85. Delerium Café, Brussels, Belgium

There’s a place in Belgium that thought, back in 2004, that stocking a different beer for every year since Jesus was born would be a cracking idea. It was. But it quickly became passé. So now there’s 3,162.

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Breaking the record back in 2004 helped to put Delerium Café on the map. The secret is certainly out. So I feared a venue overrun by tourists or packed like a London pub at 5pm on a Friday (a quick one at The Harp, anyone?) or, worse, a business now hollowly profiteering off its fabled reputation, turning the prices up to 11 and stripping out the ancient furniture in favour of standing areas and tables with shiny lacquer surfaces for easy wiping down (I’m looking at you, Früh am Dom, Cologne).

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For just over €2, I had a freshly poured glass of some wheat beer I’ve forgotten the name of. I can’t even get a schooner of Heineken for that price in Amsterdam. It was lovely too, of course.

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Bent on world domination, Delerium World, as I’m calling it, has taken over the whole street and offers an absinth bar with over 400 varieties, a tequila and mezcal bar with over 500 types (because 12% beer just isn’t enough) and Little Delirium Café at the start of the street to confuse tourists. You can enjoy this alley until 4am most nights.

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The entire venue, spread over three floors, is vast, so here’s a bunch of photos:

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Go on, step right in:

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Venue: 9/10

A benchmark in beer bar design. That it can absorb so many people and still feel intimate and cosy is praiseworthy.

Beer: 10/10

Giving a perfect score is a nervy thing- it implies perfection*. If there exists a better selection in depth, quality of choices and housekeeping, I’d happily be proved wrong. Seems unlikely any other pretender could possibly be as cheap though.

*There has to be a ten, or why not score the beer selection out of 9?

Worthy? Yes

Quite simply a beer nirvana. Spread over three floors (with satellite bars along the street), it has absorbed the tourists and thrown them in to a crucible of camaraderie.

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Candidate #16- El Lokal, Zürich, Switzerland

El Lokal sits on an island between the Schanzengraben and Blaue Sihl rivers. In the summer, you can lounge on the expansive outdoor terrace that overflows around the building along the waterfront, and dip your feet in the spring Alpine meltwater. They grill meats and serve other foods (decent samosas) in the finer months, so you could spend all day here.

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Summer is strong and dependable, but all too brief, in Zürich so the insides of places are important. All too many venues in this town are all shiny tables and fresh paint. Much of the town can feel sterile. It’s hard to find a bar with real character, history and eclectic, personal touches: a dive bar.

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El Lokal is huge, but the design has expertly kept a cosy feel to all the areas. The furniture is often very unique (see the sofa above), there’s an enormous skeleton, a statue of a footballer, religious artefacts, football memorabilia, paintings on maps, and it all somehow works.

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One of my favourite features is the horseshoe mezzanine level that offers you a barstool and great vantage point for people-watching and enjoying the regular live music.

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If the below photo was tagged “south Floridan bar”, people may just believe it.

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Venue: 10/10

I have a particular penchant for dive bars, but who can deny the mezzanine balcony and waterfront?

Beer: 2/10

Oh dear. They have Schwarzer Kristall, which redeems them. Otherwise go on a hot day when lager is tastier.

Worthy? Not yet

Only if it stocks better beers.

Candidate #11- Café De Dokter, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Café De Dokter has been in the Beem family since 1798; now into the 6th generation, currently in their 40th year. The name derives from it’s first owner, a surgeon, and the close proximity to a hospital, making this a regular haunt for physicians.

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At just 18 meters squared, this is the smallest bar in Amsterdam (a hotly-contested accolade).

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The walls are adorned with all sorts of medical paraphernalia, some of which has a husk of dust. The lighting is sparse, low and often candlelight, adding to the cosy, gezellig feel of this drinkers’ den. It’s easy to get very comfortable and hunker down for hours. It’s a far cry from the adjacent chaos of Kalverstraat and the bustle of het Spui. On Fridays, it is possible to pick up a new read at the book market next door, then escape from the rain in this splendid hideout.

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Venue: 9/10

Dark wood panelling adds order to the centuries of hoarding that adorns most of the walls. It can be empty and still feel atmospheric. Authentically old and charming.

Beer: 6/10

Better for Jenever, there are some decent enough Abbey brews, and La Chouffe is usually a crowd-pleaser.

Worthy? Yes

Few bars can match the curiousness of the interior. Excellent, family service too.

Candidate #5- Zero Degrees, Bristol, England

Zero Degrees is a brewpub chain of four: Bristol was the second venue and a local institution in the town I called home for my college years.

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The Bristol venue is the most unique as the location, nestled in amongst the historic Christmas Steps, provided an architectural challenge that was successfully met with stylish innovation. The steeply dipping hills allowed for three terraces and arresting views over the city. Some of the interior is of course reserved for the brewery, where glass walls enable the patrons to keep a discerning eye on the beer-monkeys as they go about their business. The brewery spills out over the bar with great arching pipes, emphasising the industrial chic design.

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Gratuitous shot of Bristol looking lovely. This is no where near the bar.

Although several of the beers have won some very prestigious awards, such as a CAMERA award for the pilsner, the mango beer is the reason people come back, frequently. I’m told it was an experimental guest beer, indeed it is unnamed on the menu, but they struck gold, so that the “Speciality” option is now synonymous with mango, regardless that the blurb explains this beer to be a changing, experimental compliment to the fixed pilsner, wheat and black lager. In five years, this guest has never changed apart from a cranberry Christmas brew. On a summer’s day, this mango beer is probably the best thing you could imbibe.

Venue: 7/10

Architecturally sumptuous, but perhaps a little cold on the inside.

Beer: 6/10

Mango beer. Much, much better than it sounds.

Worthy? Maybe