I've only recently learned to appreciate coffee and still only drink it with a bit of extra flavor (hazelnut, chocolate) or a lot of milk added to it. So whenever I pass a cozy looking coffee bar, I check to see whether they have any special coffees.
A friend of mine had told me about the recently opened Barbóék in my hometown Leuven, Belgium. It's a place that is both coffee bar and bookstore, and so I went to check it out.
Coffee talk between stacks of books
It was the middle of a weekday when my friend and I arrived at Barbóék and yet we barely found a spot to sit. Students were working there, friends were catching up over – of course – coffee and there was even a group of at least five ladies chatting away.
We quickly threw our jackets over two of the four remaining seats before heading to the counter to order. Aha! Coffee with all kinds of flavors, just my cup of, uhm, coffee. I ordered a large coffee with hazelnut and chocolate flavor while my friend got a hot chocolate milk. And yes, yes, we did also both get a piece of cake. Our order would be brought to our table and so we took the time to have a look around the bar/store.
Barbóék is housed in a large room that's kind of split in two by a small courtyard in the middle. You'd think that one part is for the books and one for the cafe, but that's not the case. There's a table for two here, some books there. Then there's a couch for three and a large working table with bookcases surrounding them.
This mix of small seating areas and different kinds of bookcases makes Barbóék feel more like a large living room than like a cafe or a store. It's really easy to get comfortable here and so that's what we did once our drinks and cake arrived.
We spent such a lovely afternoon there, that I was curious to learn more about Barbóék and so I asked the lovely lady behind the counter if I could ask her some questions. And I could!
Could you quickly introduce yourself to us? Who are you and how did you get started at Barbóék?
I'm Annelien Vranckx and I used to work at publishing house Van Halewyck together with Lies, who now runs Barbóék. When Lies heard that De Dry Coppen, another book cafe in Leuven, was going to close its doors, she promptly decided to start a new book bar and asked me if I wanted to join her. That's how we got into this project together. Because we're both a coffee bar and a bookstore, my job here is very diverse. In one day I help people choose a book, sell and order books, select new books and products and prepare coffees and other drinks. A few nights a month we also host events, such as book launches. The shop stays open late then and we always make sure to have drinks ready for the guests.
If you had to describe Barbóék in one sentence, what would it be?
A cozy and fun place to sit down and relax while having a talk or reading a book.
What kind of books do you sell? Which kind of book fans should definitely drop by?
We try to offer a wide selection so that everyone can find something to their liking. We have thrillers, non-fiction, children's books, cookbooks, art books, travel guides and a selection of English books. You can also find poetry, spiritual books and sports related books here. We try to react quickly when new books launch and always give new publications a spot here. When customers can't find the book they're looking for, we can order it for them.
What drink should people definitely try when they stop by? What's your favorite?
A delicious coffee. We get our coffee from Blanche Deal in Maastricht and people visit us specifically for that coffee. Me, personally, you can always please with a cappuccino.
Check the website for up-to-date opening hours.
Where to stay in Leuven
If you're looking for an apartment rather than a hotel, I recommend checking airbnb. Sign up through my link and get a discount on your first stay!
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How to get to Leuven
Leuven can easily be reached by train from other cities as well as from Brussels Airport, which is the best airport to fly to if you plan on visiting Leuven.
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