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The real Brussels power map

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Brussels, den of spies, home to so many backroom deals hashed out in smoke-filled rooms — for all the clichés about the hidden corridors of power, so much of the wining and dining happens, more or less, out in the open.

Sure, you can stake out the Berlaymont or wander the halls of Parliament in search of top EU leaders, or chat up their assistants at the bars in Place Lux and Place de Londres. But catching the real power players and dealmakers, the faceless bureaucrats and subtle diplomats, requires a tiny bit more finesse.

Here’s POLITICO’s guide to the real Brussels power centers:

Exki Schuman

EU diplomats joke that the quickest way to send messages to Russian or Chinese spies is to sit and chat in the Exki branch at the European External Action Service. The walls at Exki have ears, they say.

The implication that the cafe is bugged, according to one official, stems from an intelligence report circulated in Brussels. When top EU intelligence official José Casimiro Morgado canceled a trip to Taiwan after his top-secret preparations were seemingly leaked to Beijing in advance, some diplomats said conversations at this Exki restaurant could be the source of China’s knowledge.

Exki didn’t reply to a POLITICO request for comment on whether a bug sweep has ever been conducted.

Le Coin du Diable

“The Devil’s Corner” is a Belgian bistro that looks like an English pub right in the heart of the EU Quarter.

Situated on Rue Stevin near the European Commission Berlaymont headquarters, it offers a variety of heavy Belgian beers and meals nonstop from noon until 10 p.m. It’s also a stone’s throw from Avenue de Cortenbergh, a road hosting several EU embassies, including those of Portugal, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus. 

Unsurprisingly, it’s a great place to spot officials and diplomats quaffing a drink (or drinks!). If you’re really lucky, you might find the Dutch ambassador to the EU Robert de Groot or the spokesperson of the Irish permanent representation to the EU Alan O’Brien holding a glass over there.

Ramo Verdee

Important business gets done at this fancy-yet-unpretentious Italian restaurant.

One Western diplomat who asked not to be named said that it was over lunch at the Ramo Verdee that he managed to convince his counterpart at the table to support his country’s line over emission reduction targets. “And I didn’t even need wine,” the diplomat stressed.   

You can find numerous EU officials sitting at the tables here, among them Claire Raulin, the French ambassador to the EU’s Political and Security Committee, a body that deals with security and defense. The former Greek ambassador to the EU, Andreas Papastavrou, was a regular guest.


Barely a year old, TheMerode social club has already achieved the impossible: merging several different Brussels bubbles. 

In the 16th century mansion, you’re as likely to bump into startup girlbosses in the workspaces as you are to find the Australian ambassador and her entourage having a drink in the avant-garde art-adorned lounge. Despite its location just outside the European quarter, TheMerode is already in the heavy rotation for EU policy panel discussions and trade association receptions. Individual memberships start at €1,200 a year (€850 if you’re under 35).

To Meli

If you don’t want to be seen talking to journalists, don’t go to To Meli.

The Greek deli just off the Schuman roundabout is the new go-to spot to meet your Zoom contacts in real life for the first time, or snag some face time and pistachio-flecked pastries with Commission bureaucrats — especially since the pandemic-era demise of Italian favorite Caffé Vergnano. 

Incidentally, that spot, now called Papillon, is also Greek, marking a significant power shift in the Schuman coffee scene.

Aspria Arts-Loi

You’ve got to be a lawyer, lobbyist or tax-exempt expat to afford the membership fee at this luxurious EU quarter gym; then again, you may be able to write it off as a business expense.

Situated almost exactly between the European Parliament and Belgium’s federal parliament, Aspria has been known to draw Brussels powerbrokers in all senses, from European commissioners to Wallonian Minister-President Elio di Rupo.

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