A Weekend In Seville – Trip #4 of 2023 🇪🇸 

A Weekend In Seville

Hot on the heels of November’s trip to Andalusia covering Malaga, Cordoba and Granada, the glaring omission was of course the region’s capital, Seville! An opportunity came to meet friends (including a Seville resident) for 5 days.

Seville in southern Spain 🇪🇸 experiences only 50 rainy days a year. Rolling snake-eyes, 10% of their annual precipitation coincided with our 5 day visit. They say if March comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb, and sod’s law, once we returned to the UK, Andalusia has reverted back to warm sunny days.

However, poor weather drives you indoors, not such a bad thing when you’re out here exploring Seville’s bars!

Day 1 – Malaga & Seville 🇪🇸 

We arrived and departed via Malaga, which allowed for a quick stop and meeting with friends at Antigua Casa De Guardia 🇪🇸, a frankly terrific bar on Malaga’s main boulevard into the city centre. It used to operate as the old police station before a conversion into a bodega of sorts. With huge original barrels lining the walls filled with various fortified wines and sherries the place is very  distinctive – even in a region that’s partial to an ostentatiously displayed barrel. That old word – institution – springs to mind, but here there is not only the bar’s history to admire but its rhythm of service, with smartly dressed men of various ages dashing up and down a long bar, writing the bill in chalk on the wooden counter and occasionally ringing a bell loudly – for a reason that wasn’t immediately apparent, but from researching happens whenever someone leaves a tip – which I find rather jolly!

Just don’t peer at the ground as the place couldn’t be described as occupying the height of hygienic standards. Several vermouths, sherries and pajaretes later you’re unleashed, buzzing, onto the bright streets of Malaga, in our case en route to the train station.

On arrival in Seville (approx.. 2hrs 30 journey) we did the necessary check-in and had a rest before meeting friends in town at El Comercio 🇪🇸, a bar which closes unintuitively early, in fact it seemed to only be getting busier and busier as 9pm approached. Apparently it operates as a breakfast bar with churros being particularly popular. A classic bodega with striking black and gold frontage and an open front directly onto a shopping street, it really is an inviting view. Inside past a long bar with the usual haunches of meet hanging above the counter, you’ll find a tiled pub room with typical, familiar bodega surroundings. A twist here is that they serve their cañas of Cruzcampo (a beer we would swing from detesting to tolerating to surprisingly enjoying, all the way back to detesting several times around during our visit) in glazed pots kept in the freezer until they were frosted. Did it improve the beer? No.

Moving on, we visited Ajoblanco 🇪🇸 a little way north east of the centre. This tapas bar leans in a musical direction (Jazz and Blues specifically) with large posters decorating the wall and a selection of records on sale near the back. The proprietor is front of house and runs the place with charisma. Underneath these characterful twists, the nuts and bolts of the place worked. The tapas – unpromising at first – was good, the atmosphere was pleasantly local with a cast of regulars and while we were there it slowly, almost imperceptibly got busier and busier to the point where when we left, it was really getting going.

The hubris of attempting to get in Seville’s most famous bodega, El Rinconcillo 🇪🇸 at 10pm on a Saturday night wasn’t lost on us, but as Michael Jordan said (before presumably tucking into a delicious tapa of Pringá) you lose 100% of the shots you don’t take. We didn’t get in and it would have to wait until later in the trip.

We then moved to Urbano Comix 🇪🇸, for a change of speed, a late bar with quirky, frequently fluorescent décor and comic book stylings but also quite dark and broody. Like the last place, we arrived a little early and it became quite lively as it went along. A late bar and hangout space, this is somewhere you can go to play pool, shoot the breeze and enjoy a drink that isn’t Cruzcampo or wine based. In many cities other than Seville the beer selection wouldn’t be particularly notable, which underlines the extent of the problem here. In a place like Seville this really stands out. Fans of the likes of Klapper33 🇩🇪 in Frankfurt will get on with this place.

The evening moved on apace and the next stop was the heaving Bicicleteria 🇪🇸, a place with more admirers than seats, but somehow, stomping our size tens around, we managed to cleave space for 4 around a table while the other 3 of us marked time until some chairs became available. Most cities have this kind of faux-shop kooky café bar with a bike or two stapled to the wall or ceiling, and this one didn’t do too much new, but couldn’t fault the execution or the atmosphere, as it really did feel like being at the core of the social scene. The nightlife around Plaza de Monte-Sion is well worth checking out.

As a few of peeled off to go to bed, there was time for a final drink and where better than the venue I had at the top of my list – Garlochi 🇪🇸. There are bars and there are bars – and this one is something really quite different. Decorated with the most kitsch Catholic iconography, this makes something like Cofrade Las Merchanas 🇪🇸 in Malaga look tastefully understated. Adding to the consuming intoxicating colours is burning incense which in quite a small venue feels truly transporting. We were made to wait for the experience though, arriving around 1AM to find a line waiting outside. Part of the charm of the character is some elderly front of house dressed like a Yorkshire farmer who attends to proceeding, being seemingly attentively involved and totally redundant all at once. Garlochi 🇪🇸 surprised by offering a bottled Spanish craft beer, a welcome break from Cruzcampo, but its stock and trade is cocktails and mixers.

An aside: Andalusia bars seem to enjoy concealing their menu from customers which slowly becomes irritating when you enter a bar and find staff assuming you must have all the information stored in your head.

We went to bed having had one of the best bar experiences of our travels, not a bad way to begin the trip!

Day 2 – Ruins, Towers & Flamenco

The day began with a trip to Italica, ruins of a Roman city near Santiponce, a village on the outskirts of Seville. Trajan/Hadrian era, the amphitheatre alone is extremely impressive and worth the cheap 30 minute bus ride to see.

On return, the bad weather setting in so we switched to indoor activities (Clue: not knitting). A historic tapas bar Casa Morales 🇪🇸 made sense to visit but, perhaps owing to the rain, was too crowded to be worthwhile. After a quick look we backtracked to Bodega Diaz Salazar 🇪🇸 50 metres back down the road. This bar was not on our initial hit list but its appearance was tempting and it also has a history. This now upright, stylish bodega has attractive frontage and a classical interior. A refurbishment has smartened the place up without losing its soul. This place is a fixture of central Seville and during the mid-20th centuries became a fashionable meeting spot for the political and cultural set. These days there is a mix of old stagers, some tourists and that unmistakeable ‘city centre’ rhythm to it, even when quieter. One of the eye-catching elements of the pub is its enormous urns at the back of the room. Try those baby aubergines pickled in chilli and garlic oil – unreal.

In between here and the next venue, we visited the cathedral, a monument to Catholic excess – minimalist it is not – and climbed La Giralda, its bell tower for spectacular views even in the pouring rain.

