Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Belgium Trip: Day 6, Part 2 - Evening in Gent

The next bar on the list was De Trollekelder, a bar full of, as you may have guessed, statues, carvings and paintings of trolls and the like. Lots of wood in the bar, very atmospheric and offered nice views of a cathedral from the window seat we occupied.

Only one problem; even though the bar opened at 16:00, the barkeep did not seem thrilled to see us coming through the door at 16:05. I think he was annoyed because he was not expecting customers until later in the afternoon. He did not throw us out but was curt while we ordered the house blonde ale.

The beer was not impressive either. Most blondes I had imbibed in Belgium to this point were snappy, lively, effervescent, hoppy or some combination of those qualities. The Trollekelder blonde just kind of sat there, very listless and dull in the mouth. The beer menu was quite extensive but we didn't see any point in staying where we were not wanted. We paid for our beers and moved on to the Market Square.

De Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) is right on the square. It wasn't that high on my list but it was nearby and we headed in to see what they had.

The beer selection was good and the atmosphere was classic brown bar. We grabbed a table and got to ordering. Dave was intrigued by the house beer that was served in the big coachman's glasses. He ordered the blonde and then the waiter asked for his boot. After a double take, he repeated the request. Evidently, the glasses are very expensive and to keep people form running off with them, they keep one of your shoes as colateral. Dave gave tghe man his left boot, a basket was lowered by pulley from the ceiling, the boot was placed in the basket and it was hoisted far above our heads. I ordered the Buffalo Stout which required no loss of footwear.

While Dave was making his way through his coachman's glass, I finished my stout (sweetish and fruity, nice stuff) and ordered a bottle of Liefmans Goudenband, one of my all time favorites.

There was quite a crowd gathering now, especially one party at the bar who looked like they were meeting for a drink after work. They asked us if they switch places with us given the size of our table and we obliged. They were grateful and bought our next round.

I ordered a Delirium Tremens (another old favorite) while Dave asked the bartender to bring him something unique. He was served a Leutebok, a good bock beer but the unusual part was the glassware. Imagine a goblet. Now remove the everything from the stem down. That's the glass. You can't sit it on the bar like that so it comes with a wooden stand. Sure it was a bit gimmicky but the beer wasn't bad at all.

We drank our beers, chatted with some fellow Americans from Pittsburgh and then walked out, now quite toasty, into the twilight.

I only had one place left on my list and it was definitely chosen due to atmosphere over beer selection. It is called 't Velootje and is run by an eccentric barkeep named Lieven. It is famous for having dozens upon dozens of bicycles suspended from the ceiling. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

We arrived to an empty bar except for Lieven. Perhaps empty is the wrong word...we had to step over various pieces if junk to get into the place. Lieven helped us out, cleared off a spot at a bench and table. The lighting was virtually non-existent a couple of hanging lights and the glow fo the CRT from the owner's computer but our table was quite dark. There were candles but Lieven didn't have any matches handy and asked if we had some. We did not with neither of us being smokers so he went to finds some matches.

He returned, lit our candles, grabbed two beers (Slapmulke Blonde and Brune) popped the tops, handed them to us and hurried away. Mind you, we had not ordered these beers, nor had he asked us what beers we wanted or offered us a menu. Nor did we have any glasses to drink from, an oddity in Belgium. OK...

We sat at the candlelit wooden tables, seated on benches and took in the scene. A waist-high stack of cases full of Rochefort 8 and McChouffe. Bicycles of various sizes and shapes hanging feom the ceiling just more than a foot above our heads. A jar of mystery liquid, a hazy yellow, on our table. Gas lamps strung together but non working. Stacks of newspapers everywhere. Great music playing over the speakers, the best of the whole trip. The pictures don’t do the clutter justice; the most bizarre pub atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed. Dave paid for the beers, a whopping 5 Euro a bottle and we moved on.

Yes, it was odd, cluttered, unprofessional and overpriced….but it’s one of the best places to have a beer I’ve ever been to. Unmissable in my opinion, especially if you have a sense of humor. It was a stellar experience.

Nicely toasted from all the beer, we took took the train back to Bruges. Had a nightcap back at the trekkershut, ran some laundry and hit the mattress.

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