“When we started Brasserie Appelmans ten years ago, we wanted to combine the brasserie cuisine with a cocktailbar that would complement the vibe of the property. Cocktailbars were rare in Belgium at that time. Most of them were found in hotels and had no appeal whatsoever. Drinks had to become as important in our brasserie as they once were. First and foremost, we wanted to link our bar to the property’s history. We went out to investigate and discovered that the property’s cellar used to be called the “papist cellar”. The name was mentioned as early as 1524 in the city of Antwerp’s chronicles. The cellar used to hold the wine and beer collection of the church’s canons, who could store these spirits free of taxation. Is this the link to our bar? No. Beers and wines were much too obvious at the time. Every bar revolved around it. We needed a stronger connection!
The current property was built at the beginning of the 19th century on top of the old papist cellar. That was the period when absinth rose to prominence. It was a source of inspiration for many writers and artists of the era. Ever since then, the drink has had a mystical appeal. The feeling we got from the property perfectly corresponded with the appeal of absinth. Its green colour was also a perfect match.
When we started up Brasserie Apppelmans, absinth was illegal in Belgium (and in no other European country). It was the best challenge we could have imagined. Thus the Absinthbar was born. In the beginning we sold our different absinths illegally, ‘under the counter’ so to speak. Absinth was made legal in Belgium again at the end of 2005, under the impulse of former Secretary of State Vincent Van Quickenborne. Since then, the Absinthbar has grown to be one of Belgium’s most famous cocktail and absinth bars.
Youssef Benelhadi is a barkeeper with experience. He worked for a multitude of Club Med bars for seven years, and two and a half more in a beach bar in Athens, where he met his wife. In 2008, just before the Greek crisis, he applied at Appelmans. One year later he was head of the bar. His work is quite diverse. He controls the stocks, calculates drink prices, takes cocktail workshops, tries new recipes, manages the bartenders and controls everything that goes on behind the bar. Can just everyone become a bartender? “Everyone can fix a cocktail, but a good cocktail is mostly a matter of feeling.” Youssef has a fantastic bartending team to work with. Each member has his or her own specialty, yet with allround skills and a great sense of teamwork and customer friendliness. The Absinthbar has been the starting point of many Belgian bartenders’ careers.