Time to put our feet up – we visited Bodega Santa Cruz 🇪🇸, another central tapas fixture. Unlike the previous place this venue is content to get ever more ramshackle and informal with wobbly seats, locals yelling banter across the counter and a large menu that slowly vanishes as the day progresses. Here the tapas was not great first time around, but it has largely excellent reviews and did impress on a 2nd visit.

After a rest back at the apartment, we ventured out for the evening. For a change of format and scenery we looked to visit a first explicitly craft beer slanted venue Lartesana 🇪🇸, a short walk east. Unfortunately we didn’t have a great time here, being deserted and cold, the doors unnecessarily flung open on a cold wet evening. The draft beer options were also pretty mediocre, though there were one or two interesting bottles available. While we didn’t eat our friends reported the food was particularly poor. Not a good start to the evening!

To make up for that we had another try at getting into El Rinconcillo 🇪🇸 – successfully this time! There is a front-of-house whose job is managing the limited space and ensuring the room doesn’t get overfilled – if only more tapas bars had that philosophy! Luckily we were able to squeeze in a leaning post at the bar and enjoyed a few cañas with salted cod, delicious. The bar itself in an interesting old thing, the space on the left belonging to a fin de siècle type school of design with ornate frames and a lighter appearance, while the main bodega with its upturned barrels, urns and gnarled ceiling features a more ancient appearance. 

After a core Seville bar experience it was time to dip into the wider culture and experience some Flamenco! La Carboneria 🇪🇸 is an atypical venue for Seville. Large, airy, a little off-beat and folksy too. It used to be the old coal warehouse, now it is a performance venue with bits and pieces of old tapas bar stuck on it like mosaic pieces, and an attractive leafy courtyard. This is where to go for a rawer, less slick folk performance than the lavish corporate dance shows put on for wealthier tourists. Despite the size of venue it is a rather intimate experience with the place hushed during the music performances. With a decently stocked bar and effectively a free show, this is good value and one of the best choices to experience this on a budget.

After that, we took a risk to visit Bodeguita La Chicotá 🇪🇸, but no luck – it was closed on arrival, leaving us in a bit of a nothing area without too many bars nearby. La Jara Tienda 🇪🇸 was a decent stop-gap with a nice selection of beers including Founders Porter on tap, but we dug into the Spanish craft beer in the fridge. The venue itself was overly lit and indistinct, but anyone who is happy to drink good beer in any old venue should probably make a note of it.

Last up, Bodega La Aurora 🇪🇸 near our apartment was continually busy every time we walked past, so we thought we’d give it a go. A really nice atmosphere is to be found inside, a tapas place that has been brought into the 21st century through some careful tasteful adjustments, but still retaining the essential informality that is the key to their charm. The only aspect that remained firmly in the past was a breathtakingly narrow toilet that comprised one urinal and barely enough space to park your anatomy between the door and the porcelain. Welcome to Seville!

Day 3 – The rain in Spain…

Day 3 was supposed to involve a trip to Cadiz but with more alarming bad weather particularly near the coast, we aborted the trip, instead making do with what turned into a long, enjoyable day out around the bars.

We began with some sightseeing at Plaza España, the beautiful square that is normally not far from Seville’s postcards and promotional material. It is spectacular – odd that it is detached from the centre in a park though. Imagine if the Piazza Del Campo was somewhere near Siena’s football stadium, it wouldn’t make sense. But there you are. The scenes themselves are well worth it.

After lunch to line our stomach we moved to Casa Morales 🇪🇸 which you may remember was a strike out on Day 1. This time we explored the venue a bit more, locating a 2nd room to the rear, arguably superior with more of those huge urns (10 ft tall or more) in the corner. The quality shone through this time, and after sharing a bottle of Ribera among us we moved on to a second visit to Bodega Diaz Salazar 🇪🇸 which provided a reliable repeat experience.

The next stop however, Casa Moreno 🇪🇸 was to prove a real standout. Not just for Seville but for Andalusia itself. A surviving ultramarino from 1940, this grocery store also serves as a bar. With a beautiful black and gold frontage the closed door and wares near the window don’t give off the flung-open Mediterranean welcome of some tapas bars, and perhaps this helps keep tourism to an acceptable minimum. On entrance you’ll see a few old-stagers chatting with the shopkeeper behind a large corner counter and plenty of tinned fish etc on the shelves. Peer around to the doorway on the right though and you’ll find a tiny characterful bar! This little space with its aluminium counter, Semanta Santa photographs and bullfighting memorabilia is a concentrated shot of Sevillano life. The regulars on the few tables at the back of the room look like they never really leave. Even spending 20 minutes here is enough to get a strong, lasting flavour of the place, an operation within an operation, clandestine, bunker-like, unaltered and fantastic.

We moved back to the centre of the Casco Antiguo to La Teresas 🇪🇸 which was recommended for food. Although reviews online were variable our food was notably superior with a few dishes a notch or two higher than their equivalents we’d tried elsewhere. The venue has outgrown its original little bar to adjacent buildings so it feels almost like 3 businesses in one. Café bar with high ceilings and large posters, tiny bodega with hanging haunches and a mounted tribute to the carving knives noting their period of service going back decades.

From there, the socialising continued into the early hours. La Goleta 🇪🇸 is a tiny little drop in place, perfect for a chat out of the rain. Small and yet personalised, no overbearing music or annoying crowds either.

A return to Bodega Santa Cruz 🇪🇸 almost next door was successful, less so our first visit to El Chiringuito 🇪🇸, not because the bar was bad, but because it was simply far too early in the day to get the most out of. The place has less of a traditional character and more of a late night hangout feel to it.

Uptown to our next destination Bodega Soto 🇪🇸 near the limits of the old city to what was a lovely authentic neighbourhood pub with a purely local crowd. A little larger than the tiddly central places, here is where you can host gatherings of families or friends. The décor is still traditional and the atmosphere can be absorbed pleasantly. It is really quite an approachable option.

Keeping it local, we visited Casa Vizcaino 🇪🇸, a well rated neighbourhood Bodega in the district of Feria. You’re unlikely to find a more typical example of a classical tapas bar. Set directly off the Plaza Monte Zion in their heart of the local action, there’s a good spread of generations to be found here which adds to its social quality, the venue itself broad enough to accommodate differing needs.

Before calling it a night we paid further visits to El Rinconcillo 🇪🇸 and the star of the show, Garlochi 🇪🇸 which unsurprisingly was not as busy on a Monday night.

Day 4Palaces, Gardens, Baths…pubs!

After a full-on day we took it easier, focusing on a few essential tourist activities, firstly visiting the magnificent Alcazar which gathers together some of the best aspects of the Alhambra and other palaces we’d visited in the region. The central location makes it really easily accessible but remember to book tickets ahead of time.

