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Brussels often seems to be lagging a good decade behind the times on gay politics - the city's first gay and lesbian pride event wasn't held until 1996. However, though Brussels can hardly be described as a gay capital like Amsterdam, the actual gay scene is reasonably well-developed, with a decent selection of gay bars, clubs and restaurants.

The area just south of the Bourse remains the centre of the action, particularly in the triangle between rue des Pierres, rue du Marché au Charbon, and rue St Géry, which is the closest the capital has to a designated gay quarter. Although many bars in this area aren't specifically gay, no one will bat an eyelid if a gay couple walks in. Gay venues have also been establishing themselves in the Ste Catherine district and around rue des Bouchers, close to place de la Monnaie. The lesbian scene , however, continues to remain cloistered. Although a few venues welcome both gays and lesbians equally, there are very few lesbian-only nightspots in the city.

Listings of gay and lesbian events, and a number of useful addresses, can be obtained from Tels Quels, who also organize events such as the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival held every January at the Botanique. Queensize , a publication readily available in most bars, lists gay bars, shops and services in most major Belgian cities; email for more details. An informative English-language website for listings is .

The city's many gay associations include Égalité (tel 02 295 98 87) which, as its name suggests, has a political slant and lobbies the powers that be for equal rights for gays and lesbians, whereas Infor Homo (tel 02 733 10 24), and the student equivalent Cercle Homosexuel étudiant (tel 02 650 25 40), both organize regular nights out and gay activity programmes. There are actually more lesbian associations in Brussels than there are lesbian venues - the most popular ones being Amazing Grace (tel 02 218 36 51) and Attirent d'Elles (tel 02 512 45 87).

Many gay associations in Brussels direct their energies towards educating people about Aids and providing support for victims of the disease. The most high-profile ones are Aide Info Sida (tel 02 514 29 65) and Act Up (tel 02 512 02 02), which also aims to change government policies towards Aids. Act Together at rue d'Artois 5 (tel 02 512 05 05) provides support for families of victims, and has an English-speaking helpline.

The age of consent for gay men and women is 16.
Information services
Tels Quels Rue Marché au Charbon 81 (tel 02 512 45 87. Métro: Bourse. Sun-Thurs 5pm-2am, Fri & Sat 5pm-4am.) Gay and lesbian meeting place just round the corner from Chez Maman . Although there's a small café, it's best known for its documentation centre which has information on gay and lesbian rights and forthcoming events. It also hosts occasional art exhibitions and group discussions. Tels Quels , their monthly French-language publication, includes political reports and a full gay and lesbian listings section for bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as hairdressers, saunas and sex shops.

Gay restaurants
Le Comptoir Pl de la Vieille Halle-aux-blés 24 (tel 02 514 00 04. Métro: Gare Centrale. Daily 7pm-3am.) Well-known gay restaurant and bar, just off rue Chêne, popular with a chic and stylish crowd, who are attracted by the excellent food and decadent candlelit ambience. After you've gorged yourself on the tasty nouvelle cuisine in the restaurant upstairs, head to the dance floor below where you can burn it off to the latest dance, house and techno tracks. Riotous transvestite shows every Sunday.

El Papgayo Pl Rouppe 6 (tel 02 514 50 83. Métro: Anneessens. Mon-Thurs & Sun 4pm-2am, Fri & Sat 6pm-2am.) Lively gay restaurant, which gets packed out at weekends when you'll have to wait for a table. The decor is a riot of colour, there's a small dancefloor (salsa music nightly) and the Latin American food is spicy and inexpensive. A healthy blend of people and styles ensures its never dull.

H20 Rue du Marché au Charbon 27 (tel 02 512 38 43. Métro: Bourse. Daily 7pm-2am.) A fashionable gay restaurant close to the Bourse, popular with late-twenty something couples, who come to sample the simple but tasty world cuisine. Some may find the fantasy theme decor - Tolkien-style sculptures and pictures, and aquamarine-coloured walls - slightly off-putting, but there's always an upbeat atmosphere, the service is friendly and the food is well-priced. Hetero-friendly. Reservations not always necessary.

