It is not easy to find a good cocktailbar in Brussels and frankly, I have never been able to put the finger on the reason why. We have several hotel bars, some of which you should certainly check out and some of them you should never "check in", but a real craft cocktailbar in Brussels, we thought, didn't exist. Until I stumbled into Hortense's cavernous delights.
So we were happily strolling around on the Zavel Square in Brussels when we saw this small grey sign on the wall of a big old white mansion. It read: “H Hortense Spirits & Cocktails”. The name did ring a bell – but a far too distant one and only once – and I was very much intrigued. It said “Spirits & Cocktails” and not, like you would expect in Brussels, “lounge”. There’s something decisive and direct about it, “look pal, it’s spirits & cocktails, that’s it!”
Speakeasy and candlelights
Something told me that I shouldn’t be afraid seeing parrots puzzled together from pineapple pieces dying a diabetic death in a sugar laced, eye-frying, fluorescently coloured drink. Having finished my Gauloise, I stepped through the huge gate – actually, the old coach entrance of the mansion – half expecting to see more signs and arrows. Nope. Yet a single small candlelight crooked it’s flame to beckon me towards an opened door a few yards past the closed main entrance of the mansion. The little door was painted black and had a meaningless decoration on it. I put my head into the dark and followed a cute trail of candlelights descending into the cellars, where we would meet “H”.
Hortense’s cavernous delights
Hortense is a very cosy arched cellar lit solely by the light of several dozens of candles. The familiar sound of ice cubes hitting the tin, warm smiles and a beckoning backbar makes you feel welcome immediately. The quaint aroma that might hit you comes from an old popcorn machine producing your barfood for tonight.
We sat down and immediately received a glass of water and the menu. Which was a bit wrinkled, but I didn’t mind that. Choosing between the 6 or 7 cocktails offered, wasn’t difficult for me. I went for the “Pink Skull”, consisting of homemade pink peppercorn syrup, Mezcal de la Vida and grapefruit. It’s delicious, savoury and fresh. The kind of cocktail you will order again and in my own opinion “instant classic” material.
“H” as in hip, happy and hospitality
Hortense exists almost 2 years now and luckily hasn’t seen too many tourists. Apparently the bar is frequented by lots of expats who enjoy the atmosphere. I fully agree with them, I enjoyed it a lot: the drinks, the hospitality, the music and the pop corn of course. Every time I’ll be in Brussels, you know where to find me, because it’s Spirits & Cocktails, pal!
P.S. I said the name rang a bell, when you’re there, check the back of the menu.
H – Hortense Spirits & Cocktails
Somewhere on the Rue des Sablons, Brussels, Belgium.