Brussels is a bit of an odd duck when it comes to student hangouts. Unlike Antwerp – and in direct opposition to Leuven with its square nicknamed ‘the longest bar in the world’ – there are few central hubs where all the young academics flock to let loose. Most of the capital’s students are happy to socialise with the greying locals or bohemian hipsters – or both – at bars that boast a mixed clientele. Below is our top sampling from the smorgasbord of pubs that attract the typical Brussels student.
With its location in the hip Dansaert area, a plethora of original events and, since the beginning of this year, its very own beer (‘EhBier’) – you’d almost forget that the RITCS Café is housed inside the buildings of a serious institute of higher learning. Giving the cultural bar its built-in clientele of hopeful creatives is the Erasmus Hogeschool, of which department RITCS is the happy home to aspiring directors, actors, cameramen and screenwriters. They and you can blow off steam with the ever-changing schedule of comedy nights, live gigs and lively debates found on site.
We’ve described Bonnefooi before as a must-try for live music, with a cozy interior and small balconies forming the stage for daily concerts and communal jam sessions on Sundays. Broke students will be glad to hear most of the gigs come free of charge, and die-hard partygoers know that this place on Brussels’ ‘music street’ is notorious for staying open until the wee hours of the morning.
Sunny days see students mix together with young families of all backgrounds at the terrace of Café Walvis. On the corner of the stylish Dansaertstraat and the capital’s canal, the spacious bistro café boasts a laidback atmosphere. Walvis (literally ‘whale’) was originally launched by Brussels’ resident hip-establishment guru, Frédéric Nicolay (also the brains behind former hotspot Potemkine and Mappa Mundo and Zebra, current places to be on the Place Saint-Géry).
Students of the ULB and VUB campuses converge at party neighborhood Cimétière d’Ixelles, close to the area’s cemetery. A guiding light on party street Chaussée de Boondael all night and day is Le Waff, where the shots are plentiful, the dress code is surprisingly sharp and the happy hour lasts for two hours straight.
Another Cimétière d’Ixelles hallmark, Le Tavernier offers an exposed-brick dance setting to lovers of the electronic sound. In winter there are leather sofas to lounge on, but summer nights are reserved for sipping their signature mojito on a spacious terrace amidst colorful lights.
Another jewel in the crown of Brussels’ thriving live music scene, Roskam is located in the center of town and has long championed local bands and DJ’s. This reputable establishment – a favorite among many a Fleming – likes to host its musical delights during the weekends. This combined with very late closing times makes the place a haven for night owl students who prefer to stick around the city on Saturday and Sunday to bringing home their laundry to mom.
Another prime spot to befriend a fellow Brusselaar is L’Athénée. The bar sits nestled behind the Saint Boniface Church in Ixelles, about a ten-minute walk from the Cimétière d’Ixelles and hidden from tourists. Still, the place is packed every night with people in search of a more laidback alternative to the nightlife happening on the other side of the neighborhood. Every night students mix with bohemians, intellectuals and Matongé frequenters until the place and beloved terrace are alive with talk of life, art and the wanderings of the soul. Philosophers in the making, head this way.
Retro nostalgia is served by the bucket at Le Pantin, a family-run café that’s managed to hold on to its brown roots – ‘brown bar’ stands for ‘bruin café’, an authentic pub beloved by locals – amidst all the trendiness the Flagey area now boasts. For over three decades students have come to Jean-Marie’s charmingly cluttered establishment to play chess with a friend or meet an artist or two. Daughter Liza has recently made it possible to eat a bite for lunch and dinner, or you can simply bring your own fries and elevate the meal with one of Le Pantin’s extensive selection of Belgian beers.
Back on the trendier side of the scene is Bar du Matin, another Frédéric Nicolay brainchild which offers a place to relax and imbibe in Brussels at any moment of the day with the utmost of cool. Yawning students in desperate need of caffeine can get their fix here in the morning on the sunny terrace, head to class, and return for lunch, or swing by in the evening for cocktails and bites with friends, and even later, to shake their booty to whatever the DJs – and there’s an endless supply of them – have in store.
Go for the unbeatably cheap spaghetti and stay for a pint. La Bastoche at the Cimétière d’Ixelles attracts not just young college folk but also the occasional oldie who’s drawn to the humdrum of the old-style tavern and its simple kitchen that serves throughout the day.