Let’s face it. Belgium isn’t exactly known for its burgeoning metal scene. Beer, chocolate and fries it can do, but heavy metal is not its strong point. But it’s still somewhat of a shock to be greeted by a virtually empty room on entering Rock Classic, which is a shame because it possesses the kind of atmosphere that one could imagine being a fertile breeding ground for underground music and emerging scenes.
It all starts off well. Entering the establishment requires a walk down a long, dark tunnel, which mimics the shape of a depressed arch and evokes imagery of wondering through the corridors of a medieval castle late at night. It’s a great mood-setter and the mood really blossoms when the tunnel eventually gives way to the bar itself. Dressed to look like the bowels of a castle, it features the exposed brickwork of robust pillars, with light fixtures mounted high up on the walls to emulate medieval torches and candlelight illuminating the old oak furniture.
All of which makes the tacky table football tables tucked around the corner seem a little out of place. It’s like hanging the centrefold of a Playboy magazine in The Louvre next to The Mona Lisa. Table football tables in a castle setting? Table football is hardly the sport of kings, but Chess certainly is. Thankfully there are plenty of chessboards dotted throughout the venue, the tabletops themselves painted with black and white squares.
Due to the bar’s peculiar opening hours (8pm-6am), one would expect it to be thriving with the city’s nocturnal inhabitants but it seems to be plagued with almost consistent desolation, no matter the day of the week.
The only time it isn’t empty is the occasional evening when it plays host to local bands – usually Fridays – when seemingly every rock fan in the city is drawn to the venue like a magnet. It’s a running joke amongst the expat community of Brussels that the city has a distinct lack of health and safety and, for proof of this, look no further than the ‘stage’ at Rock Classic. At the back of the room is a balcony with a set of stairs that leads to a lower seating level. Perched over the balcony is what’s little more than a large piece of plywood, hanging precariously over the lower seating level. This is the stage. The fact that it somehow manages to bear the weight of five men, a drumkit and several large amplifiers seems to defy every law of physics.
When bands aren’t playing there’s usually a DJ behind the decks, though they are wont to disappear for long periods at a time. Consequently the punters are often left to listen to half an album before someone eventually takes the initiative to change the CD, and the cycle begins again. It’s an exceptionally odd style of deejaying and perhaps accounts for the lack of crowd, especially when most of the songs are from the tail end of the nineties and the early noughties.
Being in Belgium, they’ve at least got some decent beers behind the bar, though the selection is rather paltry compared to the other nearby drinking establishments. The big players are all there; Maes, Guinness, Leffe Blonde, Leffe Bruin and Duvel, but there are no lesser-known brands and a distinct lack of dark beers. But it certainly knows how to cater to the spirit drinkers and stocks just about anything one could ask for, serving up very generous measures.
Rock Classic is an untapped well of potential. It just needs to identify its target audience and learn how to cater to their tastes, both literally and figuratively. But if you’re visiting the city then it’s certainly worth a visit, even if it’s just for the novelty of drinking a glass of Belgian beer in what could easily pass for the dungeon of a castle.