Café Den Turk, Ghent

Botermarkt 3, 9000 Gent, Belgium
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –8/10
  • Style and Decor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 5/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  9/10

Any pub described as a ‘city institution’ carries its reputation before it. A heightened expectation level can and has resulted in occasional disappointment for me in the past, however a visit to Café Den Turk was not among such occasions, indeed, the place cemented its reputation, as I’ll explain below.

Café Den Turk is located in the very centre of Ghent, among an unparalleled, stunning display of Gothic and medieval buildings, which at points achieves a grandeur not even neighbouring Brugge can quite match. That alone has a tendency to draw you towards the place, which acts as a natural start or end to a sightseeing circuit of the city centre.

The longevity of Den Turk (reputedly the oldest continuous drinking hole in the city) appears to partly be down to officials from the town hall nipping across the road for lunchtime and post-work drinks. It really does feel like the kind of place where you come to shoot the shit about the latest political shenanigans or strike a clandestine deal over lunch and a beer – a proper pub.

Den Turk has striking signage and is located in a classic stepped-gable Flemish house, transmitting all sorts of positive signals before you’ve even walked through the door.

Although the interior of the bar area is typically Belgian, there is a more universally recognisable sense, that you get with those classic pubs that have so clearly and resolutely refused to change with the times. Furnishings and bar area are similar to a brown café, which are better known as being characteristic of Amsterdam, and Netherlands but are just as prevalent in Flanders too. However, the layout of Den Turk is more like a country English pub with ‘plotting’ rooms and corners, along with some pub-style corner seating, all proudly old fashioned with that doorstep sandwich thickness to the unvarnished tables that gives off a rustic feel.

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The choice on tap is a pointedly sensible working class array of typical AB InBev products, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Stella, yadda yadda at decent prices about you’d expect to pay in a well-to-do Belgian city centre, but check their menu! They stock a small but choice selection of bottles that will keep any Belgian beer fans well interested, not least a few Ghent beers that don’t crop up very often. Ghent Tripel is nice (but not a Ghent beer strictly – it is brewed to order elsewhere and relabelled) but Gentse Gruut is brewed only walking distance away, and their blonde ale makes for a sensible choice for a first drink in Ghent. Gruut style beer is brewed with spices in substitution for (or sometimes in addition to) hops, leading to a different flavour balance. The spices are also slightly botanical and bitter which balances well against the sweet, yeasty Belgian blonde you’ll be familiar with.

The pub regulars look dyed-in-the-wool and give off that vaguely reassurring feel of permanence; that while they remain in attendance everything in the world is ticking over nicely, or at least doesn’t matter a great deal for the time you are there. Better still, the place , like Ghent in general, is tourist-free. Expect a few stares to greet you on your entrance, as they clock an unfamiliar face, but the servers expect one or two new comers and are welcoming, if a bit upright. The city website itself tells of typical Ghent arrogance which may be overplaying it slightly, but then even their own website seems to take pride in the reputation. Yes, the service gives off an air of fellows who are masters of their domain – they won’t be fawning over you or pretending to be your mate, but it isn’t really obnoxious.

One quirk is the red and white patchwork tablecloth spread on many of the tables which don’t seem to fit the brown café style or the jazz bar intentions (that it wears quite casually), being more akin to a Hungarian Etkezde or trattoria than what you or I may think of for a pub. That’s a slight distraction, however.

An afternoon drink in Den Turk is quiet, surprisingly so for such a central location but the place acts as an oasis of calm and normality, of a sort that normally lends a place a permanent appeal.  However, while an afternoon drink in here is far from unpleasant I most recommend visiting in the core of the evening where everything takes on an atmospheric and shady glow, and the murmur of conversation starts to bubble up.

In the evening there is an understated jazz and blues soundtrack which are naturally complimentary and the whole effect coalesces to become a brilliant pub.

Den Turk is deservedly an institution, and a visit to Ghent without popping down for at least one would be to deny you one of the city’s finest and most authentic offerings. It seems almost impossible if I worked in Ghent I would not join their venerable councillors for a drink in Den Turk every lunchtime.

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