Gay bars and clubs
Le Belgica Rue Marché au Charbon 32. (Métro: Bourse. Thurs-Sat 10pm-3am.) A respected fixture of the Brussels gay scene, Le Belgica is arguably the capital's most popular gay bar and pick-up joint. Admittedly it's a tad run-down, with formica tables and dilapidated chairs that have seen better days, but if you're out for a lively, friendly atmosphere, you could do a lot worse. Come at the weekend when the place is heaving - all are welcome, whether male, female, gay or straight - and be sure to slam back a few of the house speciality: lemon-vodka "Belgica" shots.

Le Cabaret Rue de l'Ecuyer 41. (Métro: Bourse. Sun 11pm-7am.) Good-humoured gay club themed around the kitsch glamour of the 60s and 70s. Open to all, and a welcome respite from the intensity of some of Brussels' other gay clubs.

Chez Maman Rue des Grands Carmes 7. (Métro: Bourse. Thurs-Tues 9pm-3am.) This tiny bar has achieved an almost cult-like status in Brussels - mainly because of the supremely flamboyant proprietor Maman and his hugely popular half-hour transvestite shows. People flock from all corners of the city to see him strut up and down the bar - which serves as an impromptu stage - singing his heart out Marlene Dietrich-style.

La Démence Rue Blaes 208 (tel 02 538 99 31. Métro: Porte de Hal. Sun 11pm-7am.) The city's most popular gay club, held on two floors in The Fuse and playing cutting edge techno. The crowd is a bit difficult to pigeonhole - expect to find a hybrid mix of muscle men, transsexuals, trendy fashion victims, and out-and-out ravers. Back rooms available.

L'Homo Erectus Rue des Pierres 57 (tel 02 514 74 93. Métro: Bourse. Daily 11am-late.) It's a tight squeeze in this brazenly named gay bar, but the atmosphere is cosy and personal and there's a compact dance-floor, complete with obligatory disco-balls, too. Music ranges from house to disco.

L'Incognito Rue des Pierres 36. (Métro: Bourse. Daily 11pm-late.) A popular gay bar, with a lively atmosphere, camp music - Madonna, Celine Dion, disco, and French pop - and a photo gallery of beefy studs and pert behinds lining the walls. It's well situated, not far from the Grand-Place, but can be a bit cliquey.

The Slave Plattesteen 7. (Métro: Bourse. Mon-Fri 9pm-4am, Sat & Sun 9pm-6am.) An off-the-beaten-track leather bar, with plenty of back rooms, S&M gear and video pornography. Something of a Brussels underground institution.

The Smart Rue des Pierres 36 (tel 02 513 32 13. Métro: Bourse. Daily 3pm-late.) Brand new gay bar, all polished metal and burnished wood, reflecting its clean-cut image and hip, young clientele.

Why Not Rue des Riches Claires 7 (tel 02 512 63 43. Métro: Bourse. Daily 11pm-6am.) Brussels' only nightclub that's open every night of the week, the three-level Why Not is absolutely heaving on the weekends with mostly young men dancing to house and dance tracks.

Lesbian bars and clubs

Pussy Galore Rue Blaes 208 (tel 02 511 97 89. Métro: Porte de Hal. Second Friday of month.) The lesbian spin-off of La Démence , held upstairs in The Fuse . The music - ambient dance - is a little tamer than most house clubs, and the mixed-age crowd slightly more laid-back.

Le Sapho Rue St Géry 1 (tel 02 512 45 52. Métro: Bourse. Fri-Sat 10pm-late.) One of only two solely lesbian bars in the capital, so it usually attracts a good crowd. The atmosphere is friendly and, unlike in many of the capital's gay bars, members of the opposite sex are not made to feel unwelcome.

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