Belgian Café Culture
$30, By Regula Ysewijn, Luster, lusterweb.com
In this Belgian-focused issue of the magazine, it makes sense to highlight this newly revised edition of Regula Ysewijn’s Belgian Café Culture. A delicate and beautiful paen to the timeless culture of Belgium’s beer-focused drinking establishments, this thoughtful and loving tome is part anthropological document, part love letter, and part tourist guide to some of the most quaint and characterful cafés in a country that’s known for them.
From the first pages, we’re struck by both Ysewijn’s ability to capture a sense of place in her photographs, and her clear affection for the aging generation of café owners and operators. A rash of closures motivated her to pen the book in 2016, and the pace of those closures hasn’t ceased. It’s no surprise that Belgium’s beer culture faces a generational shift, as aging operators face retirement without successors to take over their hospitality-focused businesses. What’s lost as they disappear is more than just commerce—it’s the soul of an ingrained culture that’s important to the very nature of Belgian identity.
Through contemplative photography of spaces, sensitive portraits of people, and thoughtful essays, she has captured the stunning sense of place that Belgian cafés convey. Thankfully, she has done this before they’re gone, so that those who love beer—and love experiencing beer served by those who love beer—can track down and spend time in these spaces before they disappear entirely.
Belgian café culture is more than just style, it’s a pace of life and an approach to drinking communally that’s worth maintaining. Ysweijn’s book makes this case in inspiring page after page.