Georges Rouzeau - 2013-02-11
Just a stone’s throw from the Grand-Place, the Antoine Dansaert quarter is Brussels’s new place to be. Perfect for a stroll from designer boutiques to hip bars.
Twenty years ago, the Antoine Dansaert quarter was in the throes of decay. It had earned the nickname ‘Chicago’ because of the many kinds of illicit trafficking that took place here. The big Haussmann-inspired buildings were mostly empty and rents were ridiculously low. Today, every loft has a tenant and the price of a square metre of real estate has flown sky-high.
Gays and artists in search of new spaces to create and exhibit their art became enamoured of the area, of which Rue Antoine-Dansaert, dating from the 19th century, is the quarter’s nerve centre.
They were followed by creators of all feathers - fashion designers, jewellers, couturiers, creators of fashion accessories, and so on - who came from Anvers and elsewhere. There is an impressive density of bars and cafés here. In a word: strolling and shopping by day; out on the town by night.
Despite the new vogue, those attracted to history and old stones will also find much to interest them, for the city’s cradle - a simple castrum on an isle of the River Senne – is just behind the Place St. Géry next to an old pub called Le Lion d’Or. Indeed, the city of Brussels was born here in the Middle Ages.
The Place St. Géry also boasts a fine old covered market of the Flemish neo-Renaissance style, ‘Les Halles’. Dating from 1881, it was built using materials that had been absent from local architecture until then, such as iron and glass.
As you leave Les Halles, you might have a drink at one of three cafés that have had much to do with the quarter’s renaissance: the Mappa Mundo tavern, Zébra and Le Roi des Belges, all remodelled and stylized by their avant-gardist proprietor Frédéric Nicolay, the first to have believed in the neighbourhood’s future.
Located on the very quaint Rue des Chartreux, which sports many tastefully restored facades, the Greenwich (n° 7) is a legendary establishment where chess players meet and match wits. Famed artist René Magritte regularly frequented the superb Art Nouveau bar.
You’ll find all your chic designer shopping needs at L’Espace Bizarre (n° 19), which has a good selection of eclectic, top-quality items, while Italian plastic furnishings are sold at Kartell (n° 2 Rue Antoine-Dansaert).
At Place du Nouveau-Marché-aux-Grains, the grande dame of the block is La Maison Sougné. For the past 60 years, this one-of-a-kind shop has been supplying those who love to fish with handcrafted flies... Ah yes, the Antoine Dansaert quarter was once home to fishermen, back when the Senne still flowed through it.
At the very end of the Rue Antoine-Dansaert, which winds up at the Bruxelles-Charleroi canal, stop in at Walvis (Flemish for ‘whale’), entirely decorated in the spirit of the 1958 World Fair and of the great designer Jules Van der Meeren. Europe’s largest collection of pop plastics, the Plasticarium (see video), is in the vicinity.
To end your evening in a fine Brussels institution, set your sights on L’Archiduc. Don’t let the faded lavender-coloured facade, the austere door bell, or the frosted glass windows daunt you. With its unique atmosphere that is relaxed yet electric, hip yet welcoming, this Art Deco bar open since 1937 has traversed the different eras to become one of Brussels’s best secrets.
Tourist office of Belgium’s Flanders region
Eurostar runs £ 69 return from St. Pancras, but the direct journey only takes 2 hours and special fares may be available.
Where to stay
Place Saint-Géry 29
Tel: +32 (0)2 204 06 20
Every room of this spanking new boutique hotel located opposite the Halles St. Géry has been decorated by a different artist. The hotel is directly connected to the Belmonte Bar where the breakfasts served are, regrettably, very inferior to the establishment’s general standing.
17 rue de Flandre
Housed in a former butcher shop, ‘Viva Grandmother’ (in Brussels jargon) serves Flemish dishes and specialities made of tripe. A must. Dinner reservations required.
95 B, rue de Flandre
Set in a handsome neo-bistro dining room with a streamlined decor, Selecto’s fashionable ‘bistronomic’ air appeals to young and old alike. Dinner reservations required.
3 B, Quai aux-Pierres-de-Taille
To the left of the Flemish theatre, the Bar Bik (Brussels International Kitchen) serves its Belgian-bistro-fusion cuisine (from steak with shallots to ‘snack’ scallops with rocket puree) in a Scandinavian-style dining hall. A very popular establishment. Dinner reservations required.
Shopping, going out...
46 rue Antoine-Dansaert
Tel: + 32 (0)2 226 04 54
This international house of literature holds a bookshop, organises a good many events and welcomes authors from the far reaches of the planet for writers’ residencies. A recent visitor was American author Annie Proulx, of Brokeback Mountain fame; the current resident is the UK’s Patrick McGuinness. Be sure to keep an eye on the programme!
6 rue Antoine-Dansaert
Tel: +32 (0)2 512 06
19 rue des Chartreux