Column #35 Brussels, Belgium
June 1, 1997
If it’s the world’s most tasty waffles you’re looking for then I highly recommend a stop in Belgium’s capitol city. But if it’s competition at the oche you’re after my advice is to cross this stop off your list. My hours of wandering in the wind and the rain here tonight were rewarded with a darts experience that was about as appealing as the Brussels sprouts I was forced to eat as a kid.
As my several calls to the Belgium Darts Association yielded zip in the way of advice on where to get a game (unless I was willing to hop a train to Antwerp) I was relegated to searching for a pub and a board among the pages of a tourist guide. I got lucky, if you could call it that, at a place called Conway’s Sports Bar (10 Avenue de la Toisond’or) in the center of town.
Conway’s is a fancy three-story club on the main drag but with the exception of a little pool room on the third floor it’s difficult to figure the rationale behind the advertisements that herald the joint as a so-called sports pub. The lower level is dominated by a large bar and a huge crowd but there isn’t a television in sight to catch the game of the day.
Between the upper and lower levels and sort of sandwiched between another small bar and the toilets is one lonely dart board. The lighting is poor. There’s no oche. There’s no place to chalk. And the board itself, turned several degrees to the right, is fastened so tightly into its cabinet that I found it impossible to tweak it into its proper position.
But I tossed a few darts anyway and even picked up a quick game of 501 with a guy named Wilhelm before heading back into the stormy night. My next stop, a lively little joint called “JJ’s”, was even less productive. I arrived, drenched, to find no board at all. So I gave up. Dried up. And got drunk.
Brussels is actually a wonderful city. Home to the European Union and NATO, the streets bustle with political activity. In what is called the “Lower Town” (and, in my view, the most interesting part of the city) on the edge of a maze of narrow, medieval lanes stands the ornate 12th-century Grand Palace, arguably the most perfectly preserved of all the spectacular market squares in Europe. Here you’ll also find the beautiful 14th-century Gothic town hall and the apartment Victor Hugo lived in when he wrote Contemplations, one of the many classics I blew off in college.
Then, if you turn onto Rue de l’Etuve and walk about a block past the Amigo Hotel and cross the street by Semal’s (a little lace and crystal shop) you will behold a most amazing site — a unique landmark, that on a nasty day like today anyway, metaphorically captures the essence of my search for a decent game of darts in this European city. Attached to a wall is the Manneken-Pis Fountain, a renowned 17th-century bronze statue of a boy — urinating.
And that’s precisely what I did in the wind, and rain, tonight.
From the Field,
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