After a few hours there it was time to turn attention to bars again, starting at Bodeguita Romero 🇪🇸. Food was serviceable there and the place had a polished feel to it, but was certainly more foodie and not somewhere you’d spend time to hang out. Also shelves on high tables are a bad idea, so we spent most of the time kicking our shins into them. They always seem practical until you actually sit on one (Also looking at you, U Blahovky 🇨🇿 in Brno!)

The next stop was a very welcome foray into world beer and multitap drinking at Cerveceria Internacional 🇪🇸. Very much a last gen beer specialist pub, this pre-dates craft and is mainly focused on the best Belgian, German and Czech beers. Given the volume of Cruzcampo consumed this was very, very welcome. Despite the beer geek element this is a pretty welcoming and approachable place, with tall ceilings and ample space in the room to socialise. Decorated with beer ephemera and personalised, it has a good degree of character and was overall in our Top 5 venues in the city.

At 4pm we had an appointment with the Aire Ancient Baths, soaking in thermal pools and Jacuzzis. We had visited something similar in Cordoba in November. While expensive it is a superb place to unwind. Before then we had a little snack and a drink at Bar Alfafa 🇪🇸, which had a promising exterior, good deal of local character, a young crowd and charismatic staff, but somehow the sum of all parts didn’t impress…as a venue itself wasn’t much of a standout.

After turning into prunes bobbing about in briny water for two hours we emerged to seek drink and sustenance. A table had been booked at Casa Ricardo 🇪🇸 one of the few remaining historic venues on the Seville circuit we had yet to visit. On arrival it transpired that was an outdoor table set quite detached from the pub itself, to the point of basically only being on the street side. That was not the plan at all, so a couple of us had a crack at securing a corner in this very, very busy popular bar. While many tapas bars featured framed photographs the density here must be very high. There needs to be a scale devised like they do with Wetherspoons carpets. This would have been up near the top. If there was space to screw a frame in, it was taken. Once again a lot of these were related to the Easter parades and family heritage, making a characterful venue. The menu here is brief and service lightning quick. You give your name, pay up front and wait for it to be called. So small, you can virtually reach out over the bar top any time you like. This is a really classic, typically Spanish format that is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, cramped and claustrophobic but hyper-informal and reflective of their own social scene.

We parted with the group to visit Clan Sibarita’s 🇪🇸 a little funky neighbourhood wine bar up the road just off the Alameda. This place specialises in natural wines by the glass and hosts occasional live music. High quality, aiming for a thirty something crowd, not trying too hard to be something it isn’t.

Surely there’s some craft beer in Seville? Well, let’s not get our hops up. Hops & Dreams 🇪🇸 offered the best of the scattered, nascent and rather abortive attempts to transplant a craft scene into a very conservative beer culture. The taps focused on Spanish craft and there were some adventurous canned brews in the fridge. The venue itself was so-far-so-industrial-chic that it was difficult to remember a single defining feature aside of the fact it was empty. We have had some very promising, lively craft beer experiences in Palma di Mallorca, Barcelona, Malaga but less so here. It seems like it is still missing a well-located central reliable bolthole.

Lastly, to round off Seville we attempted to visit Taberna Gonzalo Molina 🇪🇸. An intriguing set of reviews spoke of a bar being held up by scaffolding reinforcements, almost rotting away, and some pictures online seemed to support that. However, it seems as though that may have finally bitten the dust. What we can say is Gonzalo Molina continues as an operation in a tiny little bar with some erratic opening hours. Characterful with tiled walls and personalised interior as well as local life, the sort of place that might have been too local to want a crowd of 4 or 5 English people, but we were welcomed in, and glad to see a dark beer on tap – the unexciting Maestro Dunkel – but at this point we were glad of small mercies. The place was cute and memorable enough but what capped off the evening was a frankly bizarre show, as the streets emptied to look at what appeared to be 50 people crammed inside a metal frame slowly carrying it along the road. With a sort of hushed reverence it was very difficult to work out what was going on, but more so why it was happening after midnight? It appears that these men were practising, a rehearsal – if not a dress rehearsal – for the Easter parades.

Day 5 – Malaga then home

Spain’s trains are excellent. If not cheap then they are fast and generally reliable. However, they have a crucial flaw – they sell out and there aren’t many during the course of the day. You have a ridiculous situation where you can’t actually travel by train between two major cities because they’ve sold out. This makes planning in advance crucial, but it shouldn’t be so inflexible. This left us having to book coach tickets, a long 2 hour 30 journey to Malaga, which I did in a huff and in a rush.

As it goes when you’re not thinking straight, I didn’t concentrate properly and booked the wrong date! We could have very nearly missed our flight as a result. Mercifully the bus driver took pity and allowing us to fill the remaining seats on the coach.

Due to all this, rather than having all day in Malaga we only had a few hours, but there was enough time to return to the classics Cofrade Las Merchanas 🇪🇸 (quiet but still atmospheric), El Pimpi 🇪🇸 (busy, touristy but good) and of course Antigua Casa de Guardia 🇪🇸 for the final fling. That place is bloody addictive!

Final thoughts:

Seville is a wonderful destination to visit if you take care to do so outside of the Easter Parades, the intense summer heat and any other looming religious festivals. Its sights are impressive and tie up a lot of the sense of Andalusia you pick up from visiting the likes of Malaga, Cordoba, Granada all in one place. The cathedral, tower, Roman ruins, palace, baths will keep you well occupied before you even get started with the bars.

Bar culture in Seville is as close as you’ll get to traditional for such a large, otherwise cosmopolitan city. The sheer numbers of uninterruptedly legit, authentic bodegas, tabernas etc is fantastic, helped of course by the level of tourism remaining manageable.

The flipside is that with little incentive to change, you’re left with some downsides, primarily pretty poor beer options virtually everywhere and a stunted craft scene that didn’t leave the impression there will be a wave of change coming soon. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of venues are set up for food or at least tapas snacking. There comes a time in an evening where you simply can’t fit any more food inside you.

Prices are fair virtually everywhere you go, not unusual at the time of writing to be paying 1.80 for 0.2l of beer and between 2.80-4 euros for a tapas dish. If you’re in a group and happy to share food, value increases exponentially by choosing a media or racion portion which frequently veers to the very generous.

It is relevant to mention that vegans or anyone more intensely involved in animal welfare may find Seville’s overbearing displays of meat and in-your-face bullfighting culture veers towards the obnoxious. There are some competing strands of thought about that and Spain is currently engaged in a rather confected culture-wars type conflict between generations who would otherwise be on the same page in terms of the overriding economic issues keeping them both down.

