There is a tiny bar, nestled along the riverside in Ghent called Dreupelkot. As a local or a tourist, this tiny, 20 person bar is the place to be in the city. The bar only sells one drink: Jenever. A juniper based liquor, Jenever is the national liquor of Belgium and the Netherlands. It is the alcohol from which gin evolved.
but no Jenver in the country is quite like the stuff you find in Dreupelkot, where the Jenever comes in nearly 200 different flavours. Pineapple, mango or Blood Orange. Cactus, Pepper or Blackthorn. Elderflower, Tiramisu, or Chicory. The options are endless, and the owner makes many of them himself.
“How do you even go about picking a flavour?” I asked the bartender.
“It’s better if you just tell me what flavours you like and go from there. Doesn’t matter what taste you prefer, we’ll probably have it.”
So we did. And we continued to do so, every day for our four days in Ghent. This was a local hangout and a tourist destination. We went there to sip on a shot or two of Jenever before starting our night. But we met locals that said this was their favourite last stop. They’d get a shot for the road and head home for the night.
The bar is owned by a man named Pol. He’s pretty much a celebrity in the town. The bar is often just referred to as “Pol’s Bar” and his ruddy round face and big smile can be found all around the bar itself. If Santa Claus trimmed his beard back and had a massive cigar hanging out of his mouth, he’d look exactly like Pol: his rounded belly and beady eyes staring kindly behind shiny lenses. Pol is nearing his 80’s now, and the locals are already worried what will happen to the bar when he’s gone. Everybody loves Pol.
The pub is eclectically decorated. A collection of old shot glasses sit in a glass cabinet along one wall; newspaper clippings of Pol’s Bar from 30 years earlier hang on another. Old Jenever bottles scatter the bar tops and an empty cask serves as the one and only table, sitting perfectly in the middle of the small room. The place oozes with history.
One night we were there Pol came in. Up until last year he used to man the bar himself, but now that he is older, he only comes in on occasion to check up. When Pol walked in with his big grin and red cheeks, the room changed. Whispers of “There he is! There’s Pol” echoed in the little bar. If we hadn’t already been standing, I bet the whole room would have gotten out of their chairs in a standing ovation. It was like seeing a legend.
In all my times in bars, and I will admit there have been many, there has never been a more comforting and exciting feeling as Pol’s bar. It exudes a sense of tradition and familiarity and a place where locals and tourists alike can drink and have a good time. The shots are cheap, the liquor is incredible, and the vibe is always what you need.