GENT REPORT PART TWO: BARS, RESTAURANTS AND HOTEL
If you don’t count the Eurostar terminal’s bar (and that’s one that I
definitely do not expect to see in Tim Webb’s next edition!), then we
concentrated on just four beer bars for the weekend: the Hop Duvel, the
Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, the Dulle Griet and the Bier Circus in
Brussels. We also spent some quality time with Pol in the Dreupelkot
genever bar, right by the Waterhuis. All the bars we went to have
gardens or terraces, which was essential on such an intensely hot
weekend. There are a few other bars I would have liked to visit, but we
ruled out any that did not have tables outside.
In my opinion, without doubt, the Bier Circus is head and shoulders
above any bar in Gent. Its not that the bars in Gent are not very good,
they just do not measure up to any of my favourite three Belgian bars,
the Circus, Antwerp’s Kulminator and the Beertje in Brugge.
There are two main reasons for this opinion: one is the length of the
beer lists, which in Gent are generally much shorter than in any of
those three classic bars, and another is the prices, which are very
steep in Gent compared with elsewhere that I have been in Belgium.
Using Steve G’s advice, I did not to pay too much attention to the cost
and concentrated on remembering that while I was there I may as well
just buy what I want and make the most of the opportunity. However,
just why the prices in Gent are so uniformly high and way above those in
Brugge, Antwerp and Brussels, is a bit of a mystery to me. 250 BEF (£4
or $5.60) for a 37.5cl bottle of kriek, etc, was a fairly common price:
you can buy Belgian beers all over London for less than this!!
The Hop Duvel
I had read about this bar in several guides, and had heard from others
that it was very good, with a decent list and an interesting layout. I
had wanted to visit it for some time, but on two previous visits to Gent
had not got down there (it’s a little way out from the city centre).
This time we made it!
Physically, the Hop Duvel is an amazing bar. In my opinion, it has the
potential to be a world classic, but it falls short in two vital
respects: service and beer list. Stick another 150 beers onto the list,
cut the prices to a more reasonable level, and improve the service, and
you’d have one of the best bars in the world. What they give you at the
moment is a great building, spread over several different, cosy,
breweriana-adorned rooms, a lovely covered terrace, and a huge,
sprawling garden, absolutely perfect for a hot summer’s day, but the
whole experience is a let down due to the appalling service, high prices
and a decent but not spectacular beer list.
The list has approximately 130 beers - yes, I know that this is a good
number of beers, and there were some excellent beers on it, including a
good lambic range. However, the service: well, what can I say?
Arriving at 10.45pm on the Friday, we had hoped that we would receive
our first drinks before 11.20pm, but unfortunately this was how long we
had to wait. Then they brought the wrong drinks!! It was busy, but
not exceptionally so, so we are could not see why they took so long.
From then on, however, we ignored waiter service and just went up to the
bar, which worked much better. My tip for anyone going to the HD -
forget the waiter service and do what I did.
A couple of the staff were later were actually very pleasant and
apologised for the crap service as we were getting into our cab, and so
we decided to give it another try the next day. This time, the place
was virtually empty, and the owner was the only staff member on duty.
However, he seemed more interested in chatting to some customers who he
knew, and again we had to spend long periods waiting for a couple of our
orders. This time we could not go to the bar, as there was nobody
After a couple of hours we decided to order food: the waiter said that
our dish would take half an hour, which was fine, as we were not in any
hurry. After nearly an hour we had the temerity to politely ask how
much longer it would be, and the waiter said: ‘It’s nothing to do with
me, you go to the kitchen and find out if you want to know. You are
being too impatient’!!!! Needless to say, we were not very impressed
with this response, and so I made a note to never eat there again, and
to tell a couple of my friends about this little incident in this
report. What an amazing response from a waiter.
So, while we enjoyed the facilities at the Hop Duvel, and the garden was
a perfect venue on a hot weekend, the overall experience there was
something of a disappointment. I had always wondered why Tim Webb and
Stephen D’Arcy had not rated it as a world classic on a par with the
Kulminator, and now I had found out.
Waterhuis aan de Bierkant
This is my favourite bar in Gent, right in the centre by the canal. The
inside of the bar is very cosy, the list is decent, again without being
spectacular, but the best feature is the terrace. This is a resource
shared with the restaurant next to the bar, plus Pol’s genever bar. You
can therefore sit on the terrace, and have beer, or genever, or food,
without getting up and moving from one place to the other. Highly
This made it another perfect venue for the weather, and we had a great
time sitting out by the canal for half the night after the Hop Duvel.
