What comes to mind when you hear ‘Mercedes’? High quality. Reliable. Indestructible. Timeless design. A-Class. Exactly everything Café Mercedes in Sint-Gillis is.
As a historian, I like my bars with some history to them (check the Café Régua article). Mercedes and Manolo migrated from Madrid, Spain, to Brussels in 1964. Sint-Gillis was a different neighborhood then than it is today. An outskirt area outside of tourists’ gaze, with once glorious Belle Epoque facades falling into decay. The perfect destination for migrant workers from Southern Europe coming to Belgium after World War II, mainly from Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal.
Mercedes and Manolo bought a house and started a café. They left a chamber of their heart in Spain. Posters of the Spanish national football team and Real Madrid decorate the walls of the warm wooden interior in Café Mercedes. Yet, the beautiful yellow and blue letters on the front window – colors of the local club Union Saint-Gilles – prove that their heart grew in Sint-Gillis too.
Almost ninety years old, this couple is. Café Mercedes is their hobby. They and their children are the living memory of the block, full of stories about Brussels’ postwar past, its couleur locale or many small cinemas bygone. While chihuahua Chulo is warming my lap, my beer is taken away to make its collar reappear with a gentle touch of the tap. Here, things gone are brought to life again.
Spanish class. Sit down in Café Mercedes and you’ll never want to change seats.