Main image: © Raymond Dakoua
You’ll find The Crazy Circle on Rue du Prince Royal – in the Ixelles neighbourhood of Brussels.
I caught up with Laïla and Axelle for an update on what’s going down at The Crazy Circle.
You launched Crazy Circle in 2019, how has the venue evolved in that time?
In 2019, we took over a bar that already existed – it had its own clientele and its own identity.
It took us a long time to develop the place into a lesbian-feminist-queer bar and attract our target audience.
We didn’t have a lot of time or resources, so we had to keep everything pretty much the same – the name of the bar, the decorations, the cocktail menu, and even the same events that they’d always had. We could only make changes little by little – through trial and error.
The forced closure required by Covid, allowed us to take a step back, to refocus on our initial project and to accelerate the changes we wanted to make.
Laila – who is very handy – took the opportunity to do some work in the bar to make it a place that better corresponds to our identity. With the help of friends, she built a new counter, new shelves, refreshed the decor and changed the furniture. We went from low tables and benches to tables and high chairs – this made the space more dynamic. We also added a foosball table.
The Covid closure also gave us time to complete the administrative procedures required to obtain authorisation to have a permanent mini-terrace in front of the bar. We also took the opportunity to increase communication about our lesbian-queer bar project. Some of our current customers discovered the place during our closure through our posts on social media and press coverage.
At the reopening, we had the impression that our target clientele had finally found their way to the Crazy Circle. We now have a large clientele of regulars.
In terms of cultural programming, that has also evolved since the beginnings. Our events are much more LGBTQ-targeted than before, in order to better meet the expectations of our customers and introduce our bar to people who do not yet know it.
What sort of events or performances seem to resonate best with the Crazy Circle community?
Because our bar is small – we can comfortably fit around 50 people – we favour activities that bring people together and also lend themselves to an intimate setting.
The Crazy Circle is also ideal for emerging projects and can be used by artists wanting to test their work in front of a small audience – enabling them to gain confidence before staging something in larger venues.
After testing quite a few events with our clientele, some have become flagship events:
- Wednesday’s Woman Jam is a must. This evening allows musicians and singers to make their debut in front of a supportive audience, as well as creating opportunities for people to collaborate together. This is an opportunity for everyone to get together over a drink while listening to live music, in a relaxed, informal and friendly setting.
- We recently launched the Rainbow Kicker Tournament nights on Thursdays. These are small and friendly foosball tournaments for the LGBTQIA+ community. All skill levels are welcome – the goal is to have fun and meet new people while playing foosball.
- Karaoqueer nights are often madness – these events are usually on Fridays or Saturdays. The Crazy Circle being small, it quickly turns into a collective karaoke.
- Dance evenings with DJs are also popular nights – we generally hold these on a Saturday.
- On the first Tuesday of each month, we host Queer Slam evenings. These are organised and presented by the slammers Prosodie Particulière and ZigZag. These events are great moments of freedom of speech, emotion and sharing. Our intimate venue is ideal for this type of event.
- On the last Friday of each month, we host Merhabar evenings – these are important for members of our community with an immigrant background and also new arrivals. Everyone is welcomed with mint tea and pastries, and it’s a time for sharing experiences as well as an opportunity to request information from the ASBL Merhaba team. The evening continues with DJ sets featuring music from around the world.
Queer people visiting Brussels are often directed to the “rainbow village” precinct downtown but your location in Ixelles sets you a bit apart. Do people from out of town know where to find you and track you down or are you a bit of a hidden treasure that visitors to Brussels might not discover?
Contrary to what you might think, tourists looking for a lesbian bar tend to find us more easily than people who live in the city. Tourists take the step of searching for a ‘lesbian bar’ on the internet and easily come across the Crazy Circle because we’re quite well referenced. Local people tend to assume that there isn’t a permanent lesbian bar in Brussels and so don’t proactively look for one.
It’s funny to sometimes see queer tourists from different parts of the world who have tracked down our small hidden bar in Ixelles – they’re here at the same time as lesbians who live 300 metres from where we are and have only just discovered the Crazy Circle through word-of-mouth.
Our location isn’t a barrier to anyone visiting Brussels. We’re in a neighbourhood with a lot of Airbnbs and hotels. Plus, the gay bars in the Rainbow Village don’t hesitate to point lesbians in our direction.
Being in a hidden little street also has the advantage of being a bit safer from prying eyes and malicious attention.
As an inclusive, female-led venue, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in running Crazy Circle?
The biggest challenge remains that of making our place known to the lesbian community and encouraging them to leave their homes.
We have to balance being an inclusive bar – so that lesbians can come with their hetero-cis male friends – with not being so inclusive that lesbians feel that it’s no longer “their” bar.
Because the bar is only small, if every lesbian that comes brings a few colleagues or friends, it can quickly start to feel like any other ‘hetero’ bar – that can impact the atmosphere and the feeling of being a safe space, especially during dance evenings.
We have to ensure that queer people never find themselves in the minority in their own bar.
Part of the complexity in that balancing act is trying to enforce that door policy without invading anyone’s privacy or judging people on appearances – we’re not here to question people about their orientation or identity.
Another difficulty as a permanent lesbian bar is contending with the very many ‘competing’ queer events in Brussels – events that take place in much larger venues and with more resources, or they’re in alternative or underground spaces which are not subject to the same legal obligations as a permanent bar.
To survive, we must constantly challenge and push ourselves – we don’t have the luxury of being able to rest on our laurels, we have to always redouble our creativity to attract and keep our customers. We have to launch new concepts and events and develop existing events so that they always meet the expectations of our customers – expectations that are evolving over time.
For example, after the Covid confinement, we noticed that our clientele wanted to party again and were in need of dance evenings, while the more passive performance evenings were no longer capturing people’s attention. We had to adapt the program accordingly.
Because it’s only the two of us running things, it gives us the advantage of being able to make decisions quickly and to make immediate changes.
We’re also balancing our finances – we have to cover the big increases in the prices of goods, energy, and salary indexation while also keeping our prices as low as possible to remain accessible to the entire community.
What do you hope that people feel when they come and visit you at Crazy Circle?
We want people who come to the Crazy Circle to be able to drop their defences for an evening – not having to stay on the alert, not having to worry about the judgments of others.
At the Crazy Circle, you can come as you are – wearing whatever you want. We want people to feel welcomed, accepted in their differences and at ease.
Many regulars refer to the Crazy Circle as “home” and “family” It’s a great pleasure for us to see this family welcoming newcomers and growing day by day.
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