The Appelmans Story
The story of Appelmans and the Absinthbar starts in April of 2014. An acquainted restaurauteur pointed out to us that the property at Papenstraatje 1 was on the market. The building and all of its furnishings was for sale, yet there was no real interest for the project in Antwerp at the time, since two previous businesses had already failed there. We went to take a look anyway. After all, it was a great location in the historic heart of Antwerp, right next to the Cathedral of Our Lady.
What we found was a gorgeous 19th-century property, complete with 16th-century monastery cellar, that was derelict and had a so-called bad reputation. When we introduced the idea to friends and other restaurant professionals, everyone was skeptical. Many thought the city centre was merely for tourists and offered low quality. Furthermore, the location was known for strong fall winds, a direct result of its proximity to the cathedral. Looking beyond the negative advice, we saw a premises that was perfectly located, very much authentic and had just about 900 square metres of space. We quickly decided to buy. We saw a future for ourselves in the centre of the city. In a matter of weeks, the deal was finalized. By May 2004, we were ready to start.
Since we were planning to use the location for one of our Asian concepts, the Chilli Club, we decided to do a ‘test-run’ during 5 months under another name. That way, we could better get to know the city centre and the premises. It also bought us some time to prepare for renovations. The temporary concept was named Café-Brasserie Appelmans. The name came easy: Pieter Appelmans was one of the cathedral’s master builders. He had followed in his father’s footsteps and was responsible for a large part of the monumental cathedral’s build. Seeing the history of our “papist cellar” and our huge, towering neighbour, the name was a perfect fit. Our temporary concept soon proved successful. We were a hot spot for tourists in no time. We also discovered a bunch of technical flaws to the building that were in dire need of a renovation. Doubts about turning it into the Chilli Club started creeping in.
In August, the definitive decision was made to pass on the Chilli Club concept, but to make it a very nice city brasserie with a cosmopolitan bar. The name Appelmans stayed, and thus Brasserie Appelmans & Absinthbar was born. We wanted to work again with architect Jo Peeters and two of his female architects (Murielle en Ilse) for refurnishing and renovations. Their task: creating a timeless brasserie with lots of attention to detail. After 3 months of hard, thorough renovating, Brasserie Appelmans & Absinthbar had its grand opening. The architects pulled had done an amazing job, and we could start our biggest adventure yet. We decidedly went for an atypical and qualitative approach in the Antwerp inner city and targeted locals, international hotel clientele and tourists from around Belgium and abroad. The last thing we wanted to be was another tourist trap, so we chose impeccable cuisine with many Belgian touches and a bar that focused on absinth and cocktails. Ten years ago, that was far from a standard combination. A good price-quality balance was important to us then, as it is now.
Food, drinks, interior and music
We started inviting dj’s on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, because music was very important to us. Food, drinks, interior and music needed to go hand in hand, without turning our brasserie into a night club. This quickly added to our popularity in the city centre. Luckily, both young and old felt at home with us. The combination between the classical brasserie and the modern approach we had in mind, translated well to our cuisine. The dishes were reinvented and we created modern brasserie cooking that, together with the classic dishes, made for an attractive and surprising menu. Marc Gottenbos en Ron Diephout are the two talented chefs who have been responsible for that the last ten years. The bar also evolved and became all the more popular. Year after year we reached a record number of visitors. This brought with it some growing pains of course. The last few years, we invested heavily behind the scenes to make work easier for our staff. The new kitchen, installed five years ago, created a boost in speed and quality. In 2012, the second floor’s service bar made way for the beautiful Private Bar, designed by Kurt Hereygers of Not Before Ten. Its look and design are totally different from our Absinthbar, but fits right in with the whole Appelmans-story. Two bars combined with a modern brasserie is something you’re likely to find only in major cities like New York or London. Having been able to successfully realize this in the metropolis Antwerp makes us very proud.
We’ve made some great memories throughout the years, from a lovely fashion show by Moeders voor Moeders to fundraising, from fine dining to simple brasserie food, from pints of beer to champagne, from international top dj’s to funky live bands. We’ve been treated to many moments of great joy and gratitude by our guests, but of course there were some disappointments now and again. Thankfully, we always came out stronger. And our gratitude goes out to the great group of people that wanted to work for us these last ten years and that has made Appelmans & Absinthbar one of the nicest places in Belgium. We’re already looking forward to the next ten years!
Kasper Stuart & Danyelle van Thoor