It’s very possible the Catholicism might also be too cloying, from the overuse of gold leaf, the Klan style pointy hats, incense burning even in bars and lachrymose iconography. It is intense, it is in your face.

As a distinctive, less corporate and more authentic city Seville really stands out and, depending on your tolerance for the above quirks, it could be just the thing you’re looking for. From a bar perspective, to come away with over 20 recommendations and a hatful underneath that which were fine/good, shows there is a lot of mileage in a trip here.

Au Delft, Liège

There is a certain delight in finding a diamond in the rough, not least when it’s a brown café. Liège’s careworn and ramshackle districts provide plenty of rough – this is not a city that has enjoyed the most tasteful town planning, nor preservation of its heritage. There are quirky features and surprising beauty spots if you are determined to find them. Impasses, a giant staircase, quiet side streets, timber framed buildings sprinkled across the city, and upon arrival a dramatically different (if annoyingly distant) ultra-modern railway station.

This city is certainly not one to write-off, but on a grey weekend, the place seems overburdened with regret about its numerous ill-maintained architectural mistakes, not to mention the inevitable results that come from relatively pauce economic circumstances.

Wallonia is not the well-to-do side of Belgium these days, and hasn’t been for a long time. While it is breathtakingly beautiful in its rural areas and some small towns, a visit to its cities (the likes of Charleroi or Liège) is more than a tad reminiscent of the atmosphere you’ll find visiting dour towns in Northern France, especially in comparison to the well-financed Flemish cities of Ghent and Antwerp.

However, a reliable general rule is: the more hard-nosed a city, the worse its climate, the more likely it will be crammed full of drinking holes. Liège proves this quite adequately, as a cursory search will reveal, you can barely turn a corner in the centre without bumping into some bar or other, while certain streets have a local notoriety.

Some bars, such as Taverne St. Paul, Café Lequet and Le Pot Au Lait are, for their own differing reasons, Liégeois institutions, the bright lights that draw everyone in (those with good taste, anyway). However, today we are going to focus on a more understated city centre venue, Au Delft.

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Au Delft is a corner bar situated in an art deco influenced grey-brown brick city building with a quarter-circle frontage and circular windows running down each storey. The structure is non-committal and the materials used are unattractive in colour, so the impression lands in an uncanny valley between noticeably funky and downright ugly.

It doesn’t seem as though this would contain anything preserved except perhaps the embryonic ego of a reckless architect, but one look at the Jupiler signage, and the ground floor bar indicates that something interesting may be inside – or at the absolute very least, somewhere to buy a beer.

Step inside under a large dark green awning to discover a well-preserved bar blending stylish décor (appearing to span from the early ’50s to ’70s to my eye), with features and fittings that regularly appear in brown cafés, one of my absolute favourite styles of bar. Their name itself references a medieval town in Western Netherlands, a heartland of the brown café or bruine kroege.

That Au Delft now feels frozen in time is no accident – they knew they were onto a winner with this place and haven’t altered the format. Unlike the thousands of idiots who have vandalised amazing pubs and bars over the years, the owners have chosen to retain what made it special and ignored the nearly irrepressible human instinct to follow trends.

The bar area itself is magnificent. Faded with age but handsomely redeemed by its character. This scene is juxtaposed with a chess board tiled floor, which wouldn’t be my preferred choice usually, but works brilliantly for this place.

Some small details set this place apart, without adding clutter. The newspaper clips, the beautiful painted lettering on the mirrors which are installed in the partitions above crimson leather-backed seats. Indications of present tradition and ritual mixed with a melancholy legacy of days that are long gone, never to return.

Some of this reminded me of Au Daringman, in Brussels, another out-of-time venue,  that exudes confidence and contentment in what it is.

If you are used to paying 4 euros 50 for a quarter litre of beer in Brussels bars then you will scarcely believe your eyes when you discover the prices. Yes, pleasingly these are pitched to attract the custom locals rather than fleece tourists, but when allowing for Au Delft’s city centre location it comfortably beats some of the local competition too.


Au Delft are not competing with those bars that are trying to start their own seed bank of beer for when the human race faces extinction, but they carefully tick off most of the main traditional Belgian beer styles and none of these could be said to be poor value: far from it.

There is actually something relieving about being spared the task of rifling through a Bible to choose between hundreds of beers and dozens of styles each time you desire a drink.

With my limited French I struggled a little to get my point across (there’s nothing more confidence-sapping than delivering a sentence which you are fairly confident is grammatically correct and well-pronounced only to receive a reaction of complete opacity and confusion) but thankfully the service was more than kind enough to offer patience in that regard. Any beer you select will be served to your table along with a small tray of nuts, which is a little token of mutual back-scratching I always like. After all, once the salt gets to work, further liquid is required.

The crowd in Au Delft is a mixture of loyal older regulars who have instant recognition and are well cared for by the staff. You will also find couples wanting a quiet drink and the occasional group of young friends.


Au Delft has a nice convivial atmosphere whether quiet or busy, partly down to the carefully preserved décor and sense of refuge. It is both an excellent place for quiet contemplation or jovial conversation.

I was on limited time and so could only stay for a couple of beers, but I could have easily remained in Au Delft all evening. The impossible prospect of turning a place into my local, to get to know the other staff and become part of the fixtures of the bar are often one of the melancholy aspects of travelling. Often I am happy just to have found the venue and spent a night there, but Au Delft is one of those places I suspect you can only truly ‘find’ when you have visited for many years.

While Au Delft may not be the first name on everyone’s lips when it comes to nightlife in Liège, their quietly confident style, preserved features, genuine local life, friendly service and great value mean that it can’t be missed out and it comfortably earns a place on our guide as being one of the best pubs in Europe.

Our Rating:  8/10

Quality and/or choice of drinks8/10

Style and Decor8/10

Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life8/10

Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10

Value for Money8/10

The Pub-Going Factor8/10

Place Cockerill 22, 4000 Liège, Belgium
+32 4 221 45 70

…back to Belgium




Bar Marsella, Barcelona

Carrer de Sant Pau, 65, 08001 Barcelona, Spain

  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 7/10
  • Style and Decor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities & Events – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 6/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10

Being a cult venue, Marsella isn’t exactly a secret. Any basic search will reveal lurid tales from this bar’s often sordid 200-year history, but just because Barça residents know all about it doesn’t make the experience passé for a newcomer. Every first visit is by definition a novel one and besides, there are good reasons why it has become an institution, as I will now reveal:

You’ll need to walk to the Raval district just a short walk west of La Rambla. This has been a notoriously edgy red-light district in the past, but they seem to have cleaned it up a touch lately. From my experience it isn’t any more or less edgy than most major European city centre districts, including those on the Med. While there may be some drunkards around late in the evening, and destitute migrants trying to sell you ambient temperature beer from crates, all this stuff can be swerved without encountering any real trouble.  Perhaps my tolerance comes through growing up in Northern cities in the UK, where you’re never far away from confrontation of some sort. The only thing I would watch out for is being corned by any groups down any narrow lanes – they will know the rat runs better than you (being rats and all).

