Last night I spent two hours sat in a bar, alone. I don’t just mean that I didn’t have any drinking companions: I mean I was the only one there.
I’d taken my daughter to her stage musical rehearsal. Usually this happens on a Tuesday night but because of Armistice Day they shifted the date, which also meant using a different location for a change, so we found ourselves in the cultural centre of a small town half an hour east of Brussels. Like our usual location the centre had a bar. The difference this time was the the bar was on the ground floor and the stage was on the top floor, so I was the only one who stayed down there while everyone else stayed upstairs singing and dancing, only occasionally coming down to buy a drink and take it back upstairs.
I had a good book to keep me company, but still something about the place’s ambiance kept distracting me. In many respects it’s a typical Belgian café/bar. Not one of those places that attracts the tourists because it has 300 beers on tap, but one of the plainer neighbourhood bars which cater almost exclusively to locals, run by an elderly man or woman, decorated in varying shades of 1970s-era brown.
The barman spent most of his time pottering around in the kitchen at the back, although at one point he sat down at one of the tables, coughed repeatedly for about ten minutes, and then leant on the table as if to have a brief nap. Later a friend of his came in and all of a sudden he came to life and became garrulous and gregarious.
We have one of these bars at the end of our street. I only went in there once; just after we’d moved into our house. Everyone stopped talking and turned around to look at me, and the lady behind the bar eyed me with barely-concealed contempt. I haven’t been back since, although whenever I pass by, whatever the hour, I see guys inside nursing their pints, playing on the fruit machine. Some evenings I see one of them stagger out the door and weave his way up our street.
Some time back I found a website full of great photos of this kind of bar and I posted it to Facebook, but Facebook makes it very difficult to search back through your own timeline to find things again, so you’ll have to make do with the iPhone pic below of the seat and wall behind me. If I find that link again I’ll post it here.
EDIT: found it!