Antwerp’s newest bar puts literature on the menu


Kobalt in Antwerp’s Grote Markt has taken the concept of a bookshop cafe to another level, by selling second-hand books and printed illustrations with the usual coffee and beer

Books and booze

Have you ever been so absorbed in a book that you wished the cafe in which you were sitting would stay open a little longer, and you could order a beer instead of a coffee? If so, there is good news for you. A new bookshop-cum-bar has opened its doors on the Grote Markt in Antwerp.

From outside, Kobalt just looks like a cosy cafe, with book-covered shelves, a smattering of tables and a comfy sofa. But a quick glance at the menu reveals that in addition to serving light food, coffee and alcohol, this place also sells second-hand books and original drawings.

“The idea is that you’ll come to the bar to actually buy a book, as opposed to going to a bookshop just to have a coffee,” says co-owner Alex Schuurbiers (pictured right). Behind the counter, she is joined by Celine De Cadt (left). The pair previously worked together in a local restaurant and noticed they made a good team.

When De Cadt, 27, who earned a degree in illustration at the Sint-Lucas art school in Ghent, came up with the idea to start a bar that would also sell works of art, she asked Schuurbiers to join her. Schuurbiers, 26, expressed interest but wanted to include literature, which fits more in with her interests as a graduate of literature, film and theatre studies.

Open late

Kobalt has a limited food menu, but everything is fresh and homemade. De Cadt bakes the cakes and biscuits, and some of the vegetables in the soups and salads come from her brother’s garden.

In addition to selling illustrations, Kobalt has partnered with the bookshop and publishing house Demian, which provides the bar with second-hand books. Shelves are mainly filled with English literature and classic Dutch novels, but there is also a small selection of poetry, in addition to books in French and German.

Kobalt is open from Wednesday to Sunday and doesn’t close until 1.00, so there’s no rush to leave the comfortable setting. Every other Friday, the bar holds special events like live music and readings.

The building that houses Kobalt belongs to De Cadt’s grandparents. It was previously an Indian restaurant, and the two women admit to putting a lot of work in to rid the premises of the lingering smell of Indian food. But they seem to have managed it; if there is any scent left, it’s that of fresh paint.

Grote Markt 58, Antwerp

Photo © Patrick De Roo