When the boyfriend and I were travelling through Europe by motorbike on a whistlestop tour, we decided to check out Ghent.
With a short stopover, our only plan was to find a reasonably-priced hotel, have a mini-explore, get dinner and have a few drinks.
The night before we arrived we discovered Hotel Monasterium PoortAckere, an old monastery with a fascinating history dating back to 1278 when it provided shelter for old and sick nuns and orphans.
I love staying in unusual places and this ticked all the boxes, providing nice, simple, central accommodation. To our delight we found it even had a small bar, so after we got out of the baking summer heat and peeled off the biking gear we headed there for a quick refreshment.
A chripy young guy from the hotel appeared to serve us drinks and we took the opportunity to show him our map and ask for recommendations.
Tips from a local
He circled a street on our map where he promised we’d find a great bar. “It’s called Dulle Greit…it means mad bitch”, he laughed*. He recommended its speciality beer, the Max Van Het Huis and warned us we’d be asked for our shoes as a deposit for the fancy glass. Our curiosity was piqued.
When we arrived at Pub De Dulle Griet we were impressed – it looked colourful and welcoming. Beer barrel tables, lots of beer brand signage and all manner of curious items adorned its cavernous ceiling and shelves. It’s one of Ghent’s oldest bars and boasts its largest selection of beers with some 400 to choose from.
But we only had one drink in mind when the bartender came over.
“Two Max beers please”. We were given the option of blonde or dark, then without hesitation the bartender held out his hand and said “Two shoes please”. We each took off one shoe and handed them over, then watched in amusement as he took them behind the bar. Then to our surprise he plonked them in a wire basket and used a rope to hoist it up to the ceiling. No stealing them back then!
We chose the blond beer and it arrived in a magnificent, oversized, genuine Pauwel Kwak glass. This was surely a dangerous drink at 7.5% given its massive size.
Meeting fellow beer-lovers
A group of travellers from America sat down next to us and quickly spotted our shoelessness – an interesting conversation starter if ever there was one. They stared in disbelief as we pointed up at the ceiling where our shoes were now joined by various other mismatched footwear. No prizes for guessing what they ordered.
We spoke for hours about everything from travel to beer recommendations. They were astonished when I guessed they were from the Deep South with no clue how strong their accent sounded to my Scottish ears. They were convinced I sounded identical to an Irish woman they listened to on the radio.
The boyfriend helped us live up to our Scottish stereotype by attracting remarks of admiration as he made short work of his third Max (amongst other beers) but still seemed remarkably sober. I can’t decide if that’s something to be proud or ashamed of!
Towards the end of the night I remember meeting one guy on the wooden stairwell that led to the toilets. He was literally bouncing off walls and pointed woefully at his sock, blaming his lack of balance on the absent shoe – nothing to do with the beer of course.
That’s my fond memory of my visit to Bar De Dulle Griet, one I definitely plan to go back to next time I’m in Ghent and I recommend it to anyone planning to visit.
I once made the recommendation on a beer forum, and someone swiftly jumped in to criticise and call the shoe policy a gimmick. I disagree. This so-called gimmick led us to a brilliant bar where we enjoyed quality beers and great company with people from across the globe – what’s not to like?
*Note, the hotelier’s translation “Mad Bitch” isn’t accurate as far as I can see. The powers that be at Wikipedia inform me that the Dulle Griet (“Mad Meg”, named after a Flemish folklore figure) is a 15th century supergun located near to the bar. Which, in hindsight, is illustrated on the glass.