Ah, the holidays: what a wonderful time. It’s the perfect moment to reconnect with family and friends, and to quietly reflect on the ups and downs of the rollercoaster that is life. I on the other hand, mostly use this period to mentally torture myself over every single shameful thing I’ve said and done in the past year. Fully committing to the walk of shame and apologising to everyone in person is always an option. Much more convenient however, is simply donating a nice sum of money to a charity of choice as compensation. Both my karma and my eternal soul will remain as spotless as Mother Theresa’s browser history, and I can hop into the new year with a perfectly clean slate. Taking responsibility for your actions is for losers, kids.
“There you go: four cosy spots in Antwerp, where you can support the good cause by stuffing your face with some tasty cooking.”
‘Yeah, but isn’t that just a cheap form of emotional compensation dude? It sure is, buddy! But that doesn’t mean nobody benefits from it. So just go out and do it. And thanks to the list below, you can kill two birds with one stone and turn it into a pleasant affair. There you go: four extremely cosy spots in Antwerp, where you can support the good cause by stuffing your face with some tasty cooking. My conscience is as pure as the cocaine smuggled through our port, which means my work here is done. I shall now go and hurl myself upon the Christmas turkey like a ravaged wolf. Sorry for not saying sorry – you know who you are!
1. Amici – Coffee & Books
Trendy Kammenstraat has been home to a very special coffee bar for a couple of years now. When I walked in here for the first time, I was almost dragged to a table by Johan – absolute top bloke and the most enthusiastic waiter in Antwerp. Amici is a Sant’Egidio initiative, and primarily employs people with a mental disability. They feel supported here, and can work in a warm environment they actually enjoy. Or as Johan puts it: ‘Absolute dream job mate! I’ll stay here ‘till the day I drop dead.’ All profits are reinvested in other social projects. Kamiano – a restaurant for the homeless in Lombardenstraat – is one of them. Want to do more than fill yourself up with chocolate pie? Order an extra coffee. It will later be given to a homeless person free of charge. This way, they too can come in and enjoy something warm, without having to pay for it or getting any dirty looks. Lovely place.
2. Salade Sociale
Want to do a good deed while working on your fat ass at the same time? Book a table at Salade Sociale: a healthy lunch restaurant on Kievitplein behind the Central Station. Owner Arne Cremers used to work as an educator, which allowed him to get in touch with several refugees. He soon noticed that the way they were portrayed by politicians and media, did not correspond to his everyday reality. The refugees he worked with were motivated, eager to learn and wanted to be independent as quickly as possible. He decided to lend them a hand by opening a restaurant.
“Want to do a good deed while working on your fat ass at the same time? Book a table at Salade Sociale.”
At Salade Sociale, refugees are trained for a full-time job in the restaurant business. Eating here does not only help the people in the kitchen. You can also pay a euro more to turn your lunch into a ‘social salad’. The extra money is donated to a local project. This season it’s ‘De Kompaan’: a neighbourhood meeting place where people can bake their own bread in a traditional bread oven. www.saladesociale.be
Koffieklap is located in Klapdorp, and could well be my Antwerp discovery of the year. This too is a socially engaged coffee place and – due to the subject matter – not one I’ll be joking about. The bar is kept open by volunteers, and helps former sex workers and human trafficking victims to take their first steps in the hospitality industry.* They strongly emphasise rebuilding self-confidence and self-respect, and profits are used to financially support the women where needed. Prostitution figures in Belgium are quite appalling by the way. According to the people here, the vast majority of girls end up in the industry against their will. They are lured to our country under false pretenses – often with a job in a restaurant as a ploy. They are then blackmailed and threatened to keep working. Many are still minors when they arrive. Koffieklap offers them a safe environment to learn new skills and start a better life. You can order ‘hanging coffees’ here as well, which are given to one of the girls afterwards. This way she can drink it in peace, without having to undergo an awkward conversation with you and your mates. Hey look: I was able to get in a joke after all. www.facebook.com/KoffieKlap/
* For obvious reasons, no one in the pictures is one of the women mentioned above.
4. Restaurant Kiebooms
The last entry in this list will sound familiar to many people in Antwerp. Restaurant Kiebooms on De Coninckplein, was opened by accordionist Leo Kiebooms in 1948. It was officially name Jazz Café Olympia, but no one ever called it that. Jazz had become incredibly popular in the years after WWII – mainly due to the presence of the US army – and as a result half the city hung out at Kiebooms pretending to be hip. After the owner died, it remained closed for twenty years, but in 2010 it opened its doors again as a live bar. After countless noise complaints – Antwerp is an absolute party town – the same doors were permanently closed again just six years later. In 2018 – exactly 70 years after the official opening – it was turned into the restaurant it is now. The original art deco interior was preserved, and on Thursday’s there’s still live music to enjoy. The restaurant is run by Het Rekreatief: a non-profit organisation offering job opportunities to the long-term unemployed, refugees and people with an addiction history. At the moment there are a dozen people from all over the globe at work here, serving you dishes straight from your grandmother’s cookbook. Old Belgian classics like stewed meat with fries and vol-au-vent, cooked and served by the newest Belgians around. How cool is that? www.kiebooms.be
“Old Belgian classics like stewed meat with fries and vol-au-vent, cooked and served by the newest Belgians around. How cool is that?”
There, I’ve done my duty as penance for the past year. Do you happen to know any similar businesses you want to share? Are you working for a charity yourself, or do you want to put someone else in the spotlight? Now is your chance! Post them in the comments below, so we can all check them out. Merry Christmas!