After two years living near Brussels, Andrew and I are still happily discovering new favourite places. One of our most recent finds was Chai & Bar, a wine shop in the Tour & Taxis complex.
I had discovered Chai & Bar on-line while searching for some place interesting to take Andrew on his birthday, last May. We are both fans of the grape and since arriving in Europe we’ve been slowly educating ourselves about wine. I thought a tasting followed by dinner would be just the thing.
It was our first visit to the Tour & Taxis building. We don’t often venture to ‘the other side of the canal.’ We were impressed by what we saw.
Outside, the building is impressive. This former Customs warehouse was abandoned in 1987 and fell into disrepair. It was sold in 2001 and restoration began to bring it back to its former glory. Inside, the building feels old and modern at the same time. Huge columns flank a central passageway and on either side, glass walls open into the shops and services housed within.
Chai & Bar maintains this old and modern feeling. As you enter the shop you are greeted by high ceilings and a warehouse-like feel. The walls are red brick and the floor is stone. There are rows of open shelving, filled with crates of bottles – lots of bottles.
At the back of the shop is a cozy bar where you can settle in for you tasting. This is where the modern side of the shop begins. The stainless steel counter sits in front of an almost Star Trek-like refrigeration system that both keeps each bottle at its optimal temperature and dispenses wine by the glass. (Andrew is already wondering where he could install one in our house).
The best thing about Chai & Bar, however, is the incredible service. On our first visit, the staff took the time to explain each wine to us; where it came from, what grapes it consisted of, what flavours we would taste and why. We sampled our wine with appetizers from their sister restaurant, Tasso, where we would also eat our supper. The staff went over Tasso’s menu with us and helped us choose the perfect bottle of wine to compliment our meal. It was a very pleasant experience.
So pleasant in fact that we returned last Saturday. We had asked to be put on Chai & Bar’s special event mailing list and had been notified of a giant clearance sale (words that are music to any woman’s ears.)
As we walked in the door and began to browse through the bottles, a staff member, Thomas, handed us each a glass of rosé. If only all shopping experiences could be this pleasant…
We decided that choosing from so many bottles would require some fortification, so we sat at the bar and asked for Thomas’ recommendations. Instead of offering the most expensive wine available (they do have several bottles in their ‘special cellar’ for the bargain price of 3200 euro); he took the time to ask us questions about our tastes. Just like our first Chai & Bar experience he explained each wine to us in simple terms but without ever being condescending. We learned a great deal about our tastes and wine production in general.
With a better grasp on what we were looking for, we asked Thomas to help us stock our meagre cellar (and by cellar I mean the cheap wine rack we picked up at IKEA… you have to start somewhere). He took his time and walked through both levels of the store with us, explaining as we went.
We left the shop with twelve bottles to try at home and it hadn’t cost us nearly as much as we expected. In fact, per bottle we only spent slightly more than we would have at our local grocery shop. But for that bit of extra money, we gained a lot of knowledge and the confidence that the bottles we bought will suit our tastes.