Kulminator is an excellent specialist bar, a pioneer in beer aging. Tucked away in a obscure street in the city centre, it's easily worth the effort of tracking it down.
It's a long thin pub, with unspectacular, but cosy décor. On the way to the toilet you can see through a window into the temperature-controlled room where beers are ageing. I won't bore you with a long description, because the physical environment is almost irrelevant here. What's important is the beer.
The beer selection is outstanding. Just the new beers would make it an excellent beer pub. What tips it over into the wonderful, is an unrivalled choice of old beers. Every vintage of Chimay Blue stretching back 10 years or more. Eldridge Pope Hardy Ale and Gales Prize Old Ale at drinking age (10 years old). Forgotten beers from long-closed breweries, beers never offically sold (I've had Westvleteren Green, the beer for the monastery's internal use, here once), anything you could dream about and more. It would take several weeks to exhaust the possibilities.
World fame has not been kind to Kulminator's stocks of vintage beer. (Luckily, the unpoularity of this page leaves me blameless. Phew!) They didn't expect demand to be so big, when they started cellaring. Mass beer tourism must have come as a bit of a shock.
Something you must visit when in Anterp is the street market on Wapper and Graanmarkt, just off the main shopping drag Meir. What I like about Belgium is their mediterranean approach to food. Strolling around this market, you'll find plenty of evidence of a populatiion healthily preoccupied with what they eat.
A seconary reason for having a look at the market is Oud Arsenaal, very handily placed half way along it.
When I first visited Belgium, back in the early 1980's, pubs of this type were common. The Belgian take on a brown beer cafe - small, dark and cosy. What has happened to most of them since, is comparable to Watney's assault on British pubs in the sixties and seveties. Yet the continued popularity of places like this shows just how wrong the pub despoilers were and how little in tune with the public. Your main problem is likely to be finding a seat. (I told you these places were popular). The bar - with a lovely leaded glass screen at one end - offers only limited standing opportunities. An impressive array of beer memorabilia hides all the vertical surfaces. Below, a long bench, a succession of tables crushing in front of it, stretches the length of the wall.
On a sunny day, the seats outside - a great bratwurst stall directly opposite - are even harder toclaim than those inside.
Think the guy leaning on the bar is looking hostile? About a second after I took the picture he cracked a joke about "bedrijfsespionage" (industrial espionage) with me and the barman. Quite a friendly response to some foreign idiot snapping away obtrusively. But that's Belgium for you: hospitable and humourous. Most countries only manage one, some neither, of those qualities. Plenty of Belgian beer pubs have lists that run into hundreds. Arsenaal's is quite small in comparisn. "Klein maar fijn" (small but good) as they say in Dutch. The highlight is a selection traditional lambic beers: Oude Geuze, Oude Kriek. If, like me, you like the proper unsweeted, uncomprimisingly sour stuff, you won't be disappointed. There's one guest tap to add some variety. I would tell you what all the draught beers are but, I was so busy pissing around taking pictures, that I forgot to note them down. I'm sure you'll forgive me this one lapse. promise not to do it again.
My favourite pub in Antwerp. A gem without a single fault. Maybe apart from being loved by too many others.
Pater's Vaetje is nice and easy to find, being right next to the cathedral (you can't miss it; big building, one spire not quite finished yet). It's in a typical 17th century Antwerp house and there are plenty of signs of its age inside. The floor is flagged with red tiles and the beams are visible in the high ceiling. The bar counter is a lovely carved wooden affair, with some attractive leaded glass work. At the rear is a small raised gallery. Continuing the use of traditional materials, the tables are marble-topped.
The beer list is pretty good, too. Obviously, the bottled beers are mostly Belgian, but I don't find that a great problem. The draught beers are rather boring and there is an obvious Alken-Maes tie of some kind.
Overall, a pleasant and intimate café well worth a visit. Really not bad for the centre of town.