Review:Café De Zwaan filling the Belgian vacancy in Slovakia

"You know, in Belgium, there are bars that serve 1,000 different kinds of beer," remarked a Belgian man sitting in Café De Zwaan, Bratislava's new Belgian Beer Café. "I'm no great connoisseur of beer, but I can tell you that in Belgium there is a whole beer culture. We are famous all around the world for it."
Countless bars have opened in Bratislava in the last several years, many of them leading Slovakia's restaurant and café culture in brave new directions.


The newly opened Café De Zwaan will offer 14 beers - all Belgian - with names such as Belle-Vue Kriek and Forbidden Fruit.
photo: Courtesy of Café De Zwaan

Café De Zwaan

Where: Panská 7
Open: Mon - Fri 7:30 - 24:00, Weekends 12:00 - 24:00
English menu: yes
Rating: 8 out of 10

"You know, in Belgium, there are bars that serve 1,000 different kinds of beer," remarked a Belgian man sitting in Café De Zwaan, Bratislava's new Belgian Beer Café. "I'm no great connoisseur of beer, but I can tell you that in Belgium there is a whole beer culture. We are famous all around the world for it."

Countless bars have opened in Bratislava in the last several years, many of them leading Slovakia's restaurant and café culture in brave new directions. The Dubliner brought cheap draft Guinness. Montana's kept its bathrooms spotless. Others employed waitresses that smiled. But Café De Zwaan crosses an even more sacred boundary - it means to make a name for itself with no Czech or Slovak beer on offer.

Of the 14 beers Café De Zwaan offers (five draft and nine bottled) not a single one is anything but Belgian. And the beers are not only of a different nationality, they are of a completely different breed. They are stronger, more bitter, and served in glasses with stems meant for sipping.

"Slovak beer," the Belgian man casually went on, "is good, but it all pretty much tastes the same. In Belgium we have countless varieties. A Slovak, for example, would never even think of putting fruit in a beer."

Café De Zwaan offers one of those unusual, sweet beers. It comes in a bottle, tastes like raspberries and is called Belle-Vue Kriek. Don't let the fruity taste fool you - with a 5.2% alcohol level, Belle-Vue Kriek can make you just plain drunk in a hurry. For an even bigger punch, try Hoegarden 'Forbidden Fruit', which has 8.8% alcohol, but surprisingly, no fruit.

Café De Zwaan also does things differently with its food. To go with a few drinks, try a hot bowl of french fries, served with mayonnaise. Soups come with bread and butter. Breakfast, served from 7:30 until 11:00, includes pastries and eggs. An English breakfast is also on the menu. For meals later in the day, try one of three steaks with four Belgian sauces to choose from.

Café De Zwaan is pricey - the beers start at 55 Slovak crowns for a third of a litre, and most of the entrées are over 200 crowns, but you can't argue with the quality. The interior is gorgeous, with two of the best-looking bars in Bratislava. And the service, both attentive and casual, is far above average.

The only drawback so far to Café De Zwaan, which is not even two weeks old, is its strange fondness for Euro pop music. Although played quietly, it is jarring nonetheless because the place is so inviting otherwise. On a recent weekday the best song in a two hour stretch was YMCA by the Village People. The luxurious bars, the capital cuisine, the exotic beer - they deserve something finer.

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