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A La Mort Subite

Everybody knows the old brasserie at the corner of Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes-Potagères and Rue d'Arenberg, where waiters in traditional black-and-white garb serve you with a hard-to-find ease. Where the only discernible sounds are the humming of other customers and the intermittent shriek of the coffee machine. Where you can see Flemings, Walloons and Brusselaars mirroring themselves in the old photo of a satisfied Jacques Brel, drinking beer at his table in surroundings that have hardly changed since.

But the real beauty of A La Mort Subite lies deeper: it takes us back to our early childhood, when beautiful bars like this were still abundant. Mort Subite is the name of a beer and means “sudden death”. But, contrary to what many Flemings think, it has nothing to do with the percentage of alcohol in the beer that would make you black out instantly.

No, mort subite is a term that used to be called out by thosewho played pitjesbak, an old Flemish dice game. The one who lost the game was called den dooie (the dead one). When players were running out of time, they decided on what we call in English a “sudden death” version – a mort subite.

Thirty years ago, pitjesbak was still being played in every Flemish house and pub. For me, it is simply impossible to imagine my grandfather, who died when I was seven, without a pitjesbak at his side.

So why is this Brussels brasserie called Mort Subite? Well, because the guests at the former La Cour Royale – mostly clients of the National Bank of Belgium, who preferred drinking a beer and playing a game to waiting their turn in line at the bank – were playing pitjesbak day and night. The bar owner changed the name of the bar to A La Mort Subite. When the owner started brewing his own beer, he gave it the same name. And it is still served at the same spot where it was invented.

7 Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes-Potagères, tel 02 513 13 18; www.alamortsubite.com

This article first appeared in Flanders Today


davel Mar 28, 2013 13:58

This is a great bar however the barmen insist that all glasses, bottles etc are on place mats on the tables. We were warned once about this and were told we would not be served if we continued not placing things on the beer mats so we just left.

Moral: Beware of the barmen!

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