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Pub/Bar of the Month December 2012: Poechenellekelder, Brussels, Belgium

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Poechenellekelder, Brussels

There is something particularly endearing about a country whose national symbol is a small boy having a pee.

poechenellekelder brusselsWhile near neighbours Britain and France have more priapic symbols of masculinity in Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, Belgium whispers its presence to the world with the simple and innocent Mannekin Pis.

Yet it does the trick. There is seldom a time during the day when a street corner near Brussels' impressive Grand Place is not thronged with tourists snapping the cherubic infant in full relief.

Little do most of them know, however, that no more than piddling distance away is a place that offers a far more robust and insightful impression of Belgium.

The Poechenellekelder is one of those seemingly ancient, sublimely simple café-bars for which Belgium is a world leader.

True to type, its beer list, while not that extravagant by Belgian standards, nonetheless has sufficient variety and quality to demonstrate to tourists that, although its national symbol may be somewhat flimsy, its major contribution to the world of food and drink demands to be taken seriously.

Step off the cobbled street and into the small entrance hall and you’re met with a mini spiral staircase that climbs into the bar proper. In the atmospheric Bruxellois way, the room is tight and faintly claustrophobic, tables squeezed tightly together to accommodate the constant flow of knowing customers. 

Amiable Clutter

The amiable clutter continues above your head. There is more bric-a-brac here than in Steptoe’s attic. 
Redundant musical instruments compete for space on the ceiling with gravity-defying cases of equally redundant beer bottles. But the real showstoppers are the decidedly spooky and somewhat sinister puppets that collectively pay tribute to Brussels’ historic obsession with marionette theatre.

poechenellekelder brusselsImagine the sinister smirk of a Harlequin dummy or a Venetian Carnival mask, throw in a malevolent morsel of voodoo and you get the picture of how unnerving some of the strung-up dolls appear.

The theme continues as you progress past the bar counter and down to the overflow room below, squeezing past two life-size effigies that sit on guard at the top of the stairs. No matter how many times you edge past them, there is always a moment when you think they are real.

The wall by the stairs is another distraction as you descend. It is adorned by a roll-call, by year, of the various little costumes presented to preserve the modesty of the statue outside, examples of which add further colour to the interior.

The beer selection is comprehensive and wise. Old Belgium hands will not find much to get excited about in the likes of Orval, Duchesse de Bourgogne or Gouden Carolus, as great as they are, but the chance to lift the cap off bottles of Ellezelloise Quintine Blonde, Kerkomse Tripel or Cantillon Lou Pépé certainly quickens the pulse – likewise the discovery of Yvan De Baets’ excellent Brasserie de la Senne beers on draught.

Only a fraction of the hordes that descend on the famous fountain outside bother to step through the Poechenellekelder's door but the numbers are sufficient all the same to necessitate prompt and efficient service. The young staff do not disappoint, briskly dispensing both beers and the modest range of pasta dishes, cheeses and other snacks on offer.

The name of the pub is as difficult to pronounce as it gets, even in this tongue-twisting, multi-lingual capital, but that’s really no deterrent to finding the place.

Just follow the crowds and when they stop to flash their cameras at the little flashing boy, slip behind them and get to grips with the grown-up Belgium.

Poechenellekelder, Rue de Chêne 5, 1000 Brussels
Tel. +32 (0) 2 511 92 62
www.poechenellekelder.be
Opening Hours: 11am–midnight; closed Monday

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