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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A few weeks ago, I asked a globe-trotting mixologist what people drink in Brussels. "Nothing," he scoffed. "There's absolutely nothing there."
I followed that up by asking a U.S.-based tourist, newly returned from a holiday there. "Beer!" he crowed, "And brandy!"
Both of these responses surprised Marie Audren, director at the European Spirits Organization and a 10-year resident of Brussels, who had plenty of suggestion on where to go for a good drink.
"Obviously, Belgium is a beer country, and there's certainly an impressive selection for beer lovers," she explained. "Wine is popular as well, especially in stylish places where you find a good selection of still and sparkling wine."
"I have never really noted that."
Perhaps the city's best-known bar is L'archiduc (The Archduke) (www.archiduc.net), near the Brussels Stock Exchange. The stylish art deco bar dates back to the 1930s, and is known for first-rate jazz (supposedly Miles Davis used to jam here) and cool, perfectly shaken martinis.
Elsewhere, The Belga Queen (www.belgaqueen.be) is a sophisticated brasserie set within a landmark building dating back to the 18th century, and the former home of the Credit du Nord bank. The bar, known for having one of the best selections of spirits, is, according to Audren, "a nice place to come after work or to have a drink before a working dinner."
After work the young and fun in Brussels head to Le Roi des Belges (33-35, Rue Jules van Praet) in the trendy St. Gery district dotted with lively cafes, bars, clubs and restaurants.
For those seeking something a little less traditional, the newly renovated Crystal Lounge (www.crystallounge.be) inside the Sofitel hotel, offers molecular mixology, aka "edible cocktails" in mousse or jelly format, which is drawing in adventurous business types.
Consider, for example, the "Cointreaupolitan," a Cosmo-style drink made with the orange liqueur Cointreau contained within small, caviar-sized "pearls."
So, to answer my earlier question about what people drink in Brussels: Apparently, le voyageur d'affaires can imbibe pretty much anything he or she pleases in Europe's capital. And yes, that includes brandy.
Although the "Cointreau pearls" found at the Crystal Lounge require special equipment to make, this recipe provides a similar drink without the added caviar-like texture.
1 1/2 Cointreau orange liqueur
1 oz cranberry juice 3/4 oz lemon juice
In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients with ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.
Editing by Peter Myers and Paul Casciato