For all serious beer drinkers in the vicinity of Utrecht, The Netherlands, the Kafé België has got to be contender as the ultimate drinking establishment. Easily found - just follow the sunken canal1 upstream from the town centre. Its red neon window sign can be spotted on your left, immediately after the roadway rejoins the canal.2.
While the België doesn't claim to carry the entire range, it does claim to have samples of most, if not all, of Belgium's brewers' beers. The bar normally has approximately 196 beers available, some 170 of them bottled, a dozen or so on tap. A constant changing selection of guest beers - and a blackboard full of guest bottles - plus a smattering of beers from other countries complete your, somewhat bewildering, choice.
The friendly, helpful staff are very knowledgeable about their product. It is always a good sign when you go to a bar and find the off-duty bar staff drinking on the customer's side of the counter.
The decor is basic, as a dedicated drinking den should be. Simple chairs and tables are lined up around the sides of the room. Covered with posters for local events, an enormous painting of a beer label3 often features among the wall decorations. There are a number of inflatable toys suspended from the ceiling, and some overhead fans gently move the smoke around the speakers, which softly emit unobtrusive music4. You can borrow a selection of simple board games, although expect to improvise on the chess pieces as quite a few of them have gone missing. There is a dart board, but since you play across some tables, it is only possible to play on those rare occasions when the bar is quiet.
The toilet facilities are, erm... minimal, and marked by a pervasive smell of stale urine which never seems to go away5. If you think you might require toilet paper, then you'll need to know that it is stored behind the bar, so ask for some before you go!
Speaking English Is OK
However, you don't go to the België for the facilities, you go there for the drink and conversation. If you want privacy, grab a table and you can drink and chat all night. If you're alone and want a conversation, just sit at the bar for a few moments and it won't take long. As is usual in Utrecht, and indeed throughout the Netherlands6, being understood when speaking English is never a problem.
Food is available throughout the day and evening, and is plentiful and good value. Coffee and tostis7 are always available, a particular boon at the end of the evening - which can typically end at 3 or 4 am - when you have to think about getting home and you need to sober up enough to ride your bicycle or stagger home through the cobbled streets.
Another excellent drinking establishment in Utrecht is the Florin & Firkin.