On Location: Café Rose Red in Bruges, Belgium
On any given day, the Market Square in Bruges, Belgium, teems with tourists. They arrive from around the globe to stroll the narrow cobbled streets and float the tranquil canals of this impossibly charming medieval Flemish town. If you exit the square at the far end, opposite the iconic bell tower and dueling frites stands, you’re just a few quick turns from a quiet side street where you’ll find a slice of beer heaven called the Café Rose Red.
Before the café opened seven years ago, the space was underutilized as a breakfast room for the adjoining Hotel Cordoeanier. However, hotel owner Kris Veireman had a plan. “I’m from Belgium,” explains Veireman. “I know all about beer, so I started a [beer] café.”
A week after opening, he was visited by a “beer geek” from the United States. The visit left him humbled. “We started talking,” Veireman relates. “After that talk of about one hour, one hour and a half, I sat down and I said, ‘I’m Belgian, [and] I don’t know nothing about beer.’ ”
The fledgling publican went on a mission of beer education. He acquired a library of beer books that now sit on a shelf in the café. He visited breweries beginning with Brussels’ legendary Lambic producer, Cantillon. “I fell in love straightaway,” he says of the visit. Gradually, Veireman transformed the café into a first-class beer bar earning the praise of beer geeks and novices alike.
Café Rose Red is an inviting space that has a classy feel without being hip or nostalgic, though the building that houses the bar dates from around 1625. The room is modestly sized, but not so small as to feel cramped. The plum-colored walls and white wainscoting add a splash of sophistication as does the background jazz played at a level that doesn’t impede conversation.
Reflecting the café’s name, dozens of red roses hang in rows from the timbered ceiling. The effect is a feeling of intimacy, especially on a quiet night when lights are low and candles flicker on each table and along the six-seat bar. It’s not surprising that there have been several marriage proposals at the Rose Red.
“We want a nice cozy feel when people come in so they can enjoy their beer in an easy and relaxed way,” says Gilles Demeyer, who holds the dual roles of manager of the Hotel Cordoeanier and daytime server at the Rose Red. In Belgium’s oft-rainy climate, sunny days are revered. When the weather permits, patrons retreat to a small outdoor terrace for alfresco imbibing.
For indecisive drinkers, especially fans of lambic and Trappist ales, selecting a beer can be a daunting task. The menu includes over 250 carefully selected options. There’s a lengthy list of fruited and nonfruited lambics, Oude Gueuze from producers such as Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen, and a variety of Flanders red and brown ales. Some vintage bottles are older than the café itself.
There are beers from all the world’s Trappist breweries—including hard-to-find Westvleteren—among over 40 Trappist offerings. Beers from the Trappist breweries located outside Belgium are the only non-Belgian beers that are served. Orval, the intriguing Brett-laced Trappist ale, can be ordered young or aged 6, 12 or 24 months.
Among the things that endears the Rose Red to beer fans is its support of small Belgian beer producers. “We want to give the small breweries a chance,” says Demeyer. “The beers you can find everywhere else in Bruges we don’t have on the menu.” Indeed, beers from respected small operations such as De Dolle, De Struise, Brasserie de la Senne and numerous others appear with frequency on the bottle and draft list. Seven draft beers include six rotating selections and one tap dedicated to Redor Pils, an unfiltered all-malt pilsner from Brasserie Dupont. A new draft beer appears every week. To ensure that all beers are served in proper glassware, over 80 glass designs are kept on hand.
The café’s name was chosen by the owner’s daughter. A movie buff, among her favorites was Stephen King’s 2002 haunted house tale, “Rose Red.” If you visit the café, don’t be surprised if it becomes one of your favorite haunts.