Monday, 6 February 2012

Real Belgian Pubs

Can you get tired of Brugge, delightful though it is? Well yes you can if you are just as much a pub man as you are a beer man. There is a degree of repetitiveness in Brugge pub crawling and once you realise that you can get little by way of ordinary pub culture in the centre at least, you have to travel a little further. The good thing is that is easy to do. Trains are frequent and punctual, though not that cheap, but you can easily get about.

Thus it was that we found ourselves, following advice from assorted drunks, heading to Ostend and the coastal tram. There's two choices. Head towards France and Dunkirk (though it doesn't quite go there) or to the Dutch border at Knokke. Five euros for a day pass and off you go. Now my accomplice Graham has been to De Panne on the Dunkirk side, so off we went towards Knokke. Our inebriated associates had given limited advice; "Get off anywhere - it's all good" kind of summed it up. You can guess though that it ain't all good. If you like a lot of sand dunes it is, but when after forty odd minutes we had seen nothing obvious, we hopped off at Wenduine into what seemed like a ghost town. We concluded this was a summer resort and like most of ours, was kind of closed up for the winter. We could find nothing open other than two deserted looking hotels. And it was bloody freezing too. We hopped on the next tram. So much for "it's all good".

Blankenberge near Zeebrugge is another ten minutes towards Zeebrugge and a world away from Wenduine. Bustling and busy we had no problems finding good cheer. By the main tram stop and on the square we nipped into a likely looking pub. Brasserie Terminus - Koning Leopold III Plein 1 - is highly recommended for its friendliness and the choice of 80 odd beers didn't put us off either. Rodenbach on draught? That'll do nicely and accompanied by free WiFi and croque monsieurs, we were mightily content. Locals came in to eat and have a beer, the news was on the telly. It was comfortable and a world away from touristy Brugge.  We finished on La Trappe Isid'or on draught. At 8.6% and smooth as the inside of a maiden's thigh, it warmed the cockles a touch. We walked back through the busy town towards Blankenberge Park and the tram stop where we'd spotted a couple of likely suspects. The earlier sunshine had given way to snow flurries and then snow. By the time we reached the tram stop at Blankenberge Park it was blizzard like. It was so snowy by then, note taking (not that I did any) was out of the question, but there are three or four pubs there. We dashed into the one with the most beer signs, as it seemed a likely spot. If you don't like mixing with the locals, this might not have been the pub for you. In  Dutch speaking East Flanders, this was a French outpost. The half dozen customers, at two thirty in the afternoon were, frankly,  completely pissed - but jovial - and we chatted away amiably in our broken French. Great fun and though the beer list was limited,  putting up with Orval is not exactly a hardship. That's one of the delights of Belgian pubs. There is always something decent to be had.

Our next target was just round the corner and a quick dash  took us to a bustling locals bar and back to gutteral, incomprehensible Dutch.  Full of corners, nooks and crannies and a central bar, constant comings and going, a good  bottled beer selection,  plus draught Rodenbach ensured a good couple of hours. As the snow worsened and the light eerily faded, we reluctantly left. This was raw and cheery Belgian pub life and the place was a cosy and friendly haven from the outside world.  What more do you want?  Well more beer of course. Ostend itself (on the way back) has a few decent pubs, though probably a bit more upmarket, but were warm and cosy on a very snowy night.  We did some more Orval in and then hopped back to Brugge, where, to be honest, we had too much beer.

For someone that prefers pubs, it was interesting to note that despite the smoking ban , local pubs were thriving. The prices were good too here in the sticks - think €2.50 Orval and €3.00 Duvel - and though the pubs were rough and ready, welcomes were warm, service was unfailingly polite, cheerful and friendly. Belgium is perhaps not the most picturesque part of the world - at least not the Northern part - but it is genuinely good to be in and, as importantly, if you find the right pubs, they are great to drink in too.

When I wrote my Golden Pint Awards, I said one of my beer drinking aims for 2012 was a Belgian visit. That didn't take me long to sort out did it?

The pub is behind the tram! Next the Bruges Beer Festival


tania_nexust said...

Great write-up, and very timely for me as I'm in the planning stage of a trip to the Belgian coast in June. I'm in Brussels at the minute and was subject to the same snow flurries and feeling of not wanting to leave cosy locals' pubs over here. Would you recommend Oostende as a base if spending a few days exploring the coastal tram route, or would Blankenberg be a better base?

Curmudgeon said...

Never been to Bruges (although I have been to Brussels), but surely it is a similar tourist honeypot to York, which still has loads of real pubs. Why the difference, I wonder?

Bailey said...

The very centre of Bruges probably is just a tad to touristy to support normal-feeling pubs. Some of the beer geek + tourist places are nice, though, if you like that kind of thing.

When we went to Bruges, my folks (who are a bit allergic to anything remotely poshed up) really liked the place on a square near our hotel. Not a tourist place; very crowded, which was nice given how cold it was; and with an extremely limited beer selection. My Mum got very merry on Hoegaarden Grand Cru while we played euchre. Ah, it was nice.

Tandleman said...

Tania. Go for Ostend. The tram goes from there both ways and it is quite nice.

Tandleman said...

Mudgie. I do believe there are good little bars but you tend to be drawn to the obvious ones and we wanted some local colour. Plenty of smashing.Bruges boozers.

Birkonian said...

I'm never bored with Bruges. Brugs Beertje and De Garre are two of the best bars in Europe. For variety Rose Red, Poatersgat and Comptoir des Arts have superb beer ranges and the final two are modern brown bars without the smoke.
Your tram journey missed the welcoming and lively De Torre in the stylish Art Nouveau resort of De Haan just 17 steps from the tram stop. A very well chosen list of 50 beers including authentic gueuzes and krieks.

John Clarke said...

Actually Brugge has plenty of real pubs (I've just come back and I managed to find some without trying too hard).

Tandleman said...

Indeed John. I believe I saw you there. I said that in the centre real local pubs are thin on the ground, though nobody could or should deny there is great pubs there. World class in fact. I'll be mentioning them, but that wasn't the point I was making.

Nothing like getting out amongst it.

Birkonian. As above.

John Clarke said...

There are plenty of good locals bars, too, I think. Perhaps not so much slap bang in the centre but they are there - Around Bruges in 80 Beers will direct you to plenty.

Look forward to the next posting.

Tandleman said...

You said "Perhaps not so much slap bang in the centre but they are there"

I said "you can get little by way of ordinary pub culture in the centre at least, you have to travel a little further."

We agree!

Tandleman said...

PS. Thanks for the Red Rose tip. Splendid place. G slept through it though!

John Clarke said...

At least he sounds like he remained upright (unless he was left sleeping where he fell!).

Tandleman said...

Beige Phil kept me company.

Erlangernick said...

You get to the place with the nice windows?

Tandleman said...

Nick. No. Or if I did, I have no memory of them.

Cooking Lager said...

The following are some of the better lines in the film "In Bruges"

Chloë: There's never been a classic movie made in Bruges until now.

Ray: Of course there hasn't. It's a shithole.

Chloë: Bruges is my home town, Ray.

Ray: Well, it's still a shithole.

Chloë: It's not a shithole!

Ray: What? Even midgets have to take drugs to stick it.

I'm expecting "In Bruges 2 : Quest of the Beer Geeks" to be even better.

Anonymous said...

Estaminet near Astrid park is a proper boozer, beer menu is quite basic but the athmosphere is super.

I was in Brugge and Oostende 2-3 weeks ago, the week when almost everything was closed, but it was still nice...