Le Jardin Bohémien: A Cafe + More in Ghent

by Ria Roberts

While in Ghent, Luke and I often went on dérives; we did this first of all because Tenspeed Heroes are flaneurs by trade and second of all because the Ghent street map resembles a bowl of spaghetti and try as we might, we never quite mastered purposeful navigation.

Whilst on such a drift we walked past a cafe that seemed perfect (sitting in cafes is a favorite pastime of flaneurs), – cafe nirvana, if you will. It was not called Cafe Nirvana, though, and for some reason, we were so entranced by the array of mid-century chairs and hazelnut tarts that we didn’t think to take down the name or address of the place. It was closing for the day and we didn’t have time to sit down for a coffee, but we were excited to come back.

Believe it or not, our attempt to return to this nameless, place-less, cafe proved challenging. We spent two hours traversing the city center, pounding the straats in hopes of finding it. Though Ghent is a small city, it is an infinite quagmire of quaint, medieval streets. As the morning went on, our blood sugar dropped off a cliff and logic began to evade us. This idyllic European town became a barren desert and perhaps the cafe had been a mirage. We wistfully settled for croque monsieurs and cappuccinos near the canal.

Rejuvenated by ham and cheese, we headed back to our hotel with enthusiasm and vigor. Rather, we attempted to head back to our hotel, but as previously mentioned, purposeful navigation evaded us once again and we had to succumb to wandering aimlessly. We quickly found ourselves on the doorstep of the elusive cafe. As Kierkegaard says, “Irony is a disciplinarian feared only by those who do not know it, but cherished by those who do.”

We felt that this discovery was cause for celebration and sat down for another cappuccino (and an apricot tart while we were at it). Luke Hero struck up a conversation with the barista and found out that this perfectly designed cafe was also a bed and breakfast. We were invited upstairs to see the room via a large, winding staircase that conveys the building’s opulent history. We walked past a grand piano, the taxidermy stag on the first landing, the Eames La Chaise on the second landing, the 18th century fresco, and were shown into the kind of room that seems too perfect for mere mortals. There were sheepskin throws, immense windows with billowing curtains, and yet more Eames chairs. If Drake were a Flemish design fanatic, he would film music videos here. We were of course, sold.

Over the course of our stay there, we found that the beauty and warmth of the Le Jardin Bohémien is a direct reflection of the character of its owners, Jean-Pierre and Kristine Detaeye. The couple and their two young children live above the cafe, across the hall from the room we stayed in. Kristine is a sculptor and Jean-Pierre is an interior architect who also sells furniture. The Detaeye’s moved into the building about a year ago and restored the then neglected space to glory, clearly a labor of love. Much of the furniture in the B & B is for sale at a reasonable price, making the expense of shipping seem highly justifiable to those susceptible to Saarinen tables. In addition to high design, a stay there is punctuated by careful details– a kettle and vast selection of tea, a tiny bowl of Hilde Devolder chocolates, handmade soaps in the bathroom.

In the mornings we often awoke to the sounds of classical music and the boys playing– an incredibly mood enhancing combination– and then went downstairs for breakfast. Le Jardin Bohémien offers excellent coffee, pastries, and other cafe fare. There are huge stacks of design magazines to peruse and a steady stream of customers who look like they contribute to those magazines.

When we had to leave Belgium in pursuit of Paris-Roubaix, it was very hard to say goodbye to our treasured bed and breakfast. If Tenspeed Hero had the authority to award Michelin Stars, we would give surely give a constellation of them to Le Jardin Bohémien.