How Babs, owner of café Zeezicht, has experienced the corona pandemic so far.

Everyone knows her, Babs, manager of café Zeezicht on the Dageraadplaats in the heart of Zurenborg in Antwerp. Babs has become a figurehead of Antwerp’s bar scene. An old acquaintance who for 44 years has kept café Zeezicht open uninterruptedly … until the corona pandemic put a stop to it.

We visited Babs for an interview and reflected on how she experienced the lockdown, what measures she took, and how she has seen the bar scene change during the reopening of café Zeezicht.

How did you experience the lockdown?

On the 12th of March the news came in that the hospitality industry had to close down. After the National Security Council, a number of drastic measures were announced, including: lessons in the schools will be suspended, everyone will have to work from home and bars and restaurants will close.

For Babs this came in like a bolt from the blue. It felt like an unprepared New Year’s Eve party. Moreover, all the orders and deliveries had just arrived, which is a big cost for café Zeezicht.

The next day, Friday March 13th, all cafés had to be closed at midnight. Babs describes the strange and tense atmosphere that hung in the café. “Around 11.15 pm we stopped serving beer because people kept insisting and there was a queue outside. A very strange scene!,” she says herself. It was one of the most bizarre shifts in her career.

You renovated Zeezicht during the lockdown, why this decision?

Babs says she never had time to renovate the cafe because they’ve been open every day for 44 years. Occasionally she did paint a layer of varnish on the old layers, or add a fresh coat of paint. The corona lockdown offered Babs the perfect opportunity to do a total renovation of the cafe.

It was a challenge to strip a 44 year old café and renovate it completely. Babs was also a bit scared that the customers would not like the new look and would be especially attached to the ‘brown pub’ style that café Zeezicht radiated. Fortunately, these concerns turned out to be for nothing. The customers received the renovation very positively!

How did you experience the reopening of café Zeezicht?

The first day was a bit overwhelming and this was also the moment Babs realized that more staff would be needed. The new way of working where people are served at the table requires twice as many staff. It required a lot of adjustments to take all safety measures into account.

In addition, the early closing time was still a difficult point for Babs to point out to customers. Some people get angry or annoyed because they don’t want to accept the closing hour while Babs only acts out of safety for her own staff and that of her customers.

Going to a bar is a social event, do you see a change in the social aspect?

Babs describes café Zeezicht as a community center for social contact. Many regular customers know the different bartenders personally and like to have a chat with them. This is no longer possible. Babs says that they have clearly experienced a reduction in the social aspect of having a drink in a bar.

Recently, café Zeezicht accepts bonsai for payments.

Babs is a fan of bonsai. Bonsai gives customers the opportunity to pay quickly and contactless via the bonsai app. Moreover, with every 10 payments you make as a user, one tree is planted by bonsai. This is a great initiative and Babs also sees the benefits of it.

She goes on to say that she regularly loses customers because the ATM next to the café is often empty by the evening. Since Babs does not have a bank terminal because of the high costs, she only accepts cash payments. Bonsai gives her the opportunity to accept digital payments quickly, easily and cheaply via the bonsai app. Bonsai offers a great alternative to expensive payment terminals, which are also sometimes slow.

Did you know that already more than 100 trees have been planted thanks to customers of café Zeezicht?

Babs, what is your favourite beer?

Café Zeezicht is one of the largest Duvel cafes in Antwerp and also offers a wide choice of gourmet beers. You can enjoy a Chimay from the barrel or a fresh Zeezuiper which is very popular. In addition, café Zeezicht also gives smaller, local beer brands the chance to break through in Antwerp.

Are you hungry? Then be sure to visit the renewed Zeezicht and enjoy the oven-fresh lasagna that Babs lovingly prepares for you!