OSTEND - The Neville Brothers come bursting out of the musical wallpaper. Just for a moment or two, café Manuscript in Ostend has been shipped to the shores and swamps of New Orleans. Café owner Glenn Rotsaert has no complaints about the sound levels.
Together with the previous owner, Patrick Arnoudt – called Patje by his friends – he makes an annual pilgrimage to the city on the bayou to lap up as many music performances as he can.
“Have you ever seen the Neville Brothers live in concert?” I want to know. “Five times,” Glenn responds, beaming with pride.
This affable man-behind-the-bar, always clad in black, has music in his blood.
As a bass guitarist he toured for a year with Marky Ramone and The Speed Kings, a band that drew its heritage from the legendary Ramones, perhaps the first punk band.
In a former life, Glenn was a postman and, in his spare time, helped Patje out in his café. When Patje found out that Glenn and his wife Vanessa had dreams of owning their own café, he lost no time in telling them that he was throwing in the towel.
“You two have to take over my café, I won’t sell to anyone else,” commanded Patje. The rest is Ostend history...
After 25 years, "Dé Manu", as it is affectionately known, needs no further introduction to locals. Literally everyone washes up here, from Arno, the singer of Le Plus Beau and music producer Serge Feys, all the way up and down to the chef and owner of the Cook & Roll restaurant just around the corner, and the window cleaner with a little time to relax between jobs.
Two friends who are the co-founders of this very website met and spent many an evening in the 'Manu'.
If the walls here had ears, they would be able to tell many secrets, large as well as tiny.
But this café owner is a master of his craft; no-one even comes close.
He has mastered the art of listening, always has a friendly word to say to everyone, is never judgemental and keeps the atmosphere convivial. It is no surprise that anyone, whatever their age, feels at home here.
Your regular café is like a warm and comfortable coat you slip on whenever you feel like it.
And when the weather is fine, you shed your coat and carry on your conversation on the terrace.
Café Manuscript has been shaking on its foundations for all of three days. Twenty-five years is a great excuse for a celebration. Bands who are themselves regular visitors and good friends of the owners performed live in front of a 100-strong audience.
“We had to pull out all the stops,” Vanessa tells us as she and Glenn blow out 25 celebratory candles.
They spend half their time managing the café. “When we took over Manuscript all those years ago we didn’t break with tradition. We just carried on doing the same thing we had done before,” Vanessa laughs.
“Our regulars barely noticed a thing. We were already well known in the café.”
In recent years, a surprising amount of English and other languages have been heard at the bar and on the terrace.
Not just during the tourist season, as you might expect, but throughout the year.
Vanessa: “We often welcome beer lovers from abroad. They may come armed with a printout of an article from BeerTourism.com. They even recognise me from the picture and want to take a selfie!” Café Manuscript is high on the visiting beer lovers’ to-do list.
It offers over 70 Belgian speciality beers; all of the country’s beer styles are represented. The beers are neatly listed on the large chalkboard opposite the bar. “We refresh our beer menu on a regular basis and like to introduce new beers,” Vanessa says.
“And we have a tasting room on the first floor that is ideal for groups.”
Vanessa and Glenn decided that something was still missing from their café: their own house beer. At the end of 2013 their dream became a reality: the blond North Sea beer PoppoLou started flowing in the Manuscript.
It hit the mark straight away. PoppoLou has now found its way into the hotels, cafés and restaurants along the Belgian coast.
This unfiltered beer with its slightly salty taste is an ideal thirst quencher after a walk on the beach.
And it loosens tongues at the bar. Where does the name come from? “It is just a combination of the names of our children, Poppo and Lou,” Vanessa smiles.
This offspring has now acquired a little brother: PoppoLou Extra Hoppy. It is available in large (75cl) and small (33cl) bottles but, later on in the year, this North Sea beer will be available from the tap.
If you have a thirst and a yen for the sea, you have been warned!
Telephone: +32 (0) 478 54 28 17