After a short walk the faded and stained net curtains and  geriatric frontage of Marsella comes into view, set directly off the street. You might need to do a double-take to confirm which of the various panels is the door – and don’t yank the door off its hinges! The fixtures look so delicate and aged that any mistreatment might cause the whole edifice to crumble.



This theme continues once you’re inside. You’ll find a single-room marble bar with a wide open space at the front doubling as old-time  dance-floor and bar area. Though they do occasionally organise events, there probably won’t be any dancing going on and you’ll see most people gathered along the seating areas to the left as you enter.

Take a moment to inspect the cracked plaster everywhere, the decrepit wood panelling and former grandeur, which brings to mind a Havana cocktail bar. There are shelves and bookcases along the far wall with bottles that look untouched for several decades, if not longer.

Among many items of interest are Franco-era signs prohibiting singing, spitting, loitering and amassing in large groups (fun not being one of the hallmarks of living in Catalonia during his dictatorship). It was known at the time that the establishment was a hangout of dissidents and revolutionaries.

As with most Spanish bars, you can expect to find it open until the late hours. If Google is correct, opening at 6pm would make Marsella is somewhat of an early riser. 10pm is not uncommon time for some bars to open in Spain, and given I have read varying reports about its opening hours I would recommend you try this place later on in the evening to give you the best chance.

Marsella is well-known for its Absinthe, a rarity in the city until the last few decades. You may find some brave souls partaking in the rather studied ritual as you scan the room.

There is certainly a time and place for Absinthe – and where better than here? However, even with that factored in, a more astute decision in my view would be to order one of their enormous boozy cocktails that are made with panache but presented plainly and simply (contrast that with any cocktail bar in England where the added value is all about the artifice and presentation). While I love a beer, some bars just don’t feel quite right to drink it in, and this is one of them.

The current operation is a fascinating double team of Master and Apprentice. His teacher, a scholarly old soul who tends the bar, chips in here and there, and a young scholar who does the table service and most of the hard yards.

The atmosphere is powerful, particular once the booze gets to work. I’d recommend plonking yourself on a table where you can see the bar area on your left and the seating area on your right, as this gives you the full panorama. There is a hell of a lot to look at in the bar, but take a moment to ease back in your chair and appreciate the general scene itself, where at points you will feel as if you’re fading into the history of the place. Perhaps it’s the glow of the lights against the walnut-coloured wooden panels, or that undefinable ‘vibe’ that makes it an unforgettable destination, but the short of it is, they’ve created something simply by doing nothing. Since 1820 they’ve opened their doors and just let it gradually age (and in some senses rot) around them. Is the place ever cleaned? Glasses, seats, floor and table-tops, perhaps. The rest? Don’t bet on it.

You can read the anecdotes about Hemingway, Picasso, Dali if you like, but I preferred to sit there and considering the wider churn of people that must have frequented the place over time, mostly to enjoy the absinth and heady surroundings.

I read here that Marsella was previously threatened with closure due to the wishes of the building owner (something this 2013 website appears to mourn), until the city itself stepped into save it, purchasing the building itself to insure against it. This article (in Spanish) confirms it.

“The bar Marseille, whose future was uncertain during the last two years due to disagreements between Lamiel and the former owners of the premises, has just become the property of the City Council, which has bought the building on Sant Ramon Street, 1, Sant Pau corner. for 1,093,000 euros.”

Extraordinary. How many bars could you possibly say that about?

So many new bars try to be all things to all people, with the end result being a bland beige mush no-one will ever remember – let alone try and save from closure. By contrast, this bar knows itself, isn’t afraid to be loved or hated and is never going to change until the building itself collapses into rubble on top of it. Until that day comes, Viva el Marsella! – Places like this don’t come along every day.

The Seven Stars, London

back to England

53 Carey St, London WC2A 2JB
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 7/10
  • Style and Décor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 5/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10

Claiming to originate in 1602, the building itself containing The Seven Stars has survived The Great Fire of London, and – just as impressively in my view – the next 400 years of change unscathed, all the while serving as a public house. It’s a remarkable feat that places  it as  one of London’s core heritage pubs.

Many pubs trade on their history, (and that of The Seven Stars is an interesting read) , without backing that up by being an enjoyable place to drink in the here and now. Thankfully, The Seven Stars is not one of those places: it’s a little cracker.

Carey Street has a row of townhouses that are overshadowed by the enormous London County Court, Royal Courts of Justice and LSE library, so it is quite easy to wander halfway past The Seven Stars before realising. It’s a very quiet street and doesn’t seem the most likely place for a pub to be situated these days, though that makes it a perfect venue for those in-the-know. The frontage of The Seven Stars is squat and compact with the predictable (but entirely appropriate) gothic signage. It looks like a small place and it is – there’s no TARDIS effect once you walk inside.


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Although micro-pubs may now be reversing the trend for enormous, open plan pubs, none of them are made quite like this old thing. You’ll walk through the entrance to find a low-beamed venerable establishment with a bar directly opposite the entrance, and a narrow space set over two rooms. There are stools to sit at the bar and drink, and tables decorated with checked tablecloths and candles (a little dressy for my tastes, but it did make me think fondly of Den Turk in Ghent, which is not dissimilar).

For the last decade or so, The Seven Stars has been the domain of a ruff-sporting and locally famous pub cat who sadly passed away not so long back. Nevertheless, I have been informed a new cat has entered the premises! If you venture into conversation at the bar with the owner Roxy, she may expand on the and possibly get into the tale of one punter who mistook the cat bowl for bar snacks. Don’t be shocked – anything can happen in London.

The décor and ‘lived-in’ nature of the pub is where most of its character comes from, a pleasingly ungentrified and carefully preserved sense of welcome that tends to strike an immediately positive impression with people regardless of any preconceived ideas. This impression is important to cling onto for when you order a beer (or food), because those London prices hit hard and hit deep. This isn’t worth singling The Seven Stars out for, however, that’s just how things are. It is worth bearing in mind a lot of lawyers drink here.

Nevertheless, you’ll find a set of well kept cask ales from regional breweries served via hand pump – it’s a decent if unspectacular range which will keep you satisfied for at least a few.

