The Gent Bicycle Bar

Two years ago, I was in Gent walking aimlessly with a colleague. She mentioned the bicycle bar and how she had always been interested in going. We went and it was closed. The small door located in a back alley had a closed sign hanging on the door with wild ivy growing all around the front of the bar. It looked like a bar but one that had been left to the elements to do what it pleased. I heard from the colleague that they went once, there were bicycles hanging from the ceiling and it was pretty messy and that the owner was a little crazy.

Last week, I returned to the bar to snap a few photos of the exterior. The above photo is from last year during the day. RateBeer has a few reviews of the place most are either positive or negative but nothing too great. Everyone agrees, the place is a mess.

As I approach the bar around 10PM, there’s a man sitting outside in a multi-colored beach chair complete with matching umbrella. His face was lit by the glow of an obnoxiously large cigar and his hair was unkept and grew wildly in all directions. I stopped and asked if the bar was open. “It’s not.” he answered and I thought that was the end of our exchange. He continued that the neighbors are jerks and so is the local government. It was closed because of neighbor complaints and the fire chief has requested it be cleaned out completely and, for now, there was no permit to serve beer. This story continued on for a few minutes before he stopped to ask, “Just you?” I nodded and he stood up then waved me inside.

There was only a small space to turn and head right where I found a picnic table that happened to have an open spot for seating. Every other seat or table was covered with stuff. He walked into the other room to find a plastic La Chouffe cup. “I only have two kegs left” he said while bringing me a local beer. I saw over 10 kegs but I guess most were empty. Looking around the shop, there was a hanging light bulb from the ceiling so a lot of the nooks and crannies of the bar were pitch black. He was clearly a hoarder with a few hundred tea kettles stacked on each other in the corner and similar setups for beer signs, chairs and various trinkets that were placed on every bit of shelf and floor space available. The whole place was dusty and smelled like an old shoe. it was a complete mess but, I’ve seen worse. I am from a farm in Florida so it wasn’t that bed but it reminded me a lot of our barns where various tools and broken down tractors are stored. Dirty and not very functional but, everything in its place.

The messiness was more than just stuff but also tons of dirty laundry. Old dirty underwear sat next to me at the picnic table stacked on top of a pile of white clothes and a bowl of dry cereal. Plates covered in dry food were everywhere. The great thing about the experience is the bar owner apologized in no way for how messy the place was. He placed the blame on the government for making him shut down and never once acknowledged that I was sitting at the only available open spot at the bar.

The owner was in his mid-50s. His clothes were old and his hair was all over the place. He had scruffy facial hair and wore sandals. When we talked, which is all I could do as I was the only customer drinking one of only 2 beers available. His talks drifted from the evil government, his time working at the post office during the way and how cool it was when there were tons of customers always in the bar and now no one comes in because of the revoking of his alcohol permit. There was a brief chat about Americans who send him beer so he showed some bottles from the US that were empty and dusty and others that were still corked or capped and the two were just laying everywhere. I knocked over a bottle of beer with my foot while entering the place and he didn’t even notice. I had to pick it up and try to find a place to put it.

Half-way into my 6 ounce beer and he asked if I could check out his guest book. I walked over and he had a PC. It was a Pentium III with a 12″ LCD screen and was very slow. There wasn’t much room for me to sit so we were side by side on this bunch siting at a PC with more than just a couple keys missing on the keyboard. His guestbook had entries almost every day. It makes me think that either a lot of people come in here for that one beer and then leave or that he is signing the guest book himself with different aliases but it’s very hard to tell. The reviews looked real with different writing styles but, 20 people had visited in the last 23 days and written an entry which is pretty good. He insisted that I write the review then but I couldn’t do it. I had to refuse and promise to do it later as the keyboard was unusable given the missing keys.

After I finished the beer, he said it was free of charge. I gave him 5 Euro anyway for his time and thanked him for the beer. Not sure if I’ll come back here a 2nd time. This time next year, I bet there will be no more places to sit because there’s so much stuff and he seems to always be adding more.

I think it’s great that there is a place like this only because it’s really an “Only in Europe” sort of deal. There aren’t many countries that have things like this where the guy lives in the bar and that’s fine and the place is a little dirty and that’s okay as well but the alcohol permit is refused but he can still live there. It’s both sad and beautiful at the same time. I had a great time experiencing this place and hope you have the chance to visit as well.