Brussels: Four Ways to Try It

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com July 13 2012 4:00 AM ET

For unilingual speakers craving the historic sites, gastronomy, and cultural flair of Europe, Brussels is a perfect, under-the-radar destination. As the capital of not only Belgium but the European Union, Brussels has many English speakers (you can also get by with broken French or Flemish). The city is a fantastic melting pot of languages, cultures, and skin tones where anyone can find his or her niche, whether your interest is architecture, boozing, or comic books, to name just a few. Be sure to pass through the tiny gayborhood around Rue du Marché au Charbon, a friendly area just steps from the city center, and the historic nexus of Brussels, the Grand Place square.

Brussels for the Night Owl

Rainbowhouse: In the midst of LGBT Brussels is Rainbowhouse, a hub of activity and community. In addition to being a café, Rainbowhouse is the local LGBT center, providing a meeting point for dozens of groups, including Brussels Gay Sports and Egow, a largely English-speaking organization for women. Rue du Marché au Charbon 42; Rainbowhouse.be

You Gay Tea Dance: This party is full of gay and lesbian revelers putting the cap on another weekend each Sunday. Rue Dusquesnoy 18; LeYouGayTeaDance.be

Le Belgica: Your classic divey neighborhood gay bar, where everybody knows your name. Rue du Marché au Charbon 32; LeBelgica.be

Chez Maman: This drag bar may be tiny, but it packs a wallop with saucy, multilingual queens, a fantastic DJ, and mesmerizing bartenders. Just be prepared for some witty French banter between the performers and Maman, the bar’s queen mother. Rue Des Grands Carmes 7; ChezMaman.be

Velvet 69 and l Party: A decade after the only lesbian club in Brussels shut down, owner Carine De Mesmaeker started the Velvet parties. Now a thousand or more women flock to this bacchanal, with rotating locations approximately every six weeks, for a night of estrogen-powered excitement. Smaller than the Velvet parties is L Party, a strictly women-only monthly shindig with themes that invite the wearing of imaginative costumes. Velvet69.com and Facebook.com/LParty

Brussels for the Foodie

Resto Henri: This lively, warm restaurant sits right in the hip designer district, the Dansaert. People of all ages flock to Resto Henri for a plate of homemade cheese croquettes, salmon sashimi, and a heaping serving of mussels. Rue de Flandre 113; RestoHenri.be

Les Larmes du Tigre: Missing the comforts of your favorite Thai joint back home? Fear not. There are several Thai restaurants dotting the city, including this satisfying eatery. Rue de Wynants 21; LesLarmesDuTigre.be

La Brasserie de Bruxelles: We may call them French fries, but history shows that Belgians have had the jump on these delicious little delights for centuries: Chow down on a sack of pommes frites with aioli, curried ketchup, or traditional mayonnaise from a tiny hole in the wall near Grand Place or the cozy La Brasserie de Bruxelles, which serves high-end, traditional Belgian cuisine. Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés 39

Royal Brasserie Brussels: Cute waiters dressed in Breton fisherman-style shirts, serving up beautiful plates of food—what more could you want? Rue de Flandre 103; RoyalBrasserieBrussels.be  

Brussels for the Culture Lover

Magritte Museum: René Magritte was one of Brussels’s most famous fine artists, spending more than two decades in the city. This museum, opened in 2009, possesses the world’s largest collection of Magritte’s paintings, sculptures, sketches, commercial pieces, letters, photographs, and personal documents. Rue de la Régence 3; Musee-Magritte-Museum.be

Pink Screens Film Festival: Every November, Brussels’s cinephiles celebrate LGBT film at the historic Cinema Nova. The 10-day festival is put on by Genres d’à Côté, a film club that hosts a monthly screening of gay gems. Rue d’Arenberg 3; PinkScreens.org

Belgian Comic Strip Center: To live in Brussels is to read comics. Murals all over the city pay homage to familiar characters such the Smurfs and Hergé’s famous creation Tintin. Learn more about Belgium’s vast comic history at the Belgian Comic Strip Center. Rue des Sables 20; ComicsCenter.net

Boghossian Foundation: Six years ago the Boghossian Foundation, which promotes cultural dialogue between the Middle East and Western nations, acquired one of the most iconic private residences in Brussels, an art deco jewel, to be its home base. The foundation’s current exhibit, “Art Is the Answer!” (through September 2), showcases work from Lebanese artists to prove that through tumultuous times, art can thrive. Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 67; BoghossianFoundation.be

Brussels for the Style Hound

Smets Premium Store: A visit to this contemporary designer-goods emporium feels like going to a cutting-edge shop in New York’s SoHo. Opened last December, the store is Luxembourg luxury retailer Smets’s first venture outside that nation. It features clothes, accessories, and housewares from dozens of high-end designers as well as an innovative restaurant, Bowery, upstairs. Chaussée de Louvain, 650-652; Smets.lu

Elvis Pompilio: Part hat shop, part art gallery, Elvis Pompilio’s boutique is full of hats that could double as art installations. Rue Lebeau 37; ElvisPompilio.com

Marolles: One of the most fascinating neighborhoods in Brussels is the up-and-coming Marolles, nestled down the hill from the towering Palais de Justice. This eclectic community is now home to antique shops, food vendors, and a bustling daily street fair, the Place du Jeu de Balle. Brussels.be/artdet.cfm/5629

Knitting Against AIDS: This Designers Against AIDS event is usually held in late November, shortly before World AIDS Day (December 1), and merges activism, fashion, and wool, complete with a runway show and auction of scarves. DesignersAgainstAIDS.com