A day in Brussels • Dansaert
A Brussels' neighborhood that I love but where I don't spend enough time (which is probably for the best for my finances) is Dansaert! The most Flemish part of Brussels' is all about fashion of the unique, alternative kind. This area is the epicenter of the Brussels' fashion scene and it's packed with unconventional shops and Belgian designs. Plus there are plenty of cool spots to hang out with a drink. This way fashionistas!
Brunch at Chicago Cafe | Rue de Flandre 45, 1000 Brussels
I discovered Chicago Cafe thanks to my friend Kim and it wasn't long before it earned itself a spot on my favorites list. There is plenty to say about the interior, a large open room with vintage vibe and colorful accents, but what I want to focus on is the menu. There a two actually, one for breakfast, one for lunch, and basically everything looks amazing. The fact that breakfast is served all day long makes it even harder to choose. The place is very popular both with locals and tourists, meaning it can get crowded, but they manage to keep service qualitative. Just one small note for people who aren't childproof (I have a few in my own circle of friends), Chicago Cafe is very kids friendly, complete with kid's corner in the back.
Exploring Rue de Flandre and Place Saint-Catherine
Chicago Cafe is located in Rue de Flandre and that is not the only restaurant you'll find there. In fact, this street is filled with restaurants from beginning to end. Whatever cuisine you like, you can find a place that will suit you. At the southern end of Rue de Flandre lies Place Sainte-Catherine, a lively square that is overlooked by the Church of Sainte-Catherine. You'll undoubtedly notice the crowd around De Noordzee, a popular fish bar where you can have fresh seafood, oysters and fish soup (and white wine at times of the day when it's not appropriate to drink yet). It's no coincidence it is settled here as Brussels' ancient port used to be located in this area. In the street parallel to Rue de Flandre, the Quai aux briques, you'll find traces of the ancient canals that gave place to a charming promenade, complete with fountains and terraces.
Alternative shopping in Rue Léon Lepage
Perpendicular to Rue de Flandre is Rue Léon Lepage, a fashionable area where Maison Margiela's first European flagship store (opened in 2002) proudly stands on the corner. The fashion you'll find in this part of Brussels is more of the high end kind, so you'll be happy to hear you can get your hands on such items for a more approachable price at Vêtu and Vêtue for example (men and women, at nr 12 and 5). I was told by the friendly owner at Vêtu that most of their pieces aren't actually vintage, but rather pieces from runways and press presentations that cannot be sold afterwards. My eyes were immediately drawn to a Givenchy polo shirt in the window that I simply couldn't let slip through my fingers!
More shopping in Rue Antoine Dansaert
The heart of the neighborhood lies here, more precisely at nr 74 of Rue Antoine Dansaert. This is the address of Stijl, the boutique opened by Sonja Noël in 1984 from which it all started. With its fine selection of Belgian designs - Ann Demeulemeester, A.F. Vandevorst and my favorite Dries Van Noten, just to name a few - Stijl brought a new vibe to this previously neglected area, resulting in efforts to upgrade the neighborhood. Thanks to its growing success, Stijl opened a second boutique dedicated to men a little further (at Nieuwe Graanmarkt 6). Of course I can't afford any of the items but it's inspiring to see the looks spotted on the runway shows in real life.
Other great spots in Rue Antoine Dansaert include Le Magasin (at nr 48), a concept store with a New York loft atmosphere that offers a mix of Belgian, Scandinavian and French brands for all budgets, and L'Archiduc (at nr 6), a jazz bar with art deco interior that's been around since 1937 and where they serve killer Martinis!
Exploring the Place Saint-Géry
The Halles Saint-Géry is a former covered market hall from 1881 that is both an exhibition area for themes revolving around Brussels and its heritage, and a café that offers great seating under a luminous canopy, surrounded by ironwork. Good to know also is that every first Sunday of the month, it is home to the Brussels Vintage Market. Around the Halles, you'll find some of the most popular terraces in Brussels, namely the ones of Le Roi des Belges and Mappa Mundo, places to see and be seen.
Some more shopping in Rue des Chartreux
A final shopping street you should definitely pass by is Rue des Chartreux. The most renowned boutique here is Hunting and Collecting (at nr 17), a concept store for people that hunt and collect unique items that make them stand out from the crowd. If you're a fashionable guy (gay or straight), Centreville (nr 36) and Heureux (nr 12) is where you have to be. Man or woman, if you're looking for beautiful items and gift ideas, enter Blender01 (nr 18) and Hopono Corner (nr 14). Whereas vintage lovers will be thrilled at Gabriele Vintage (nr 27). At the corner of Rue des Chartreux and Rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains, you'll find Zinneke, the dog equivalent of Manneken Pis that is named after the Brussels' dialect word for a bastard dog.
Drinks in the northern part of Rue Antoine Dansaert
As you walk towards the canal you'll find that the vibe changes, but this shouldn't stop you from exploring this part of town, especially since it is home to some great spots to hang out and have a drink. If you're in the mood for a hot drink, I suggest Mok (at nr 196), a minimal coffee bar where they don't serve your average cup of coffee. If you're more in the mood for an apéro, perhaps on a terrace, you can choose between BarBeton (nr 114) and Café Walvis (nr 209), two equally cool, hipster-magnet kind of places with a down to earth atmosphere. And let's not forget La Fabrika among all those cafés (nr 182), the Scandinavian interior shop (that happens to have a great selection of books). Make sure to go downstairs in the back, since most of the items are displayed there.
If you come by train, you should get off at Bruxelles-Central (Dansaert is just a 15min walk away from the station). If you come by car, you might just be lucky enough to find a spot in the streets around BarBeton and Café Walvis where parking is free.