After the fully expected success of my first piece on Antwerp – I’m líving off of it friends – it seemed logical to me to come up with an even more spectacular follow up. And by god, it won’t be the last. In a dazzling megacity like Antwerp, there’s so much to see and discover you simply can’t stop writing about it. Everything can be found here, without exception. Brussels has a nice Grand Place you say? Nah, overrated! A beer will cost you half a kidney, the city hall tower is not in the middle of the building and there isn’t even a hand-throwing statue on that square. I’ll pass. Bruges has a couple of pretty canals? Whoopty fuckin’ doo! We have them as well, and a lot more even. They were in our way so we put them underground. Big deal. Want to go for a boat tour buddy? Slap five euros on that counter, take a flashlight with you and off you go. In Antwerp, the customer is king.
“Bruges has a couple of pretty canals? Whoopty fuckin’ doo! We have them as well, and a lot more even. They were in our way so we put them underground. Big deal.”
As one can easily deduct from these two examples, Antwerp offers every good thing every other Belgian city does, only bigger and better. No need to cry about this: it’s like that, and that’s the way it is. And if you’re done visiting this absolute abundance of sublime highlights, there’s lots of smaller stuff to discover as well: things the average local doesn’t even know about. Like these four for example. Anyone who already knew about all of them before reading the article will get an imaginary gift of choice in the mail. I’m very generous in my imagination. Congratulations in advance and enjoy!
1. Drink cocktails in a secret basement
Just like in our equally impressive sister city New York, you don’t need a pack of bloodhounds to find a decent cocktail bar in Antwerp. Dogma – in the old city centre – is one of the best. The interior is stylish and retro, and will take you right back to the roaring twenties. The drinks aren’t cheap but the bartenders are pros and they take their job seriously. I once saw someone cutting butterflies out of orange-peel for thirty minutes, just so he could use it in the cocktails later. It’s called commitment kids. For those of you who only bring their best game when it’s dark, Dogma comes with a nicely decorated cellar as well. What most people don’t know is that there’s an entire extra bar hidden in that basement: a space as large as the whole pub above, spreading out under different buildings in the street. If you want to get in, you’ll have to find the entrance on your own though. Get in the Sherlock Holmes groove and start looking for secret buttons or mechanisms. With some luck you’ll find the only real speakeasy in Antwerp – separate bartender included. How cool is that? How long that dude’s been in there, and whether or not he is regularly fed or can get out on his own I don’t know. Not everything is my problem okay? www.dogmacocktails.be
“Get in the Sherlock Holmes groove and start looking for secret buttons or mechanisms. With some luck you’ll find the only real speakeasy in Antwerp – separate bartender included. How cool is that?”
2. Shoot some hoops above one of the city’s busiest roads
Antwerp is best at everything. Screwing up spatial planning isn’t an exception to this rule. We very much like to just randomly build stuff, and will only check whether or not it fits with what was already there after it’s done. In most cases it doesn’t, but we don’t care. This proud and ancient tradition does cause some problems with leaving enough open space for playgrounds and sports facilities. And because we wouldn’t want our kids to be playing on the middle of the ring road, creative solutions needed to be found. One of them was implemented on Plantin & Moretuslei: one of the main access roads to the city centre. On top of the historic bridge taking the trains from Antwerp Central Station to Berchem, a whole playground and basketball court was built next to the tracks – nearly invisible from ground level. Right in the middle of the finest particulate matter in the world, you can now enjoy some sunshine while having a drink at one of four picnic tables, looking at your offspring playing right above one of the busiest streets in town. You don’t even have to use the stairs to get back down. There’s a very convenient slide available that will – with some practice – launch you straight back into oncoming traffic. Nice!*
“Right in the middle of the finest particulate matter in the world, you can now enjoy some sunshine while having a drink at one of four picnic tables, looking at your offspring playing right above one of the busiest streets in town.”
*Just kidding: the slide is very safe, don’t sue me city of Antwerp.
3. Spot some birds in a forest hut
Note: I’m going to have to be honest with you here for a second. The entire purpose of this entry was the fact that the term “birding” in Antwerp dialect means the same as having sex. Because mentally I’m twelve years old, I thought this was incredibly funny and built the entire piece around it. Sadly it doesn’t work at all in English, so you’re just going to have to bear with me and maybe do some actual birding instead. Sorry.
In Antwerp, we like complaining about the lack of greenery in the city. This is not entirely unjustified: we do love our concrete. This said, there’s a huge stretch of nature right across the river, and barely anyone ever goes there. When I had to make pictures of St. Anna Forest last summer, I met less than five people in an hour, and in further away Blokkersdijk there was literally no one to be seen. Strange, because it’s a beautiful reserve, about a hundred hectares in size. It’s a bird sanctuary with a very large, reed-lined pond in the middle. Here, you can spot universally known species like the reed-bunting, the little grebe, the sandpiper and of course the unforgettable greenshank (I don’t know what any of these look like, they just had funny names). These birds are most easily spotted from the camouflaged shack near the water’s edge you can reach following the path next to the E17 highway exit. There’s almost never anyone inside, you can open all sorts of hatches to peek at the birds and you can lock the whole thing from the inside. Yup. From the inside. This is why I left an extra chart next to the official birding table, for adventurous readers looking for a different kind of bird to enjoy (oh wow, it almost worked in English too). Picture below. Be quiet though, the actual animals are breeding.*
* Don’t get yourself into trouble you morons.
4. Eat healthy waffles in a pink paradise
It is my mission to become the best wingman in Antwerp. This is why in each of these articles, I’m also talking about somewhere to take the love of your life to without losing face. A cosy and unique establishment perfectly tailored to her taste, where she too can enjoy life and let go of her funny little worries for a while. This most generous of gestures will allow you to accumulate just enough precious girlfriend-points, so that when you crawl into the house piss-drunk again next Saturday, she’s legally not allowed to be mad at you. MOOY is perfect for this. This new brunch place is located in the city centre and everything inside is pink – down to the toilet paper even. There’s also a few square metres of pink roses attached to the wall (quite Instagrammable indeed) and you can order what I consider to be the tastiest waffles in town. Shaped like little pink hearts by the way: even more points for you! They’re healthy as well, since they’re made with a special kind of dough (banana if I’m correct). And if your date still ends in disaster don’t worry: the staff looks just as good as the waffles do. Woopwoop! www.mooyantwerp.be
“It is my mission to become the best wingman in Antwerp. This is why in each of these articles, I’m also talking about somewhere to take the love of your life to without losing face. A cosy and unique establishment perfectly tailored to her taste, where she too can enjoy life and let go of her funny little worries for a while.”
There, another piece on my hometown of Antwerp finished. Know any other unknown spots you want to share? Actually knew about all four of them already and want your money back? One of the MOOY girls and don’t want to give me any more waffles now (it was just a joke 🙁 )? Think your own city is better than mine and want to tell me why? Feel free to leave a comment below.