter around place Schuman also offers a decent selection of watering holes, the majority of them Irish or British pubs.
Belgians make little or no distinction between bars and cafés , and the two words tend to be used interchangeably; most bars serve food, and practically all cafés serve beer and other types of alcohol - cafés often have a terrace, but then again so do many bars.
As opening hours in Brussels are not officially restricted, bars and cafés can stay open as long as they want, usually until the last soaks slide out. In practice, most close around 2am, although at the weekend it's often much later.
Prices for drinks can vary hugely depending on where you are. As a general rule you pay over the odds for the privilege of drinking around the Grand-Place, though not necessarily in the streets around it. If you're paying more than ?2.50 for a beer, you're paying too much. Spirits are relatively expensive, and a gin and tonic can cost you between ?3.50 and ?4, though the measures are often generous. There's a good selection of reasonably priced wines (especially white and red Burgundy) available by the bottle or glass. Food is served in most places, ranging from sandwiches and croques monsieurs , to more exotic fare.
Clubs and live music
After a slow start, club culture seems to have finally taken hold in Brussels. The city has a number of established meccas playing anything from acid and techno beats to deep house, including the throbbing Fuse with its regular line-up of big-name house DJs, to the sassy Who's Who Land, which often sees crowds of over 1500 and attracts people from as far away as Paris and Amsterdam.
Most venues are in the Lower Town , especially in the area between place St Géry and the Manneken Pis, and in the scruffily hip Marolles quarter just southeast of the Grand-Place. The Upper Town has a only few offerings of its own, and there are a couple of places beyond the petit ring that are worth the trip. If you do venture out of the centre, don't forget that the public transport system finishes at 12.30am and starts up again at 5.30am, so you may have to get a taxi home. Night buses are fairly infrequent.
As a general rule, clubs are open Thursday to Saturday from 11pm until as late as 6am, but it is possible to club every night. Entry prices are fairly low: you rarely have to pay more than ?10, and many of the smaller clubs have no cover charge at all, although men have to tip the bouncer a nominal fee (?1.25 or so) on the way out.
The cost of drinks varies depending on where you are, although shorts and cocktails are expensive across the board. If you're on a limited budget it's worth remembering that the bars which morph into clubs on a weekend, such as Le Sud and L'Acrobat , tend to have cheaper drinks than ordinary clubs.
Although the city just about holds its own on the club scene, Brussels fares extremely well as a place to catch live music . The capital has a vibrant jazz scene, with many bars, both in the centre and on the outskirts, playing host to local and international acts. Jazz buffs in particular will be pleased to learn that live jazz has been popular in Brussels since the 1920s - a tradition kept alive today by small atmospheric venues such as Sounds and L'Archiduc , and by the annual Brussels Jazz Festival - widely regarded as being one of the best in Europe.
Unfortunately the local rock and indie scene isn't particularly kicking, although if you are prepared to go off the beaten track you can still catch some excellent live music at the Fool Moon, Magasin 4 and VK . The good news for mainstream gig-goers is that Brussels is a regular stop on the European tours of major and up-and-coming artists. The biggest gigs are held in Forest National , although many medium-sized gigs are held in Le Botanique, Cirque Royal and Ancienne Belgique . It's also worth considering going to one of the music festivals held regularly outside Brussels, which usually attract a good line-up of rock bands mixed with dance DJs. The Torhout-Werchter Festival, held in early July, is the biggest.
For listings of concerts and events, check the What's On section of the weekly Bulletin or the Wednesday pull-out section of Le Soir . Flyers for most clubs and raves can be picked up in the trendy bars and cafés in the centre, particularly in the Beursschouwburg - which also has its own events list - Zebra , and Au Soleil . Tickets for most concerts are available from Fnac in the City 2 complex, on rue Neuve (tel 02 209 22 11), or from the booking office at the tourist office on the Grand-Place.
The performing arts and film
Despite its reputation as the grey city of Europe, when it comes to the city's cultural scene, Brussels answers, if not confounds, its critics. Domestic talent flourishes, particularly in the theatre , which has nurtured a new generation of young playwrights, including Philippe Blasand and Jean-Marie Piemme. The modern dance scene is alive and well; one of its major exponents Wim van Dekëybus, artist in residence at Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwberg, has gained international acclaim for his cutting-edge choreography. Despite serious underfunding over recent years, classical music remains strong - the Orchestre National de Belgique continues to thrive under Yuri Simonov, and a number of excellent classical music festivals and concerts is organized by the Philharmonic Society. Sadly, despite Belgians being avid cinema-goers, home-grown film-makers seem something of an endangered species, though, more promisingly, there is a number of first-rate film festivals.
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