In a similar way to Whitelock’s in Leeds, the toilets are located above the pub itself via a satisfyingly creaky staircase, where you will also pass by the kitchens and a room crammed full of odds and ends. By any standards these days (particularly London’s), this is a characterful and individual place that isn’t interesting in the Farrow & Ball school of interior design or repainting itself to remain ‘on-trend’ every ten years.

As mentioned above, the pub is popular with local lawyers and court staff, and due to the small size you may find yourself unable to grab a seat. However, trade is brisk in the evenings so be patient and things will move along – grab your chance when you see it. There’s nothing like being seated to enjoy the atmosphere of a tangle at the bar in a traditional pub such as this.

As the lights from the outside dim, and those from the inside take over, there can be no question of whether this is a pub of outstanding merit.

Although The Seven Stars may have lasted 400 years, the obnoxious pace of gentrification in the last 30 years means that pubs like these perpetually under threat from people who simply want to run poor facsimiles of bars they’ve seen elsewhere. This is a pub that demonstrates the importance of being your own thing. That’s worth something.

I’ll leave you with this anecdote from their website:

While enjoying a few Friday afternoon wind-down drinks, a group of 15 or so lawyers (young ones) entered the Seven Stars awkwardly and decamped nearby. There then began a cacophonous symphony of table and chair scraping, until they had blocked all passage in or out of the bar. Regaling of a most competitive flavour followed, ever louder, underwritten by a desperate, pleading “notice me” subtext. Its volume only matched by the ethereal transparency of its content. We drank up and moved on – our seats snatched hungrily into their possession before we got to the door. Congratulations, you’ve emptied the pub! Not all lawyers are like this, true, but this was selfish and shameful behaviour. Hopefully, few noticed.

Have you visited The Seven Stars? Any comments, feedback or suggestions for our write-up? Please get in touch!

Hostomická Nalévárna, Prague

back to Czechia

Soukenická 1192/17, 110 00 Nové Město, Czechia
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 8/10
  • Style and Decor – 8/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 6/10
  • Value for Money – 9/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10

‘Vycep Soukenicka’ in a previous life, it seems this spot has served as an in-the-know local’s pub for quite a while before this recent rebrand.

The new name springs from a village south west of Prague, Hostomice, which isn’t much further along than Karlstejn and its enormous castle. You could decide on a trip out if the weather’s nice, but when they’ve set up what is ostensibly their Prague tap house in one of the nicest old pubs in the city centre, there’s a convenient excuse to stay put.

I urge you to mark this pub on your map of Prague as this area of the city between Josefov district and Florenc metro is a little short on pubs worth a damn. I often find myself having to head through it, and invariably choose this place as the pub of choice.

The difficulty is, once you move east from the old town (let’s say, from U Parlamentu/U Pivnrce) area and through Josefov, the traditional Czech pubs disappear and are replaced by cocktail bars and glamorous-looking (but probably seedy) ‘gentlemen’s’ clubs. Josefov is a fascinating district for many reasons but purely on pub terms, I wouldn’t get your hopes up. This malaise extends past the Powder Tower and the Štefánikův bridge to be honest, all the way into Karlin. With one notable exception.

For traditional Czech drinking (the kind where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with normal Prague folk while chugging pivo) the newly christened Hostomická Nalévárna is the best option in that half-mile radius. If you’re planning a pub crawl, particularly if you’re staying near Náměstí Republiky this place will be a godsend to help join the dots together. In fairness, it isn’t a long walk from the old town anyway.

Pivovar Hostomice has a great reputation for their beer, which is handy given there aren’t any  beers from other breweries available at this pub. From the several visits I made they offered an unfiltered 10°  světlé výčepní (light lager), 12° světlý ležák (premium lager) and a 13° tmavy, (or dark) lager on tap as a general rule. They may have specials on rotation but if they do, they weren’t exactly advertising the fact. I’m just glad when I visited in March, no-one was drinking green beer, (brewed every Easter and bafflingly popular, even among locals).


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Their prices are a steal considering it’s Prague city centre, with their 10 degrees light lager as good as being £1 for a half litre, and the others barely a few crowns more. This good value extends to the other options available, such as the wine (which my partner found almost as cheap as beer elsewhere around the city).

One of the more intimidating things for a tourist, leaving the traditionally large pivnices in Prague city centre behind and heading to a local drop-in pub is the more direct interaction with locals, and this is something you’ll need to factor in during your visit. Knowing your p’s and q’s goes a fair way in Czechia. The tapster here is a polite enough young man who will speak in Czech  if he thinks he can get away with it but is hospitable to outlanders who play by the house rules. He serves as both tapster and server given the small size of the place. At the very bare minimum, muttering ‘dvyeh piva prosim’ will procure two of their light beers. Fresh, unfiltered and delicious, I may say. The unfussy branding and lack of a corporate feel reminded me of the often brandless, but out of this world fresh Kellerbier and Vollbier you can find in Franconia and Bavaria.

Moving onto the pub itself, it’s a small cosy sort of place with a small bar on your left as you walk in, and a compact seating area in behind. Click here for a quick slideshow from the brewery’s facebook account. I managed to be seated on each occasion I visited which seemed unlikely given the place seats perhaps 25 people at most, and is never empty. The amount of wood you’re surrounded with is typical of these kind of places, and a look I enjoy very much, even if I do wish they offered cushioned, upholstered seats like most English pubs.

The folk around you vary from quiet couples in their 30s, jovial groups of youngsters and old folk playing cards and setting the world to rights. A classic cross section of people who appreciate the virtues of a traditional pub. There’s a big TV hanging at the back of the room for if the going gets dull, which will be playing whatever sport is going. There are those desperate moments in life where Japanese basketball or youth curling competitions suddenly become diverting.

I enjoyed the fact that they hadn’t been bothered to remove or paint over the old sign, which is entirely appropriate as they haven’t done anything to the interior either. That may have changed (and some evidence suggests it has) but the interior remains pleasingly old school. All the Hostomice stuff seems merely transient, which gives me the hope that even if for whatever reason they cease as an ongoing concern, another group will come along to keep the fires burning.

You can see from the scores at the top that the place is a decent all-rounder, the only shortcoming being a relative lack of amenities, but this comes with the territory. Each pub deserves a license to be what it wants to be. Not all pubs need or desire to serve cooked food, or host events. Sometimes a cosy seat, a good cheap pint and a load of old wood is all that’s required. Hostomická Nalévárna is there for you when those times arrive.

This place typifies that often impossible urge to drop in to one more pub on the way home, that is so beautifully brought to life in Czech literature.

Pub goers everywhere, rejoice in the fact places such as this exist! Use it or lose it….

Have you visited? Any comments or corrections? Please get in touch via the comments or our Facebook page!

