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Brussels' former cafe Monk to reopen as Billie

15:25 26/11/2023

Brussels’ well-known cafe Monk, which closed in May, is preparing to reopen under new management and with a new name: Billie.

The cafe’s new team wants to preserve the atmosphere of the iconic establishment, Bruzz reports, and hopes to open in mid-January.

“It will remain an authentic ‘bruin café’ and the spaghetti will also stay, with the same kitchen team,” said one of its three new owners, Dries Heyman, who is transitioning to the hospitality industry from the marketing and communications world.

“I have no hospitality experience myself, so I didn't want to do it alone. So Leentje Bruyninckx and I brought in Steven De Visscher, who has been a manager of the Monk for quite some time. Now we are perfectly complementary.”

Bruyninckx is an owner at Roskam, a Brussels bar, and will be responsible for staff, permanent and flex workers while Heyman will mainly deal with communication, launch and brand awareness. De Visscher, who used to work for Monk, will be in charge of day-to-day operational management.

The trio were one of 30 other interested candidates who applied to drinks supplier Horeca Logistics Services (HLS), owner of the property, after the previous operator, Filip Jans, left in May after 10 years of operation.

HLS said that it did not renew Jans’s lease because structural works needed to be done in the listed premises, but Jans said he was under the impression that the owner wanted to get rid of him because there were constant discussions and conflicts about the range of drinks, the mandatory quantities of drinks to be purchased, prices and about necessary renovation works.

He went to court and criticised the brewery contracts in the media, saying they were strangling the hospitality operator. The legal proceedings are ongoing, and Jans has indicated an intent to reopen Monk in a new location in the future.

In the meantime, Heyman said that “HLS wants to make the café a Brussels institution again, but better”.

The new name is intended to be a link to both the past and the future of the business.

“At the time, Monk was a reference to jazz pianist Thelonious Monk,” explained Heyman.

“Billie refers to his contemporary, the great soul singer Billie Holiday, but also lives on among the younger generation. Think of Billie Eilish. It's a name that sounds good and with which we want to appeal to everyone, indiscriminately.”

The new team said it did not plan to change the previous concept much, keeping a wide range of beers, including local ones, and cocktails.

“You will still be able to drink coffee while reading the newspaper, there will be dancing on Fridays and spaghetti will be served in the little room in the back, as before, with the same ingredients and accessible prices,” Heyman said, before adding that some changes will occur to appeal to a younger clientele.

“We have to adapt to the new generation. Sixteen-year-olds go to cafés in a different way than we do. Therefore, there will be a focus on all kinds of new trends, non-alcoholic drinks, veggie and vegan. We will also consider young people when programming live performances.”

Written by Helen Lyons