Brussels by Night

We’re walking off the metro into the sketchy streets of Anderlecht, but a massive sea of 20 and 30-somethings guides us safely to our literally underground destination. The folks around us are dressed plainly — t-shirts, jeans, sneakers — but carry an air of cool. Others are wearing feathers, carnival masks, sparkly things and general outrageousness. Tonight, we obviously chose the right party.

It’s Antitapas, and it’s the perfect example of why I love the endlessly diverse Brussels nightlife.

In the Caves of Cureghem, a historic brick venue with pillars and vaulted ceilings, Le Palais des Sciences puts on “the most crazy nights” once a month.

Internationals gather early: free food, cheap drinks, multiple stages of live music and creative workshops start at 8 p.m. Performances continue late into the night until DJs take over, and the caves become a pulsating mass of nondiscriminatory happiness.

The idea is that everyone should be able to enjoy a night out with good food, music, art and like-minded people. An epic evening should not cost a fortune and it should not have a dress code.

And Antitapas isn’t just a super fun party, but an impressively organized and remarkably affordable event — everyone gets in at a cheap cover fee of 7 euro (only 5 if you come early), tapas are free before 11 p.m., beer is 2 euro, and special shuttles run all night to and from the venue.

Our night was Carnival Brazil themed, which equated to pirate fire dancers, afro Brazilian jams and a reggae samba troop marching through the crowds.

Next month’s event (March 24) is already in my calendar. Antitapas is taking on Belgium as its cultural theme, and swing and jazz artists are on the menu so far.

Brussels is full of rad, offbeat and nonexclusive nights like Antitapas. I’ve previously expressed my love for Recyclart, an organizer of alternative art exhibits and performances housed in an old train station. There’s always Fuse, the most famous nightclub in Brussels, for a guaranteed journey into dark techno-mania, and on the flip side, Madame Moustache, a vintage circus-inspired club/bar, delivers everything hip and weird from electro-swing to 80’s kitsch to post punk.

Then there’s just the random awesome events that turn up at art galleries and exhibition halls, like last Wednesday’s Roller Madness at Beursschouwburg, a cultural venue with film screenings, lectures, sonic art and the occasional party.

Roller Madness is just what it sounds like. Hundreds of too-hip Bruxellois lined up for roller skates, dressed in neon gym-wear, and boogied around the rink/dance floor. Disco balls, 70s tunes and pink smoke machines were heavily utilized.

Another example: Museum Night Fever.

Once a year, museums of Brussels keep their doors open late and liven up their exhibitions with performances, music and drinks. A grand total of 24 museums participated this time around, linked by a special shuttle system. The all-access wristband cost 8 euro, and considering certain museums have an 8 euro entrance fee by themselves, the night proved to be an amazing cultural deal.

I started at 8 p.m. and ended just before 1 a.m. That’s a lot of museum time, yet I only hit four.

Most of my hours were spent at the Musee d’Ixelles, which in my humble opinion, is the best-kept secret in Brussels.

Okay, it’s not a secret at all. But most tourists in Brussels are going to hit the Royal Museum of Fine Arts or the BOZAR, understandably, because they’re famous and they’re downtown. But the Musee d’Ixelles, more intimate but still larger than expected, has a highly impressive permanent collection, spanning the 16th and 20ths centuries. Pleasant surprises include a few works by Magritte and iconic posters by Toulouse-Lautrec.

On this fine evening, the museum added performances inspired by its temporary exhibition of posters from the Belle Epoque. A theater group mingled amongst the public, singing and dancing in costume while a trombone was always steps behind. A burlesque strip tease followed, arty and feathery.

I also visited the Museum of Natural Sciences, where massive dinosaur bones acted as a whimsical backdrop for the tango, Coudenberg, the site of underground ancient palace ruins, and the BOZAR, which actually housed a rendition of Antitapas.

And there we have it: more and more proof that Belgium isn’t boring, despite what everyone else says.

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