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Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Check out the bar and tapas…

 - ©ADT-ATO(Véronique KIRSZBAUM)

2014-05-12 – Looking for something a bit different – something a little escapist, where you can be like a hero of the big screen, a little taster of a different world with a touch of grit...? Then go no further than the brand-new Alcatraz Bar by the Canal.

The real Alcatraz, of course, is a small island in San Francisco Bay. A million visitors go there every year. Some are there for the seabirds or because they are fans of old lighthouses: Alcatraz has one of the oldest working lighthouses on the west coast. However, the majority of the visitors travel there because it was the scene of a famous and intriguing episode in American history. From 1934 to 1963, this place was a high-security prison, whose high-profile residents included Al Capone, the notorious mafia boss who was finally nailed for tax offences.

Inspired by the film

More relevantly for our purposes, the Rock served both as the location and as a character in its own right in Don Siegel’s 1979 film, Escape from Alcatraz, with Clint Eastwood as the grim hero who manages to escape with two brothers and to vanish for ever. It is the true story of the only men to have got out of this jail (other than at the behest of the authorities) and to have got clean away.

1979 also happens to be the year of birth of Lucas Trotta who became fascinated, intoxicated and obsessed by this story – who can say why? – when he saw the film for a first time a few years later. Now 35 years old, slightly trendy and with bags of enthusiasm, he has invested in a former warehouse on the Quai des Charbonnages and created a bar which is fitted out to resemble the famous prison.

A little history and plenty of surprises

It all seems fairly low-key at first sight. A board set out on the pavement advertises cocktails and snacks, and you have to skirt round a blank wall painted yellow and black and walk down a passageway lined with panels under plexiglas tracing the story of the Californian penitentiary. Is it an exhibition? Is it a museum? At the end, you emerge into the room, and... what a shock! You find yourself in a prison corridor, and just to keep you on your toes the first cell is the one with the electric chair in it. To the side and facing you are eight or so alcoves – not under lock and key, fortunately. Tables and chairs have been set out, and the menus are disguised as the San Francisco Chronicle with a distinctly 1930s-type font.

Turn 45 degrees and you’re looking at the bar. The backdrop is nothing less than the prison guards’ armoury, with powerful-looking guns hanging up and ready for use… well, actually it’s just a huge poster to create the illusion. The waiters walk around in orange overalls, a big screen broadcasts the film continuously, and authentic touches have been contrived even for the tableware: the vinaigrette comes in a syringe, the ‘shots’ come in jam jars and if you want a napkin... there’s a roll of toilet paper. Tasteful it may not be, but it is funny and it’s certainly nice and down to earth.

Thrills and spills

The cocktails have evocative names, as you would expect: ‘Perpette’, ‘Délit de fuite’ and ‘Garde à vue’ might loosely be translated as ‘Lifer’, ‘Hit and run’ and ‘Custody’; others are named after some of the celebrities whose police ID photos grace the walls: Scarface, Henry Young, Don Corleone. There are also classic cocktails, energy boosters, non-alcoholic cocktails, XXL servings, plus sparkling wines, beers and soft drinks. To ward off alcoholic poisoning, there are also milkshakes, ice creams, salads and ‘tapraz’.

Now that you’ve read this, you can check it out for yourself and see if you think it works. And why not take some friends along without warning them what to expect? They’ll be in for a shock!

Véronique Kirszbaum

Alcatraz stuzzicheria – cocktails – ice creams, 36 quai des Charbonnages, 1080 Brussels