Thursday the 7th
You don’t need to do anything to have a good day. It seems it is becoming a habit of mine to open my holiday journal entries with a reflection on the days’ weather. I am no meteorologist! It is not my job to retrospectively recount the forecast but, what can I say, the weather does make a difference to the day. And it was a good day! The sun was shining and it was approaching twenty six degrees! By the afternoon, I had to change into one of the untouched summer playsuits still freshly folded in my suitcase, but not before I had the last outfit burnt into my shins. Very unlike my usual attitude to hotels and holiday time, today I stayed in the Hilton Antwerp Old Town and found a spot on the exclusive fifth floor rooftop veranda. The arrangement of deck chairs and outdoor tables made for an ambient hideaway from the bustle of the city below complete with a stillness I lavished as I tried to catch up on long overdue journal entires. Clearly, dad thought this a lovely idea as he joined me in the comfortable lounge area onlooking the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal to bask in the rare warmth of the summer sun.
Let the pub crawl begin!
Stop #1 Appelmans Brasserie
Of course I had to take dad to Appelmans! That is only fair after having introduced my aunt and my mum to this masterful cocktail bar – but instead of trying one of their speciality drinks he ordered an Affligem Bolleke (beer as standard). I had a Deliciously Pink cocktail containing Tanqueray London Dry Gin, Janot, absinthe, lavender syrup, lemon and cranberry juice with a hint of mint! Dad and I decided to judge each venue on their drink, location, ambience, and of course rain protection for it had started to drizzle. Thankfully, an automated black tarp extended over the outdoor tables saving us from calling our pub crawl shamefully short. Whilst my preference for Appelmans is met with satisfaction whenever I have my journal at hand and a unique cocktail accompaniment, my dad perceived this location as too touristy for our endeavour.
Stop #2 De Kleine Tunnel
We regrouped to refocus our objective for the pub crawl: the plan was to have an authentic experience away from the uncultured tourists who fell into the traps of gimmicky cafes. We could do much better by taking the route less travelled so instead of weaving our way through the thick crowd we turned in the opposite direction. After a short walk, we resorted to the nearest cafe to quench our growing thirst. De Kleine Tunnel can be translated to the Small Tunnel yet we were in no location of the sort. We sat facing a basketball match on an open court that occupied the opposite block and munched on cheese cubes and mustard. Dad drank a Leffe from the tap and I joined him in his choice of beer with a Max Kriek. It was remarkable how the length of a single street put so much distance between the congested city and the calm cafe in which we enjoyed our beers. This joint was a favourite of the regulars which inhabited its tacky chairs for it maintained a homely spirit with an insight into the real Antwerp and its real people.
Stop #3 ????
With no time to waste dabbling in conversation without a fresh drink in hand, dad and I took off for the next stop. We traversed down a narrow street where the paint was peeling from the walls and the cobblestone pathway gleamed with the green sheen of moss which had accumulated in the cracks from the humid atmosphere. We could have easily missed the low archway into the next restaurant. Hesitation tainted my every step for it was as if I was stepping into a residential backyard where empty chairs and tables had been arranged to accommodate absentee guests. The rose-coloured walls of the first room opened into a second section where few tables were occupied, bringing relief at the disproval of my previous suspicion, and a bar at which dad and I ordered a D’achouffe and Kirr Royale. It was so peaceful and quiet. We had made a surprising discovery in this quaint brasserie and further ingenuity was revealed the longer we stayed. The indoor dining area, equipped with hand-written menus, was decorated in mismatched photo frames to the ceilings edge and a sparkling silver disco ball hung from its centre. The bartender and waitress were personable and even so friendly as to recommend a must-see stop for our ‘kroegertocht’ – we added it to our list. The only thing missing from this secret garden was a name – somehow we must have missed it in our mesmerised state of curiosity, or maybe it was the alcohol.
Stop #4 Octo Cafe
We walked in the direction indicated by the patrons of the previous bar and found ourselves back on the footpath. It was some time before we realised we were disorientated as to our location for we had been walking with no clue as to the proximity of the recommended bar. Distracted by a striking blue building which featured a mural the entirety of its area, bar the windows, dad and I made a detour to conduct some closer inspection. The artwork was organised like a comicstrip wherein the young protagonists of The Adventures of Nero by Marc Sleen mistakenly board the boat of Captain Oliepull when they had intended to visit the zoo in Antwerp. We sunk into the seats opposite the mural at Cafe Octo for a Duvel and Aperol Spritz, well on track to discovering genuine ‘Antwerpse’ pubs and maximising our alcohol intake.
Stop #5 Bar Italia
The energy we had expended by walking from venue to venue was due to be replenished around the time of our fifth stop. We were drawn to the tantalising scent of burning bread and savoury spices emanating from Bar Italia before we even saw the checkered tablecloths of this traditional restaurant. A greasy pizza was exactly what dad and I were craving, but we would not pass up the opportunity of a gourmet wood-fired pie either. Satisfaction! A carafe of red wine and a four seasons pizza with ham, cheese, olives and artichokes later, we were reinvigorated and ready to find the allusive pub that had motivated our search for the last hour. Again, we were off!
Stop #6 Cafe Hopper
Finally we had arrived at Cafe Hopper! One pizza, two hours, and three stops worth of searching for the cafe reviewed as a ‘must’ for any pub crawl had finally come to fruition. Hidden between a cluster of restaurants which surrounded the vicinity of the Royal Museum of Fine Art was the sought-after Cafe Hopper. The interior design gave an art-deco impression with the corrugated metal bar feature and the impressionist painting above the spirit cabinet which I could make no sense of. Unfortunately, its locally famed jazz acts were not on the agenda for this evening yet that did not compromise the quality of the Stella Artois and Poire Williams. A single sip of the digestive set my lips into fiery agony for I had not anticipated the strength of this pear-infused spirit. Dad watched in horror as I drained the small glass in one swig, but I was satisfied for it made me warm. Not a bad choice in spirit, thanks dad! It had been a long afternoon and successful kroegertocht so we circled back to the hotel with heavy treads as dusk became of the evening sky. I was very happy to have spent some quality time with dad.