Friday, January 05, 2007


Alternative Antwerpen

For some of us December is quite a busy month with lots of tasks to be completed, at work and privately, before Christmas sets in. The days from Christmas and up to New Year provide a welcome anti-climax in that respect. This year I spent my quiet vacation days in Belgium, with Antwerpen as base.

Travelling in Belgium during the holiday season can be a mixed pleasure for a dedicated beer tourist. Many of the best beer bars are family-run, and these families, too, want to relax between Christmas and New Year, can you believe?

That Kulminator is closed during those days comes as no surprise- I think they have done so since they started up their beer cafe in Vleminckveld in 1979. Also, a bus trip to Statiestraat 34 in Berchem, 600 metres from the Antwerpen Berchem railway station, only found the windows of the Camargue beer bar shuttered for the season. I will happily return also to the latter with its relaxed atmosphere, and unlike Kulminator, not dominated by foreigner visitors like myself.

A revisit to the jovial Berenbak was somewhat depressing, as it was my last ever. After 27 years they closed their doors for good on December 30. The reason? 60-70 hours work every week leaves time to little less, the rather nice building will now be converted into (more) profitable apartments. (Adding to the row of arguments were increasing beer prices from InBev and the new smoking law for Belgian cafés and restaurants coming into effect on January 1.) Berenbak adds to the list of beery establishments closing recently in Belgium.

So what are the alternatives in Antwerpen? Well, as a small country with a great and mostly reliable railway network there is no need to stay put in Antwerpen if you do not want to- Brussels' Delirium Cafe is only 45 minutes away, open 365 days a year until very late. But there are still plenty of decent beery places to visit in Antwerpen city itself. 't Waagstuk, Oud Arsenaal and the brewpub 't Pakhuis should all give some good drinking moments.

But the most central option with the best opening hours is undoubtable the Pater's Vaetje, the Father's Little Barrel. Small it is, indeed, one small room with an even smaller loft opening onto the main room. Securing a seat can be a challenge, though the situation improves somewhat when the windy and rainy Antwerpen weather allows you to employ the outside seating. But the Father never had to walk far for his barrel - the café is right at the foot of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Kathedraal, the cathedral of Our Dear Lady, whose impressive 123 metre tower dwarfs all the other buildings in the old city.

The dear ladies running the Pater's Vaetje do their bit to ensure that Antwerpen stays a beer tourism hot spot even during cold periods.

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