What to drink, see and do in Antwerp when The World’s 50 Best Restaurants comes to town – part two

Willem Asaert - 04/03/2020

50 Best’s Academy Chair for Benelux, Willem Asaert, returns with his guide to the drinkable and cultural essentials in his hometown when The World’s 50 Best Restaurants comes to Flanders, Belgium, on 2nd June. See part one for his under-the-radar restaurant picks and read on for the final instalment of his guide

Cocktail bars 

Bar Burbure

A sophisticated cocktail bar for the drinks aficionado, with an exceptional selection of spirits and liqueurs in addition to a particularly refined lager on tap. Here, indulgence is in the details, with a personal service, fine snacks offered to guests most nights of the week, and a subtly designed interior. Reservations are recommended on weekends. 
Vlaamse Kaai 41, tel.: 0472 41 17 45, barbure.be, closed Sunday

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Belroy’s Bijou 
Cocktail glasses are cooled to -25 ° C and kept fresh with large balls of hand-cut ice. Bartenders Ben Belmans and Dieter Van Roy – who provide the name of this boutique bar – are obsessed with their profession and leave nothing to chance. As a result, they use a number of their own distillates and home-made syrups to add flavour and individuality to their repertoire and creations.  
Graaf Van Egmontstraat 20, theworlds50best.com/discovery/BelRoys-Bijou.html

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Den Engel
Belgium is renowned worldwide for its beers and Den Engel is a perfect example of the fine Belgian pub. Despite its exceptional location on the Grote Markt, close to the town hall, this beer café has never become a tourist trap. Here, you can still breathe in the typical couleur locale of a cafe that opened its doors at the beginning of the last century and has managed to retain much of its authenticity.
Grote Markt 3, tel.: 03 - 233 12 52, cafedenengel.be

De Duifkens 
In the middle of the Theatre District on a car-free square, De Duifkens is a favourite mooring place for theatre visitors and professional barflies. In addition, it is a favourite hangout for people who are looking for a conversation with other regulars with a well-tapped beer. Or come in to “zwanzen” – which means to talk with the typical Antwerp dry tongue-in-cheek humour – with newcomers who wants to experience a taste of the unique atmosphere.
Graanmarkt 5 tel.: 03.225 10 39, closed Sunday 

De Vagant 
This genever (Dutch gin) cafe and liquor store with a view of the cathedral and a stone's throw from the Grote Markt is an ideal place to stop for a drink that has been distilled in this area since the 17th century. In this café, you have the choice of more than 200 genevers from 40 genever and liqueur distillers. Despite the gin hype, or precisely because of it, De Vagant is more relevant than ever.
Reyndersstraat 25, tel.: 0475 70 27 48, liquorstore closed on Tuesday & Sunday

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Cultural gems

A visit to the Grote Markt with its Renaissance-style town hall from 1565 is essential, although at present it is undergoing renovation works. On the Grote Markt you can see how guild houses from the late Middle Ages were rebuilt in the 19th century to evoke the glorious past of the Scheldt city. Ironically, the most modern façade on the Grote Markt – and there is only one – is the oldest façade at this location. From the Grote Markt you can easily reach the Cathedral of Our Lady. With a height of 123m, this is the largest Gothic building in the Benelux. One can admire two masterpieces by Rubens in the immense cathedral. The construction of the cathedral took 169 years (1352-1521). The tower is currently being restored to its full glory. Works may last until 2021. 

Around the Cathedral of Our Lady, there are numerous pedestrianised streets, where you can find the Groenplaats with the statue of the painter Rubens. From there you can walk along traffic-free streets to the Boerentoren, one of the first skyscrapers in Europe, and along the wide Meir shopping street  in a side street you can find Rubens' house, built in palazzo style  and De Keyserlei to the diamond district and the 19th-century Central Station. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world and it is only right to describe it as a railway cathedral. 

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Less frequently visited, but no less unique, is the Cogels-Osylei and surrounding area in the Zurenborg district. The Cogels-Osylei is a cobblestone residential street with a collection of unique houses from the Belle Epoque period. An almost-homogeneous example of eclectic civil architecture, it is absolutely unique, to the extent that this street has often been used as a film location.

To-do essentials

To get an insight into just how vast the city is, it is best to visit the upper alfresco panoramic floor during a visit to the MAS museum, or you can take the ferry to the left bank. This way you will have a beautiful view over Antwerp, which has inspired so many painters and artists in the past. You can also reach the left bank of the Scheldt via the Sint-Anna tunnel and an underground 600m walk.  
MAS, Hanzestedenplaats 1, mas.be

In Stadsbrouwerij De Koninck on the Mechelsesteenweg, one can get acquainted with the typical brewing process of the local beer through an interactive tour and tasting of this high fermentation beverage in a typical ‘bolleke’ or tub-shaped glass. The site was redesignated as a traditional experience centre in 2015 and currently houses the Van Tricht cheese refiners, a unique cheese store with its own ripening cells, the JITSK artisan chocolate maker, Kenny Van Hoorick’s bakery, the Luc De Laet and Van Haver butchery with various workshops and maturing rooms, Michelin-star restaurant The Butchers' Son and Black Smoke, a lively smoke and grill restaurant with a quirky cocktail bar.
Mechelsesteenweg 291, tel.: 03 - 866 96 60, dekoninck.be 

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Last, but not least, a visit to the Red Star Line Museum is an inspiring experience. Located in the former old port, this museum reminds us that Antwerp was the starting point for millions of Europeans who wanted to start a new life across the Atlantic and made the crossing to New York between 1873 and 1934 aboard ships from the Red Star Line. Many of these emigrants didn’t have the time, energy or means to visit Antwerp. Who knows, maybe they would have stayed if they had?
Red Star Line Museum, Montevideostraat 3, tel.: 03 - 298 27 70, redstarline.be 

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The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2020 awards ceremony, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, will take place in Antwerp, Flanders, on 2nd June. For more information and pre-announced awards, stay tuned to 50 Best social channels and 50 Best Stories