Whitelock’s, Leeds

back to England

Turks Head Yard, Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6HB
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 8/10
  • Style and Decor – 10/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 5/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor – 9/10

Amid a shower of mediocrity Whitelock’s is a beacon of preservation and tradition. You might call the place an object lesson creating a characterful pub.

Whether Leeds is serving up mediocrity in the form of cut-and-paste industrial chic craft ale venues or boring chain pubs, you only have to look at Whitelock’s to tell the difference between a here-today-gone-tomorrow fad, a Greene King IPA/Sports screen piece of gentrified nothingness and character of a sort that endures. Read the Historic England listing if you don’t believe me.

Whitelock’s itself was first founded in 1715 as The Turk’s Head, and served as a city centre mainstay in the Georgian era, although you’ll find the current state more akin to late Victorian in style, with mirrored panels, stained glass, tiled bar and tarred black wood, a strange halfway-point between the opulent and the down-to-earth.

The pub functioned as a ‘Luncheon Bar’ after being taken over by the Whitelock family in the 1880s, and in the daytime the place has much the same feel as it would have had a century ago; a bustling busy atmosphere (partly due to the compact space) with food service and drinking intermingling. Whenever you visit you always feels like you are part of a grand old tradition.

Situated down of one of Leeds many arcades off Brigate, the pub used to stretch along the length of the yard, albeit part was rarely used for years. It’s a narrow snaking venue, now effectively two bars, one of which is now a stylish cocktail and craft ale bar called The Turk’s Head in homage to the original name, but which typifies everything Whitelock’s isn’t – this may be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences. The pub can be approached from either side of the arcade, although I recommend approaching via the Trinity Centre entrance where it is hiding in plain sight surrounded by modernity. You access a quiet corridor, still called Turk’s Head Yard, which builds into rabbit-hole like escape from the noise of the street and shopping streets – it really makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. You will find benches outside, which can be nice to sit out on a warm evening but are not the main reason for venturing down here. Head inside and chance your arm at finding a seat – not always the easiest easy task in here.

The crowd at Whitelock’s rises and falls in swells. In the space of half an hour the scene at bar can change from a breathless tangle vying for space to calm and sedate. It’s really quite interesting to spectate.

The bar area itself is unusual and –of course– old-fashioned. Despite the pub having a low ceiling, the bar itself seems raised above the level of the pub so after pulling your pint it seems like they are lowering it down to the bar top where you are stood. The toilets are accessed via a narrow little staircase at the end of the bar, which is quirky, almost like being on a ship rather than a pub.

The best beers by far in Whitelock’s are the cask ales, as the lager offerings remain a little behind the times. You’ll find some of the classic real ales kept well on cask, along with some interesting local options. They have some forays into what are deemed ‘craft’ styles, and a sister partnership with the (in my opinion) bang average Five Points, but the guest cask ales feel far more in keeping with what the place should be about.

Although I am largely interested in a pub as a place to drink, for a change, I would like to enthuse about the food. They have put a lot of thought into how to bring the idea of Luncheon menu into the 21st century, and have largely managed it, with most dishes having an English pub heritage, and they use fresh ingredients, the majority of which are sourced from Kirkgate Market, which shows in the flavour. You pay for it, yes, but it’s well-prepared. It isn’t just a generic pub grub place, as Leeds University alumni and restaurant critic Jay Rayner remarked in his review.

It doesn’t stop there, as Whitelock’s and the Turks Head now host beer related events, annual festivals and suchlike, so you can’t go around Leeds for too long before your head is turned back to Whitelock’s.

Once you’re inside and sat down, with only the dappled light coming through the frosted glass, you can really soak up what is an extraordinary environment. With it being a typically cosy old pub, this works particularly well in autumn and winter – once holed up it won’t feel like there’s any reason to move elsewhere. Whole afternoons and evenings can come and go here supping quality pints of ales safely swaddled by its comfortable surroundings.

Whitelock’s is by far the best of the category ‘traditional pub’ in Leeds and due to its very particular preserved features and it could stake a fair claim to being one of the very best in the United Kingdom.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s Whitelocks was a haunt for artists and has been deemed characterful enough to be a subject of artistic study, as this vivid artwork demonstrates. John Betjemen, who always had a taste for the preserved, compared Whitelock’s favourably to another venerable public house, The Cheshire Cheese in London: a ‘less self-conscious’ equivalent.

I have linked to a 1968 video documentary of Leeds, ‘A Poet Goes North’ where this features. Highly recommended as a terrific watch.

In 2006 Whitelocks was awarded an overdue Civic Trust plaque for historical importance.  Therefore, if the team running Whitelock’s can deal with all this level of praise magnanimously then I assume my more modest inscription on European Bar Guide won’t alter their unabashed heads-down on-with-the-job approach. Viva Whitelock’s!

Café Vlissinghe, Brugge

back to Belgium

Blekersstraat 2, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –8/10
  • Style and Decor – 10/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 10/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 8/10
  • Value for Money – 6/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  10/10

Every town deserves at least one historic place in which nothing ever seems to change. Being able to link aspects of our own lives to the past (as futile as that endeavour may seem at times) helps to provide our own existence with a sense of place and purpose, in the knowledge that we have retained and respected at least some things of value along the way, and by frequenting these places we contribute to their survival.

Café Vlissinghe takes this idea and extends it beyond all usual historical parameters, and the news gets better still – it’s a pub! Even in Brugge, a place not short of preserved architecture and institutions, it can reasonably claim to be one of the most evocative links to their past, the business traceable for centuries and thankfully keen to preserve the format for centuries to come. Once you have a good thing you don’t easily let that go.

The earliest record of the pub dates back to 1515, extraordinary in and of itself and it claims to have been running continuously from then until the present. This earns Vlissinghe a place on the list of oldest companies in the world. The look of the place may be redolent of a late Medieval inn, however it appears some of the appearance was lovingly and coherently retrofitted in the mid-1800s (an era steeped in fascination and nostalgia for all things Medieval), with the installation of contemporaneous artworks and paintings and furniture that are consistent with the period. It’s all very brown, black, tarred, burnt caramel and crusty textures. Precisely the sort of thing you want with an old pub.

Vlissinghe is located mercifully outside of the main tourist drag, down a typical Brugge alley: cobbled street, whitewashed walls, ancient brickwork, and a bicycle propped up outside that’s so old you wonder whether it’s become an ornament (until a man in a flat cap emerges from the door, tucks his newspaper under his coat and rides off on it). It must be no more than 50 metres long, but the amble down the lane, with the pub entrance coming closer with your every stride has become somewhat of a ritual for me, just long enough to build a sense of anticipation for what’s to come…

Vlissinghe’s gothic lettering is painted above the entrance, so dive straight in and turn left and head down a long corridor entrance with a series of side rooms. This may lead you to believe it is a large venue, but the pub itself is really just a central room, up a couple of steps at the end. You will note it is appointed with large, sturdy, venerable furniture, cushioned with studded leather upholstery, warped floorboards that creak underfoot, faded oil paintings hung on the wall which you have to swivel to and fro between the sheen of the lighting to properly discern, and an impressive and unusual centrepiece: a cast iron steam heater kicking out warmth into the room, most welcome on those days when the cold is piercing and the wind is rushing down the North Sea through the canals and arteries off Zeebrugge.

