This corner café on the Rue Marché au Charbon, the core of the Brussels gay district, is considered something special. Its large terrace on a smattering of rare car-free roads combined with a nearby babbling fountain brings together a bohemian, mixed clientele in search of an urban oasis. Gay, straight, bisexual or unwilling to put on a label, Le Fontainas has captured the hearts of many a Brusellaar with its slightly shabby ‘70s décor, relaxed self-service—being rushed is a bit of a taboo here—and tasteful electronic DJ sets. It’s an especially lovely spot for a Sunday coffee, a daytime date, or a chat with friends.
Le Fontainas, Rue Marché au Charbon 91, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, +32 2 503 31 12
Much like Le Fontainas, Le Dillens is a place where things are good morning, noon, and night. Though not a gay bar or a part of the gay district, the color that this café-cum-bistro brought to an unassuming Saint-Gilles square and its famed weekend brunches have made it a favorite among the local lesbian community. The stretched-out opening hours make it suitable to enjoy coffee and a newspaper, as well as dinner and a pre-party before venturing out into the night. During the day, the place feels like a spacious second living room, relaxed and hearty, with international papers in several languages strewn about to accommodate an expat’s or traveler’s current affair needs.
Le Dillens, Place Julien Dillens 11, 1060 Brussels, Belgium, +32 2 538 31 36
Maison Arc-en-Ciel or “The Rainbow House”
Behind a great deal of Brussels’ LGBTQI-oriented activities stands the team of Rainbow House, or La Maison Arc-en-Ciel in more poetic-sounding French. Besides Lesborama movie nights, art exhibitions, debates, and readings, the community center regularly hosts mixers and parties in its bar. The Rainbow House staff knows gay Brussels like the back of their hand, meaning there’s no better place to get to know the goings-on or glean pro tips for galavanting around the heart of Europe.
Maison Arc-en-Ciel, Rue Marché au Charbon 42, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, +32 2 503 59 90
A gay institution that’s been around since the ‘80s, Le Belgica carries a nostalgic touch. The décor doesn’t seem to have changed in a couple of decades, but its outdated look only adds to the charm of a small and jovial Thursday-to-Sunday weekend bar where gay men and usually a couple of straight guests start off their night by dancing to electronic DJ sets. It’s a warm party nest that’s a must-visit during the Pride parade, which is incidentally an excellent opportunity to try out their signature juniper-and-lemon shot “Belgica.” Add beer, and you’ve got yourself a sous-marin or “submarine,” a peculiar but beloved concoction.
If there’s a place in Brussels where a diva can enjoy herself, it’s Chez Maman. Glittering shows performed on the bar counter by maman and her glamorous posse are the order of the day at this iconic drag café and cabaret where you knock to enter. (Fabulous) men only.
Le Boys Boudoir
Catering to a mixed crowd of local gay guys, Le Boys Boudoir boasts two dance floors, a flashy disco interior, and a stripper pole. Combined with blaring pop and ‘90s music, this makes for one of Brussels’ wilder nightlife spots. It’s noteworthy that women are more than welcome here.
Le Boys Boudoir, Rue du Marché au Charbon 25, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, +32 2 614 58 38
La Demence at Fuse
This party is a monthly, pull-out-all-the-stops night at techno temple Fuse and is one that LGBT-partygoers cross borders for so that they can join in on the fun. It’s widely known as one of the most popular gay dance parties in Europe, and T-shirts are a rare sight. Three floors are in use: one as a dark room and the other two as the dance floors where like-minded gay guys give the best of themselves to disco and dance music until seven in the morning.
Monthly at Fuse, Rue Blaes 208, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, +32 2 511 97 89
Flash Tea Dance at You Night Club
“Le You” is where Brussels’ late teens and early 20-somethings flock to for a late party, and Sunday nights are traditionally reserved for the gay community to live it up. While fashionable young guys flock to these nights like honey, there’s usually a pack of female friends enjoying their evening just as much.
Sundays at You Night Club, Rue Duquesnoy 18, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, +32 477 75 07 50
Advertised as “a party for cats of all breeds,” Catclub nights happen sporadically and tend to location-hop among unexpected venues such as the old Solvay building (currently being torn down) or the old casino by the Central Station. Catchy electronics and a boisterous crowd are guarantees, though, and for once, the gay-friendly frolicking isn’t reserved for tomcats only. When organizer Lady Jane says everyone’s welcome, she means it, and if you’re lucky, you might just catch her spinning records herself at Le Fontainas on one Friday evening or other.
Check Catclub’s Facebook page for upcoming events and locations
While it’s no Toronto, Brussels is known to lure up to 100,000 revelers to the heart of Europe to celebrate Pride in one giant explosion of diversity and loving extravagance. Flashy floats, flamboyant outfits, and gay-friendly parties abound during the Pride parade, the culmination of two weeks of springtime gaiety and cultural events when the LGBTQI+ community gets its time in the sun as well as shining a spotlight on a theme near to its heart every year.
The 22nd edition of the Belgian Pride Festival will take place Thursday, May 4 until Saturday, May 20, 2017, and the theme will be asylum & migration.