Cafés and Taverns

Cafés and Taverns
   Taverns existed in Brussels since at least the Middle Ages. The working classes frequented places (estaminets) where they could imbibe in such numbers that by 1830 it is estimated that there existed one tavern for every 20 families. Drunkenness among the lower classes was endemic, so much so that in 1896 taxes on alcohol were increased substantially and, in 1919, the sale of spirits was banned in cafés. The ban was lifted in 1984.
   Although cabaret-type establishments, more attractive venues that provided dining services, existed in Brussels, these cafés did not enjoy rapid growth until the arrival of the first shopping arcade with the opening of the Galeries Saint-Hubert in 1847. A great number of café restaurants—café-concerts and café-chantantsoffering dining and musical entertainment catered to the public by the end of the 19th century. Favored locales included the city center and the inner boulevards. The Sésino (now demolished), on the boulevard Anspach, was the first of its type to be built on the thoroughfare. It opened in 1872 and featured Moorish architecture and a covered terrace. It became a favored daily meeting place for contributors to La Jeune Belgique. Other popular cafés included Les Trois Suisses on place de Brouckère, which was located on the site of the Philips building, and Cirio, which still exists at rue de la Bourse 18. The famed art noveau tavern Le Falstaff (rue Henri Maus) dates from June 1904.
   Literary and political cafés have enjoyed a largely transitory existence, coming and going in parallel with the groups that have met there. They have included the now defunct café au Compas on rue Fossé aux Loups, a haunt of revolutionaries and artists at the turn of the 20th century; the Café aux Bons Enfants (rue de Rollebeek), which served as the favored place to meet by members of the Dutch-language literary society Van Nu en Straks in the early 20th century; and L'Imaige de Nostre-Dame (impasse des Cadeaux), begun by dadaist painter Gerard Van Bruane (1891-1964) and which became a popular gathering place in the 1930s. René Magritte was an habitué of the Greenwich Tavern. L'Estrille du Vieux Bruxelles (rue de Rollebeek) was frequented by leading local poets in the mid-20th century.
   Owing to its status as the heart of Brussels, the Grand' Place has always boasted a number of cafés and restaurants. The onset of large-scale tourism beginning in the late 19th century led to their ubiquitous presence on the square.
   See also De Ultieme Hallucinatie; La Fleur en Papier Doré.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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