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Having come to Belgium from the United States, I find the absence of American-based franchises, so common elsewhere in the world, to be refreshingly charming. Take, for instance, a touristy place like Brussels' Grand'Place: not a Starbucks or McDonald’s in sight. Lovely.

The stretch of Rue de l'Etuve linking the Grand'Place with Manneken Pis is admittedly lined with waffle stands, cheap souvenirs and chocolate shops, and yet the little peeing man himself stands unobtrusively on a street corner, nary a corporate logo or global fast-food chain in sight.

Across the street, in a prime location that T.G.I. Friday’s would kill for, is a wonderful café called Poechenellekelder. The name roughly translates as “Puppet Cellar”, and refers to the dozens of old marionettes hanging from the ceiling, which supposedly used to make appearances in a basement puppet theatre.

These days the only performers here are the aproned servers, who take great pride in the ceremonial pouring and presentation of each glass of beer. Surprisingly friendly, they are more than willing to help beer novices and adventurous beer lovers navigate the impressive beer list. Organised by style, the menu features about 150 beers and is strong on traditional lambics.

The owner, Michel De Triest, is a beer lover himself and has made the Poechenellekelder a mecca for fellow enthusiasts seeking hard-to-find and special beers. Small craft breweries like Brussels-based Brasserie de la Senne, Cantillon and Boon are well represented.

On a rainy day, of which we’ve had plenty lately, the kitsch-filled interior provides a cosy and atmospheric respite. The patrons are a lively mix of locals and beer-loving tourists, and conversation is easily struck up between the tiny close-set tables.

In the summer months, the small terrace out front is prime people-watching territory. It’s the perfect spot to relax with visiting friends after a requisite Manneken Pis viewing, close enough to enjoy the spectacle of camera-toting tourists craning for a glimpse of the wee statue, and yet still feel comfortably superior as you sip a world-class beer.

5 Rue du Chêne, Brussels



This review was originally published in Flanders Today

R.Harris Oct 25, 2013 14:04

This article was written on September 6th 2013. We had just had over two and a half months of dry sunny weather so I wonder in what city Diane Goodwin was actually in to make the statement: "On a rainy day, of which we’ve had plenty lately,..."

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