On this blog I’ve often bemoaned the fact that an interesting place has vanished before I got the chance to photograph it, although sometimes I get it right. It’s just about a year since the New Piccadilly Cafe closed, and now I’ve just heard that an equivalent time-warp in Brussels which closed last year has reopened as a chi-chi restaurant.
This was the Cafe La Fourmiliere on Place Rouppe, which we accidentally visited when killing a couple of hours in the Belgian capital last year. This marvellously untouched cafe bar was at the top end (that is, the end furthest from the scruffy and scary Midi Station) of Avenue Stanlingrad – a down at heel, but formerly very opulent boulevard stuffed with crumbling grand buildings. Stepping into La Fourmiliere really was stepping into the past. The fixtures and furniture were a mish-mash of periods from the 20s to the 70s. The barman was a camp old gent with bouffant hair and a 1980s acrylic jumper. The toilets were something else – they couldn’t have changed at all since the cafe was first built – it’s perfectly possible that they were used by Germans on leave in WW1. We knocked back a couple of Chimay Bleu before regretfully having to leave, convinced that such a place couldn’t exist for much longer. Seems we were right. Apparently, the new restaurant has kept the original fittings for their knowingly ironic appeal. Boulevard Stalingrad itself is well worth a visit. On our previous visit to Brussels about three years back, the wide pavements were made of the original granite, so cracked and uneven it looked like a tank had driven over them. Maybe it had. Sadly, they’ve now been replaced with boring old stone setts, but the buildings were as atmospheric as ever.