“Pop-ups are so passé in the UK,” a colleague recently said to me. I’ve no doubt that she’s right but I love the idea of such ephemeral experiences regardless of how trendy (or not) they may be. As long as they are done right – by this, I mean it should be an unusual and indelible occurrence within a limited period.
Recently, in Brussels, I had the pleasure of going to two such pop-ups.
The first, The Tea Garage, was literally a tea bar in a garage. I had walked past it last year – it’s round the corner from my place – but didn’t stop to find out more then as I thought it was a private event. It was by chance that I read about it on Facebook this year. I immediately made a note to check it out during one of the three weekends that it would be running.
You could either sit at the counter or around one of the low tables (one of which has a beautiful cello-barrel chair). I preferred to take my place at the bar where all the action was, served in minute portions of hot aromatic tea by Eric and Adeline de Vrij.
It’s a treat to watch tea being prepared using the Chinese gongfu tea (工夫茶) ceremony, which in Chinese means to prepare tea with effort, skill and precision. For me, drinking Chinese tea is one of life’s simple pleasures and you cannot rush tea-drinking.
The brother-and-sister duo was super nice and friendly. Eric and Adeline were also happy to recommend places that they like in Brussels. Thanks to them, I’ve found my favourite tea shop in Brussels – more to come another time.
I enjoyed myself at The Tea Garage so much that I went back a second time. I learned from them that they had picked up their appreciation for tea, prepared gongfu style at Tea Smith in London. Guess where I’ll be, aside from more bookshops, the next time I’m back in London!
When asked if he would set up a permanent tea salon, Eric explained with a smile that tea drinking is a passion, one that is too precious for him to risk diminishing if made into a business.
Guess I’ll have to wait another year when The Tea Garage lifts its shutters again in conjunction with the annual Parcours d’Artistes de St. Gilles. After all, good things come to those who wait!
The other pop-up bar that I recently visited is of the alcoholic kind. Serving primarily gin and tonic cocktails, made with Bombay Sapphire gin and Fever Tree tonic, Imagin just ended its three-weekend run.
The pop-up bar was located in the unused premises of a former restaurant that is on a side street from Chaussée d’Ixelles. After walking through the dim entrance and blue-lit corridor with blue-jeans couches, we found ourselves in a charming backyard garden.
This – the hidden garden – is one of my favourite features of traditional Belgian houses. In Brussels, it is common to find restaurants that open up to such lush oases. My ideal home would have one too!
The first time I was here, I was with some colleagues. The weather was sunny, making it perfect to sit in the garden as we sipped on the huge goblets of gin and tonic. I had an unexpectedly beautiful New Orleans Shuffle gin and tonic made with Peychaud’s bitters and a squeeze of lime – a perfect after-work drink in summer!
Knowing that this was only going to be around for a few weekends, I was filled with a sense of urgency to re-visit Imagin before it disappeared (who knows when it might, if at all, be back in Brussels).
So I made my way back on a rainy Saturday afternoon. While all the other customers took shelter in the dry interior, I claimed the garden all to myself. Loved it!
What a privilege it was to sit in the lush garden, alone with the rain falling around me as I read Red Love in between sips of gin and tonic.
While I wish that the pop-up bar and The Tea Garage lasted longer, I suspect that I wouldn’t have been as motivated to re-visit either venues so soon if not for the short duration of their existence.
What about you? What are some of your favourite and/or memorable pop-up experiences?