The picnic revolution: pop-up project reclaims public space


Brussels’ Beursschouwburg has teamed up with a local restaurant to encourage more people to eat outside and take back the city’s streets and parks

Brussels to the people

Last summer, Beursschouwburg’s rooftop terrace in the centre of Brussels welcomed scores of urban dwellers starved for some late-night entertainment under the open sky. With a selection of music and movie screenings, and of course drinks, the Out Loud! festival proved to be a fun way to spend those long summer evenings.

But a missing ingredient was something to help fill your stomach. Thanks to a collaboration with the restaurant AUB-SVP, the venue has finally tackled this issue by re-introducing a somewhat forgotten food concept: the summer picnic. 

“In the 18th century, the royal parks were opened to the public, and picnicking became a popular activity among Brussels’ residents,” says AUB-SVP’s owner, Joris Lens.

Since then, however, the city has been overwhelmed by motorised traffic, putting pressure on the space available to the public. It’s not so long ago that even Grote Markt was a car park. Brought back to its former glory in the 1970s, it was recently chosen as the 13th best tourist attraction in the world, ahead of the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China.

A lot can happen when the people reclaim their territory.

In response to local businesses, many of whom have complained about a loss of customers since the introduction of the car-free zone in the city centre, Lens wants to give the debate a more positive spin. “We want to encourage people to reclaim the parks, squares, benches and streets,” he says.

Lunch around the city

Beursschouwburg’s director, Tom Bonte, is on the same wavelength. “It’s a pity that the pedestrian zone has gotten a bad rap,” he says. “Every modern city needs to have some breathing space.” 

To attract more than just the visitors to Out Loud!, AUB-SVP is installing its Picnic Hotspot just around the corner from Beursschouwburg. Picnic-goers are welcome to take their food boxes to Beursschouwburg's rooftop terrace, but a park or the nearby pedestrian zone will do just as well. 

It’s a pity that the pedestrian zone has a bad rap. Every modern city needs some breathing space

- Tom Bonte of Beursschouwburg

When the pop-up restaurant opens on 8 June, AUB-SVP will close down their main location on Schildknaapstraat for the summer, encouraging people to enjoy their food outside. To make the lunch excursions that much more exciting, the commemorative napkins will show a map of Brussels with insider locations.

“Road works and the terrorist attacks have seriously damaged the image of our capital,” Lens says. “But we cannot let fear take over. There are still plenty of gems to discover.”

The pop-up concept stays true to the credo of AUB-SVP chef, Mathias Dirx, who likes to experiment with local and organic products, including seasonal vegetables and by-catch. With its crunchy salad and pulled pork with soya, sesame and spring onion, the picnic box (picturedis a tasty treat. And since the focus is on sustainability, it’s entirely biodegradable. Bring your own box or basket, and you can expect a discount. 

The collaboration between Beursschouwburg and AUB-SVP lasts until September, when the venue introduces its new artistic theme. Called Come Together, it will continue with the message of sharing food in public spaces. 

But first there is Out Loud!. This year’s programme includes 1990s music-inspired movies – from Pearl Jam Twenty to Spice World – beat-inflected apero concerts and lots of indie gigs. Check out Preoccupations, Dream Koala and the hip-hop/soul evening hosted by Témé Tan.

Picnic Hotspot, from 8 June, Wednesday to Sunday from noon, Karperbrug 9
Out Loud!, 8 June to 10 July, Beursschouwburg, Auguste Ortstraat 20-28

Photo: Thomas Richard Mertens