Tim Webb mentions iffy service here (and generally in Gent: what is it
with Gentse waiters??) but here we found the service to be impeccable.
A sign of this was when I was ordering my last drink there on the
Sunday, at which stage the waiter complimented me on my beer choices,
saying: ‘you certainly know how to choose a good beer’! So the staff
obviously know their beers and appreciate when a customer makes a good
choice. I thought that this was a nice touch.
For anyone who is not familiar with this great little bar, it’s a classic genever bar run by Pol, who is friendly, efficient and knowledgeable about his drinks. Over 200 genevers, and each glass filled to the brim! It’s wonderfully atmospheric, and is a great late night bar, staying open until at least 4am every night! One to watch is Pol’s new own recipe vanilla genever, which tastes much better than it sounds, and which we now have a bottle of in our expanding genever collection. On Mr D’Arcy’s recommendation I tried the new chilli pepper genever, which almost blew my head off!!
This is another bar famed for its grumpy service, but again, we had no problems, finding two jolly large waiters in Delirium Tremens braces who shared a joke with us and were extremely efficient. The list here again is good, but nothing to write home about, and we chose this bar due to its very pleasant terrace overlooking the Vridagmarkt. Internally the r is very cosy with lots of interesting features, including the most amazing stairs I have ever seen inside a bar. They lead to the toilet, so you can’t really avoid using them, and they are so steep and twisty that I would be very surprised if they don’t have several accidents each week!
The Bier Circus
Monday lunchtime at the Circus was a great way to wind up the weekend, and this was a highlight of the trip for me. We each had a yummy huge bowl of spaghetti bolognaise made with Chimay, plus about 6 beers, all of which were new to me. Their new beer list is out on 15 September, and Patrick told me about the new ones coming on to it: I can’t wait till our post 24 Uur lunch there in November, as there will be plenty of great new beers to test out.
One interesting fact: I was asking Dominic if he tried the real ale we presented him with in April. He had done so, but was not impressed. The reason? : well, Dominic explained that he has now sampled over 1300 Belgian beers, plus many others from around the world!! For him, nothing beats a Belgian, and that was that. Now I thought Mark’s total of around 300 was impressive, but clearly Mark, you and I both have a way to go to match this astounding total!
‘t Marmietje; Drabstraat 30: excellent Flemish cooking, we had the largest vat of Waterzooi van kip that I have ever seen. Apparently their Gentse stoverij is also excellent. Cosy, with wood panelled walls, restful ambience, this place is superb and very laid back. It seems to be run by one woman who does everything, and it has a welcoming and homely feel to it. Only five minutes from the centre, but slightly off the beaten track, used by locals and definitely one to return to.
‘t Klokhuis; Corduwaniersstraat 65 (in the Patershol area): another place that I would recommend highly, here I had Gentse stoverij and Theresa had a tasty and well presented Pork Stroganoff. Both portions were huge and the service was efficient and friendly.
Café des Arts: 18 Schouwburgstraat: this is south of the city centre, but easily walkable from the (highly impressive) Cathedral. This one was in Tim Webb’s guide as it had 70 beers in 1998, but unfortunately this has now fallen to a rather ordinary list of around 35. However, we came for the food, and had excellent steaks, mine with mushroom sauce and T’s with béarnaise.
The other places we ate were the Bier Circus (outlined above) and the Hop Duvel. When it came, my meal in the Hop Duvel was ok, but not brilliant. I think it was called ‘Hammetje’ and it consisted of a massive shank of ham in some sort of beer sauce. If I got my hands on the Hop Duvel I would also stop the cooking and concentrate on beer!
We stayed at the small, family run hotel called Erasmus, Poel 25 (about 30 seconds walk from t’Marmietje restaurant). Just a few minutes walk from the main centre of town, this is a very old (16th century) place, with heavy beams everywhere, sumptuous décor and paintings, and a very good breakfast. We have now stayed there twice and would recommend it to every babbler unreservedly. Here are some pictures.
Its quite a small place, so reservations would be advised. A lovely feature is the ‘limousine’ service which they provide (you have to pay, but rates are very reasonable). It undercuts the cab fare to the station, and is a very pleasant way to glide away from the hotel to your next destination. They also take you to Brugge, Brussels and the airport if you wish.
So, that was our trip. We had a great time, and will definitely return to Gent again at some stage in the future. If anyone would like more info on any of these places then please let me know!