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There is a pub dog, for good measure who is unobtrusive and content with its existence, pottering around, sniffing and having naps.

The main room overlooks a garden and terrace area used as a bowling green in the summer and has outhouse toilets, which gives the place a friendly and ad hoc feel. These toilets are modern, which I will concede is the one part of a pub which should keep up with the times (though, rather incongruously, they also ‘have’ an APP!)

The kitchen is in an adjoining building and focuses on winter fuel – soups, toasties, meat and cheese platters, miscellaneous bar snacks, which are all done Belgian-style, reliably homespun, the purpose being to warm you up and soak up the drinking. Service is friendly (occasionally disorganised and a little slow, which comes with the territory) and the prices are par for the course, with a few cheaper options.

Nevertheless, there are other things going on here than a pocket sized ethnographic museum, Café Vlissinghe stocks a local beer, the delicious tripel Fort Lapin brewed in a garage five minutes up the road by a new brewer. As this is part-fermented in the bottle and unfiltered, as you pour in the last part of the bottle you will note the colour change from bright amber to a cloudy, yeasty colour! Even with this beer choice, you get the sense of sentimentality and heritage at wanting to promote a city project, even with the hundreds of other Belgian beers they could have chosen to sell. The total range of beers available is modest (most Belgian cafés feel obliged to offer at least 60 bottles and 8-10 taps these days, which does showcase their extraordinary brewing very well, but is often unnecessary) but it is well chosen, with at least one of each main style, and with local options.

The main appeal of frequenting Vlissinghe is the sheer sense of relaxation. Whether it is 11.30 in the morning or last thing at night, I doubt anything about the feel of the pub changes hugely. Hunker down for an afternoon of supremely enjoyable beer drinking, hearty soups and toast, or head down in the evening and sit amongst the throng, frozen- in-time but warmed through with merriment and the satisfaction of your own quiet contribution to keeping the whole thing going. Cheers!

À la Mort Subite, Bruxelles

back to Belgium

Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères 7, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium

There is sometimes a premium to be paid on a special occasion, so on my annual visit to A La Mort Subite I breathe in deeply and dive more deeply still into my wallet, on account of the luxurious overall experience of visiting this splendid Bruxelles bar.

Distinctly Parisien in format, this opulent faded-grandeur art nouveau venue (translation: At The Sudden Death) is one of Brussels and Belgiums most famous bars, so no surprises or left-field picks from me this time. A la Mort Subite might count as a brown café for the bench seating up the sides of the long room, if it wasn’t for the lack of brown elsewhere. Cream walls and pillars, the elegant ornamental décor stacked with studded crenullations, mirror panels and a stately, out of time design. You have a venue somewhere in between a café and a salon, originally built as a place for socialites to be seen in, yet, being Belgian, still focused predominantly on beer. The décor has such an authentic and preserved quality (no change since 1928, save for the occasional running repair) so it’s difficult to think of too many other places that are alike.

Mort Subite supplies the draft beer, and this brewery serves fruit beers and lambic effect rather than the real wild yeast sour lambics McCoy. They are still rich in flavour and sweetness, and a tad sour, but lacking any sort of dryness and depth that might indicate the traditional lambic brewing process. A small serving of their kriek for example, which would be a good choice, will set you back five euros on its own. Some of the other options are fairly astronomical considering the price one can drink for elsewhere in excellent surroundings. Mort Subite beer may as well be drunk here as much as anywhere on the globe. With this being Brussels you can expect a small food menu with cheese, charcuterie options and the usual pub food like croque monsieur to help your beer go down (as if anyone should need help finishing a Belgian beer!)


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The bar clearly feel they are unique to set such a high price, and annoyingly, they are right. An afternoon drink in A la Mort Subite can feel rather like a drink in a grand café, nice enough in itself, but the bar character starts to come alive in the early evening time as the crowd changes, and you can suddenly start to absorb some of the atmosphere and understand the underlying reasons for the endurance of this place. A special bleary eyed feel starts to develop, the sharp lines and corners blurring into the cream colours, like dropping into a dreamworld. That’ll also be the strong beer…

The grandeur and glamour of socialising in the inter-war era is yet to be recreated around Europe on any identifiable level, save for the odd outstanding example, partly because of the lack of venues who have committed to investing the kind of money to pull it off well, and also because the eventual crowd it attracts tend to have little to no appreciation of their surroundings anyway.

Service is almost classically continental, with wide stomached balding René type characters smoothly dissecting the venue with assurance and steady hands under the drinks trays. They are immaculately professional and patient considering conveyor belt of foreign tourists and the format of table service requiring more work than is strictly necessary. These characters add further to the sense of intransigent and reliability that lend a place a certain charm, that A la Mort Subite certainly possesses.

Although the evening and night crowd appeals to a few nostalgic locals who insist bars like these used to be abundant, a large volume tourists of venture in during the daytime, and because of the heritage of the place, often an aged crowd at that. The only sudden death that occurs in this bar is from pneumonia and cardiac arrest, I suspect.

Changing the venue in anyway seems to be verboten, and I wouldn’t approve major adjustments either ,however it seems to me there is nothing to stop the place rejigging the drinks choices and doing some marketing from the outside, as this venue is not designed for middle aged obese American sat in Burghaus jackets, it is designed for the young, the stylish and the vibrant. The way to really bring back the good old days isn’t just to leave the décor and service meticulously unchanged and hope for the best. The good old days were good because they were vital, vibrant and inhabited a nascent social scene. The place could do more in that regard by hosting more events, perhaps some understated live music, and so on.

In order for A La Mort Subite to take the next step, they need to be brave enough to recapture the zeitgeist in a way that doesn’t upset the period features, rather than settling for being a museum.

A La Mort Subite is a preserved remnant of a particular era and a great opportunity for anyone with a real passion in the rich and diverse history of socialising, beer drinking and recreational culture to step out of the every day experience and soak in the special character of the place. There are scarcely grander or more historical venues to recline and get merry with some astoundingly good beer. It may be so well known as to be passé, and it isn’t the pinnacle itself of pub going, but that doesn’t stop it being one of the best bars in Europe.

  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 7/10
  • Style and Decor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 8/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 5/10
  • Value for Money – 4/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10