At last, the big kick-off is upon us. From Friday, 8 June 2012 to Sunday, 1 July football fans are in for the four-yearly treat that is ‘the Euros’. And, like every city in the known universe, Brussels has plenty of bar owners who are more than happy to let you watch the action unfold.
The tournament, featuring 16 teams for the last time (it will rise to 24 in 2016), will take place in Poland and Ukraine, as UEFA heads the furthest east yet for its 14th competition.
And, although Belgium failed to qualify, Brussels is such an international city that rustling up fans to stand in front of pub tellies toting pint pots will not be an issue.
Many of the bars will be rammed with dedicated followers of France, The Netherlands, Germany, England, Ireland, Italy and, of course, holders and world champions Spain.
Also in the mix are Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Russia, Sweden and the two host nations. That’s pretty much as near to a pan-European party as you’ll get anywhere this summer.
So, where to watch it?
One of the many expat pubs that will be doing a roaring trade during the Euros is O’Reilly’s. This is the city’s biggest Irish bar and enjoys a prime location opposite the Brussels stock exchange (‘Bourse’ in French and ‘Beurse’ in Dutch).
As well as a big area downstairs, there’s a large mezzanine space plus a small terrace overlooking the busy Boulevard Anspach. Soccer-watchers can get food pretty much all day while around a dozen screens (including two whoppers) provide plenty of opportunity to view the action.
A little out of town, de Valera’s - which celebrated its fifth birthday in March of this year - is one of the best of the ubiquitous bunch of Irish bars in the city and is located on Place Flagey, close to the lakes of Ixelles.
Food is available all the time amid genuine Irish memorabilia, flagstones, pulpits and pints of Guinness. This is not a massive pub (although it does have a big terrace) and, arguably, has too many screens for its size. But the footie fans won’t care a jot.
Back downtown you’ll find a fairly new bar called Rooster’s. Something of a one-off, this place is a disco/karaoke/ladies’ night bar after about 10pm, drawing the bright young things of Brussels who like to party until the wee, small hours – many in the fantastic cocktail bar upstairs.
During the day, however, it has more of a pub atmosphere and, once Euro 2012 begins, it will become a shrine to football, showing every game on its multiple screens (on both floors) plus at least one big screen that the owners have assured us they’ll be adding.
A good-sized terrace with excellent views of a couple of the screens inside promises to work nicely should the sun ever deign to shine in June.
Just 15-or-so metres away from Rooster’s is Six Nations which, coincidentally, opened a few weeks earlier than its neighbour (in March 2011).
While primarily marketed as a rugby bar (hence the name), this English-style pub welcomes sports fans in general and will doubtless draw its own hefty crowds for the footie. It’s not huge, but it certainly feels roomy enough with its pavement terrace to the front and sliding window/doors that will be open in summer.
There’s enough screens to keep the punters engaged and, if you can grab a table, the food on offer is way above normal pub standard.
Something a little bit different is taking place in Parc Cinquantenaire at the Autoworld Brasserie (formerly Espace 53), where you’ll find the EURO 2012 Village.
This is set to build on the success of a similar project organised during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Last time, the project attracted more than 15,000 people and received significant media coverage. It’s sure to reach similar levels of success this time out.
Also somewhat unusual is the plan at the Aloft Hotel, near Schuman. During the tournament the area around the WXYZ bar will become a shrine to football - and especially to the Netherlands team as the hotel has teamed up with the Dutch
community to become ‘Holland House Brussels’ for the next few weeks. Expect plenty of orange during that event, then.
Another bar, this one downtown and soon to celebrate its first birthday, is Scott’s. Located near to the ‘Cat on a bike’ sculpture in central Brussels, Scott’s will utilise two flat-screen TVs around the bar and a projector screen on its mezzanine.
For those who need to clang off the odd cigarette while watching the footie, this bar has an exceptionally cool smoking room, also with a screen.
Very close to Scott’s is Churchill’s. As you’d expect from the name, this bar is English-themed and features some very tasty bottled English beers. It can get extremely atmospheric in here when the Three Lions are doing their stuff, and there’s usually some post-match music at the weekends.
Not far away and also in the thick off it all downtown are two bars that combine sports with partying, big time. Nua is part of the O’Reilly’s stable and is located just a few doors away from its sister pub. You can watch any and all of the games while enjoying cocktails and after-match discos. Karaoke is another attraction, if you still have a voice left.
Across the street and on the other side of the Bourse you’ll find Celtica. It has plenty of screens, ridiculously cheap happy hours, discos, live music and the kind of atmosphere that keeps going all night.
Spend a few hours here after the games and you’ll probably forget all about the result - win, lose or draw.
Three other pubs associated by ownership with Celtica are also showing every match. And in these three you can also get great food daytime and evenings.
On the corner of the posh Avenue Louise you’ll find the Michael Collins. Recently extended and with a large terrace area, this bar sereves the Chatelain area but is well worth the trip wherever you are.
A ten minute walk across Avenue Louise and down the hill will bring you to Place Flagey, home of de Valera’s. With its Irish cooking, stone-flagged terrace and location next to Ixelles lakes, it’s a brilliant spot to watch the action unfold.
The final pub of the quarter takes us back to the Schuman area and The Old Oak. This is a traditional pub on two levels, also serving food and with a big screen plus several others. No matter where you sit, you’ll always be able to see a television. There’s occasional live music, too, to keep the party going.
Close by is Kitty O’Shea’s, yet another of Brussels’ many Irish pubs. Kitty’s seems to have been around forever, is slap-bang in the middle of the European Quarter, has a couple of big screens plus some smaller ones and will be serving food pretty-much all through the tournament.
Last but not least on our tour of footie bars, up in Place du Luxembourg, in the shadow
of the European Parliament, you’ll find The Grapevine. With a big screen at the back, a fantastic terrace, easy transport links and tasty food, this apero bar is an ideal spot to try.
We obviously don’t have the space to mention every bar that will be showing the football, but that’s certainly a good selection. Why not try to visit all of them during the tournament? Meanwhile, good luck to your team!