Stuart Forster reports from a Wasbar café and wash salon in Ghent, Belgium.
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A man in his 20s squeezes past our chairs, places a bag on the floor and delves his hand deep into Mariette. I’ve never seen anything quite like this at a café.
Wasbar, in Ghent, is a cross between a designer café and a wash salon. It’s an option for a moderately priced brunch, lunch or dinner while in Ghent.
Named washing machines are ranged along the wall next to me. Mariette stands between Marcel and Roman. I catch a waft of warm, moist, lavender-scented fresh washing. The man completes the task of collecting his clothes, apologises politely for his timing and strolls out.
The Wasbar concept has proved successful. There are two branches in Ghent (at Korenmarkt 37 and Kalandestraat 3) as well as in Antwerp, Hasselt and Leuven.
Wasbar café in Ghent
When he arrived we’d just started to tuck into our whole grain sandwiches topped with préparé, sometimes known as filet américain in this part of the world, the Belgian take on steak tartare. I take a sip of Chaudfontaine Rood sparkling mineral water, served with ice and a wedge of lemon, and look around.
The place we’re in has a hip feel. It’s casual too and nothing like the functional, slightly depressing strip light-lit launderettes I used to wash my clothes in as a student. Two trendy white lampshades fashioned from metal coat hangers protect single bulbs hanging over the adjacent table.
A place to eat in Ghent
This is a place where people hang out. A couple of women are chatting over coffee and cakes in ’60s-style soft chairs by the window.
There’s a piano in the far corner. Board games and books are stacked on shelves in the corridor leading to the loos. A big Electrolux sign is painted on a petrol blue wall above a narrow wall-mounted table.
Drawers have been hung vertically on the walls above the washing machines to create shelving. A handful display Wasbar’s price lists, some have instructions for using the washing machines and a couple hold potted plants.
An option for lunch in Ghent
Wasbar is quirky but it’s a pleasant place to eat and drink. Thanks to dark wooden floors, wood-topped tables and smiling staff, Wasbar is inviting. Even without a bag full of washing, I’m glad we’ve stopped by while cycling around Ghent. The food is reasonably priced and tastes good. Ideal, given that I’m planning a big evening meal.
Cakes are displayed under glass on the top of the tiled bar where Wasbar’s staff take orders for sandwiches and drinks. Chalkboard menus list lemonades, smoothies, ice tea and cocktails plus today’s choice of sandwiches.
I suppose dining at a café within a wash salon has one major advantage over most places — if I spill anything on my shirt I’ll be able to take care of it right away.
Map of Ghent, Belgium
The Google Map below shows the location of the Wasbar at Korenmarkt 37:
Travel to Ghent
Brussels Airport is the nearest international airport to Ghent.
The Eurostar connects London St Pancras and Brussels South. From Brussels South (also known as Bruxelles Midi and Brussel Zuid) it is a 28-minute train journey to Ghent (Gent-Sint-Pieters).
Hotels in Ghent
Planning a break in Ghent, Belgium? Search for hotels via the HRS website:
Books about Ghent and Belgium
Planning a trip to Ghent and Belgium? You can buy the following books from Amazon by clicking on the links or cover photos:
The DK Eyewitness Top 10 Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent pocket travel guide:
See the Wasbar website for opening times and the addresses of branches throughout Belgium.
The Visit Ghent website has information about things to do and see in the city.
The Visit Flanders website is a good source of information about the surrounding region.
Thinking about travelling to Ghent? Take a look at this interview with Belgian chef Lieven Lootens, who operates a highly regarded restaurant near the city. Enjoy shellfish? Check out this post about the tradition of Oyster Sunday in Ghent, Belgium.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning travel writer who frequently visits destinations in Belgium.
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A version of this post was initially published on Go Eat Do on 29 December 2015.