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20 Aug 2017

Tandem, the Cafe Where Bicycles Unite, Has Been Launched

Just a short ride from the Place Jourdan in Etterbeek, at the heart of the Felix Hap Park, known for its quiet and calm, Florent and Céline, a Brussels couple, have opened their own temporary pub dedicated to bicycles. Since late July ‘Tandem’ welcomes cyclists and passers-by alike for tea, sandwiches, Sunday brunch or a place to work on their bikes.

The pub’s namesake is an old tandem bike hung on the wall. ‘It belonged to my great-grandfather,’ Florent confides. ‘He used it because he had a stiff leg and his car had been confiscated. Thanks to the tandem, his children could pedal in front and get him to work.’

The vintage contraption without pedals fits perfectly into the decor of this former orangery. It looks over a workshop corner for bike repairs run by Vélo Fabrik and its professional mechanics. The staff of six take turns being on hand. Next to a few display bikes are some helmets and accessories for sale. ‘We only sell products we select ourselves and which we are personally fond of.’ Another shelf is reserved for bike-related products by Belgian stylists and artists: customised braces, onesies for babies bearing an image of Eddy Merckx, postcards, and so on. A place for everyone, both cyclists and pedestrians.

Parents of two young children and cargo bike users, Florence and Céline wanted to open a place that combined restaurant work and bicycles. ‘Bikes have a very convivial side and there was no place in Brussels where cyclists could gather. We wanted a café that was open to everyone, including families. One that was neither elitist or closed-in-itself, and where non-cyclists also felt welcome.’

Their project was born before they had a building for it. Accompanied by a start-up incubator called ‘Village partenaire’ they met with Brussels cyclists to understand the demand and then travelled to existing bike cafes in Flanders and France for some inspiration.

Working as a guide in Brussels, Florent knew of the Félix Hap park and its orangery, property of the municipality of Etterbeek. The couple negotiated a temporary occupation agreement for the summer. The only constraint during their five weeks lease: the new café had to respect the park’s opening hours and close at 8:00 pm every evening. After this real life test, their ‘Tandem’ will have to find a new place for the orangery is due for renovation to house a centre for socio-cultural activities. ‘We’re not in a hurry’, Florent says. ‘We don’t want to go too fast and have things not work out. As we both have jobs, it isn’t urgent. We think we’ll set something up either in this neighbourhood, or in Ixelles/Elsene or Schaerbeek, communes where lots of people travel by bike.’