Brussels by Design
Photo: Mont des Arts © Artjazz | Dreamstime.com
Belgian playwright and poet Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949) once said, “How strangely do we diminish a thing as soon as we try to express it in words.” How true this is for Brussels, the 62-square-mile Art Deco Belgian capital known for its breathtaking art and culture and as the cornerstone of Europe as host to NATO and the World Customs Organization. Founded in 979, the French- and Dutch-speaking city today thrives as a bustling business destination (and chocolate and beer lover’s paradise), boasting a 5.8 percent increase in business visits in the past year. Business travelers can enjoy the city’s high standards for hotels, food and drink and may decide to tack on extra time to enjoy the city’s culture.
Brussels Airport, located about nine miles northeast of central Brussels, welcomed 21.9 million passengers last year. When you arrive, grab a taxi (about $54 to city center) or hop on the Brussels Airport train direct service every 20 minutes to Brussels Midi station with stops at the Central and Nord stations. Trains have steps upward, so keep luggage minimal.
With business visitors accounting for almost 53 percent of overnight stays, Brussels is swiftly becoming a leading city in the world for meetings of international associations and organizations with more than 50 participants — 11th globally, according to the International Congress and Convention Association, four places higher than the previous year. Most visitors stay in hotels, which have seen a 1.6 percent increase in occupancy rates to 73 percent.
Opening in June, the 5-star Tangla Brussels will represent the first property of the brand in Europe and will feature a gastronomic Chinese restaurant, seven meeting rooms, a karaoke room, a spa and a swimming pool.
Business contacts and clients will love the Loui Bar at Steigenberger Wiltcher’s, serving tea, coffee and cocktails in a setting of dark woods, leather upholstery and masculine flair. Enjoy jazz here every weekend from 4 to 6 p.m., an ideal way to clink glasses and do business.
Find another good option for client drinks at the timeless favorite, À La Mort Subite, offering a jovial, informal atmosphere. Ignore the foreboding name (meaning “sudden death”) and taste excellent draft beers like cherry, peach and lambic white.
Treat clients to a hearty meal at cozy Aux Armes de Bruxelles, where Belgian cuisine like mussels marinière in a white wine and cream sauce, lobster with morel mushrooms and tagliatelle, eels cooked in green sauce and grilled salmon steak in Béarnaise sauce is the order of the day. Cap off the perfect meal with tempting desserts like Brussels waffles and whipped cream, flambéed crêpes with mandarin Napoleon liqueur and rum sponge cake.
Historic and modern cuisine come together at Comme Chez Soi, where unusual entrées leave dinner companions satisfied: Breton red mullet fillet, scallops from Dieppe with sea urchin coral and lemongrass, grilled venison with brown Leffe and mustard from Ghent. Finish with innovative desserts like pear poached in Boldo tea served with ginger sorbet and lemon shortbread.
For something a little different, show clients beer brewing in action at the Cantillon Brewery — founded in 1900 and today run by the Van Roy-Cantillon family — where red copper barrels surround visitors. Sip lambic, gueuze, faro and kriek beers as you watch the brewing magic happen with original tools and processes.
Entertaining business colleagues who keep late hours? Check out L’Archiduc, a legendary jazz club offering live music, cocktails and an art gallery. Sample a specialty house cocktail like a Pommette, a George Simenon or the Cointreau-Teese created by Dita von Teese. On the dance card: musicians Cyril Mokaiesh and Giovanni Mirabassi and jazz group Martin Jacobsen and the Linus Olsson Quartet.
For a change of pace, consider taking in one of Brussels’ 23,000 annual cultural events with a client or colleague. New museums include the Art & Design Atomium Museum, opened in December 2015 with a permanent exhibit of 2,000 unique objects and works of art in plastic from the 1960s and 1970s. This March, the opening of the Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art will offer a mix of musical, graphical, sporting and urban artwork. Since 2009, the Musée Magritte has hosted the world’s largest collection of Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte’s work. Take in his unforgettable paintings, especially The Man from the Sea, The Domain of Arnheim and The Empire of Light.
The perfect gift for clients: high-quality chocolate. At Pierre Marcolini, try the Brésil chocolate made from Forastero Amelonado beans and featuring banana notes, or the Équateur with notes of jasmine and orange blossom. Discover decadent cream and dark chocolate truffles at Neuhaus, founded in 1857. The glamour of Art Deco and chocolate come together at La Maison Wittamer, featuring chocolate-dipped candied peel, bonbons and pastel petits fours. Try Madagascar-, Brazil- and Venezuela-derived cocoa bean chocolates as well as Samba and Forêt Noire (Black Forest) cakes.