…back to Belgium
Review Score & Summary
Quality & Choice of Drinks: 8/10
Style & Decor: 8/10
Character, Atmosphere & Local Life: 9/10
Value For Money: 7/10
Summary: A triumph of survival and will power to keep something simple going, in the way Tilt has. It is interesting how that alone has steadily made the place feel more and more special as time goes on.
Serving Mechelen, Belgium since 1906, Den Tilt is a true survivor tucked away in a pleasant residential suburb, even then only 15 minutes walk from the train station or the old centre. It seemed only fair, given the proximity, to attempt a visit on our first trip to the city.
Google can only tell you so much, but the gathering impression from the comments was one of authenticity and local life, which appeals to us far more than 50 different beer taps or vintage-effect light bulbs. While many towns have their ‘local institution’, we had no idea just how famous the place was.
It was a pleasant day and a pleasant walk, crossing past the enormous stone medieval gate, over the grand canal (which dissects the rivers La Senne & Den Dijle, the second running through Mechelen centre) and a short zig-zag through quiet suburbs. We had previously stopped in at Café Hanekeef near the central square, itself an interesting venue, and thoroughly enjoyed both the pub and the sights of the town centre. Mechelen really is an excellent city that remains overlooked by tourists despite its beauty and historic interest.
Upon arrival, we spotted familiar Maes Pils signage (one of the most common Belgian lagers), Palm emblems (same) and a whitewashed shop front with an interesting old ‘Brigand’ sign attached to what was once a first floor window.
The sign for Café Tilt “Lokaal W.T.C” itself seems to our eyes a bit unfashionable, the kind of thing you expect from community pubs. This is a good sign actually, as it duly indicates what’s to be found inside.
The wording ‘Lokaal’ is colloquial for pub, but not so often displayed outside in that manner – perhaps a throwback in itself. The W.T.C is a reference to its other purpose: a ‘cycling tourist club’!
As its homepage proudly boasts, “Storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, genocides, gulf wars, the fall of the wall, the word trade centre, bird flu: WTC-Tilt survives everything!”
While we don’t want to spend this review talking about cycling, this club helps sustain interest in the pub and keep it at the heart of the community, and a lot of their events naturally drag back to a beer or three in the pub – that deserves enormous credit.
Furthermore, football club KV Mechelen compete with the cycling club for wall space and seating space, with Tilt being a designated ‘club house’.
Sporting allegiance is a very common theme for Belgian cafes and all the more important when economic conditions and fashions make life tougher. There is a fabulous blog article here which was very helpful when writing this piece.
Tilt is special, but also run by a special human being. Owner Rozeke Raymaekers is now well into her 80s, having stood at the tap for 40 years. It should go without saying that she, cycling or no cycling, is the stuff of national legend, even featuring on a TV testimonial for the cleaning product Feem!
There is always much interest in any longstanding characters who are masters of their art, and this article here provides a small portrait of Rozeke the person: http://thewordmagazine.com/the-hundreds/rozeke-raymaekers
I arrived at Tilt as an outsider of course, and, as you would expect from any pub was treated with an assured and friendly welcome by Rozeke, someone who has seen it all before but become no poorer for the experience.
The rhythm of the pub, with its simple one roomed front of house layout, in the early afternoon suits her, they fit like hand in glove. Sedate, friendly, and calm with the occasional burst of laughter or exclamation. While of course it may be unusual to an outsider to see someone of her advanced years on her feet all day long, there is nothing upon inspection of the facts which would lead that to be inappropriate. If she feels strong and willing, all power to her!
The pub itself is defined by a lack of pretension, right down to the outside toilets. You will find real life of all kinds mixing together, a true democracy, while the decoration itself is more of a collection of memoirs and sporting achievements than a genuine attempt towards any sort of stylistic angle (though it would seem the café did previously resemble more of a brown café ). There are some nice touches such as the pot-stove which remains in use, and old-fashioned savings cupboard, common but nostalgic items.
….Very well, but what’s to drink?
Drinks are simple and affordable. It isn’t all about a cheap 25cl of lager either, you will find some stronger bottles, mostly from the classic Belgian range, reliable and high quality. However sometimes, in straightforward pubs like Tilt, it makes sense to order something simple from the taps, which, you will often hear claimed as being “the best poured in the city”, however much trust you place in such hyperbole.
While you may walk past, or poke your head through the door and see something ordinary, the people around you are the true indicators. The glint in everyone’s eye betrays they know they are lucky to have a place like Tilt in their lives.
Before we go, please enjoy this nostalgia trip into Mechelen’s cafés of the past.
I sincerely hope they have a continuity plan for when the inevitable happens. After all, “WTC Tilt survives everything.”
As for Rozeke’s take on the future?
“I will keep this way until the very end”. “Life is celebrated here, and nobody is looked at here by its colour, age or gender. Having fun, that’s what counts here. Yes, I mean it: I will fall dead here after my counter.“