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Europe Trip: Brussels

On my last post about my trip to Europe I covered our trip from Philadelphia to Brussels. Brussels is a very interesting city. Before I dive into my trip, I should mention that I expected Europe to be pretty different from the US in terms of looks and culture. Largely I found that we are remarkably similar, they just have older buildings.

After leaving Gare Centrale (a.ka. Brussels Centrale) we walked around for a bit trying to find our hotel, which was supposed to be right next to the station. Being the male that I am, I began walking in the direction I felt was correct. It was not. So my wife dove into a corner shop to ask where the location of our hotel was and three minutes later we walked into the front door. To my credit, I was on the correct road, just went the wrong way on it. It was also cloudy so I couldn’t use the sun to get my north, south, east, west heading.

It was about 7:00 AM so we couldn’t check in, but the hotel was nice enough to allow us to leave our bags there. Once we unloaded our bags we began to walk around the city, with our ultimate goal of seeing the Grand Place at some point in the day.

Brussels looks much larger on a map than it does in real life so we quickly knocked out the typical sight seeing places within a matter of hours. The Grand Place is pictured below.

There are some beautiful building in the Grand Place and in the areas around it. Located around this area are several narrow roads that are only open to foot traffic. There are not shops for the most part, but hundreds of restaurants. There are multiple Belgian beer bars located in this area as well and I made a mental note of where they were so that we could come back to later, since it was only around 10:00 AM.

My wife and I decided to go see the Atomium, which was built for the World’s Fair in 1958. According to Wikipedia,

The Atomium is a monument in Brussels, originally built for Expo ’58, the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Designed by AndrĂ© Waterkeyn, it stands 102 meters (335 ft) tall. It has nine steel spheres connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.

You can go inside of this “building” but we opted to just take some pictures and walk through the park located around the structure. The Atomium is pictured below.

It was soon time to eat and if you must know one thing about food in Brussels, it is expensive. A normal plate of food is going to cost you around 12-18 Euros (17-25 USD). Since this was the first stop on our trip, it was also the country where we discovered that water and soda are more expensive than beer. So we had a lot of beer. It isn’t exactly cheap (2-5 Euros) but I would rather have a world class Belgian beer for 5 Euros and bottled water for the same price. My personal favorite of the beer bars we stopped at was Delirium CafĂ©, from the Delirium beer fame. They had dozens of beers to pick from and about a dozen or so on draft. Draft beers were available in .25L, .5L, 1L, and 2L glasses, even the Tripels!

All of the beers are served with their correct glassware and draft beers are filled and then have their head leveled off. Bottled beers are uncapped or uncorked in front of you and poured by the waiter. In Brussels most bars will give you free chips to go along with your beer. I sampled far too many beers to remember but you can view them in the images below.

What kind of brewpub?

While I have been going over tons of details with starting a brewpub there has been one area where I am finding it difficult to get a clear idea now. The general idea of a brewpub is pretty easy, but narrowing down the focus is where I can’t decide on what I want to do. I’ve been to dozens of brewpubs and good beer bars and they all have something different to offer. There are brewpubs that focus on first rate food and come with first rate pricing but there are also those who want to be the neighborhood hangout.

Being from the Philadelphia area, I was exposed to great examples of both of these. I have previously mentioned Iron Hill Brewery. They are now a chain, and a super successful one that that, but they focus more on the upscale side of things. The food is expensive, the beer is expensive, and the decorum match it. They even have napkins with their logo on it, and they are those really nice napkins that you only need one of when you have ribs. The really focus on first class service and their waiters know their stuff. I have only eaten there a handful of times but the food is excellent. I have been to the bar part more than a handful of times and they also have a great variety of beers to drink.

Another brewpub that I am familiar with is Rock Bottom Brewery in King of Prussia, PA. It is also another chain, but totally different from Iron Hill Brewery. It has more of a “everyday” restaurant feel. By that I mean that the dining experience is more on the level with an Applebee’s or a Chilli’s and the prices are also competitive. They have also proven to be successful as there are multiple locations across the country. They have a nice selection of food and, from my experience, a nice, but more limited selection of beer as well.

The final brewpub that I want to talk about is Bube’s Brewery (pronounced Boobies, yup) in Mt. Joy, PA. It is by far the smallest restaurant out of the three, but it makes up for it by being a brewery, a restaurant, a dinner show theater, and a hotel all in one. Sounds neat doesn’t it? They also have a nice, but more limited selection of food, and they also offer a great selection of four homebrewed drafts along with another eight or so craft drafts. Unlike the other two brewpubs and most brewpubs that that matter, they do not ever have the same thing on draft. Every time you go in they have a different beer. But that is a discussion for a later time. The mood in Bube’s is extremely relaxed. The bartenders are knowledgeable and the waiters are usually helpful as well. There are no TV’s in the bar and you have the opportunity to enjoy your company.

So I guess the question still comes down to, what do I want people to experience when they visit my brewpub? I want there to be a great selection of food and beer, but also not at prices that would keep some people away. I want it to be more of a neighborhood hangout where the locals can come on a Tuesday just as easily as they would come on a Friday night. The staff should we warm and knowledgeable about beer and be able to answer most any question. I want the decor to be warm as well. I think every restaurant wants to be a place where people can spend a lot of time, and therefore money. But I really want this to be a place that you can sit down, have a beer and read a book with no one bothering you in the process.

I don’t know how clear of direction that is, but it is starting to piece together. I obviously need to do a lot more work on getting the finer details worked out, but the my focus is getting narrowed down and that can only mean progress. Let me know what types of places you enjoy or what a brewpub mean to you so that I can get a cleaner idea of what I am going after.