The story begins in the summer of 1988, with a bunch of student friends travelling across Morocco in a Renault 4L. To their dismay, they hear that the Circus, the cool club in the Brussels suburb of Uccle, will not be reopening at the start of the new term...
Sitting on a rock in Tafraout, Christophe Brochier and Stéphane Rutté came up with the idea of filling the gap by creating a new venue for Brussels party-seekers. Christophe, a student at the La Cambre school, found the spot: in the basement of his “kot” (student flat) on the Avenue Emile de Beco. The venue, which went by the name of the Villeneuve, didn’t look like much, but it met their simple requirements: a bar and a sound system. Stéphane, who was studying at Solvay, invited a fellow-student, Olivier Stulemeijer, to join the project, since he had a network of friends that fitted in well with Christophe and Stéphane’s crowd. The more the merrier.
Three months go by and the owner of the property, under constant harassment from the police with complaints of late-night noise and illegal parking, pleads with us to find a new home for our parties.
Chance encounter soon led to the Jardins du Bois in the Bois de la Cambre. Owner Yannick Ravet, czar of Brussels nightlife in the 70s and 80s, kindly gave them a hearing and showed great interest in their fast-growing concept. It took no time at all to reach a deal. This was to be just the first of their win-win solutions: Yannick filled up his Jardins du Bois venue in winter and the youthful trio gained access to a much bigger room in a much better location. Soon, the Jeux d’Hiver were opening on Saturdays too, and then on Fridays. Yannick taught them all the ins and outs of the business. This was also the year they booked the Gipsy Kings for a memorable gipsy evening, and the year the Pop’art Café opened its doors.
By now, sales engineers Olivier and Stéphane and communication and graphic arts graduate Christophe are looking to run the Jeux d’Hiver in their own way...
After two years of successful collaboration, they offered to buy out Yannick’s shares, to which he agreed. This meant drawing up their first business plan. The operation went ahead without a hitch, leaving the three sole masters of the Games.
This was followed by a long period of development, the launch of special evenings - New Year, signs of the zodiac, themed evenings, 21st July (Belgium’s National Day), etc. They also used this period to spruce up the decoration and add an outdoor bar. At the same time, they refined their musical style to make it more eclectic, with a subtle alternation between golden oldies and modern acts of all kinds. The Jeux d’Hiver style became a must for any self-respecting society wedding. The clientele was decidedly Sloane Ranger (preppy, for our American friends), even when listening to heavy metal.
To celebrate New Year’s Eve, the Jeux d’Hiver join forces with the Vol de Nuit group to create the Vol d’Hiver label.
After eight years of constant changes, the three partners rethink the structure of the front rooms.
This was when the famous square bar (Bar Carré) appeared, surrounded by a colonial décor made up of furniture unearthed from antique shops and junk stores, old engravings, antelope-head hunting trophies and the legendary copper chandelier. The restaurant polished up its look and success followed rapidly. A series of concerts were staged featuring “blast from the past” artistes: Patrick Juvet, Imagination, the Gibson Brothers, Abba Gold, Jimmy Summerville, Lou and the Hollywood Bananas and Boney M. The Les Jeux logo was also redesigned.
For years, the Jeux indulge in invitations with no holds barred on shape or style. Here is just one example (ski resort 1997/1998)
This year, it is the turn of the rear section of the building to undergo a full renovation.
Big, curved bars, a revolving dance floor, all in a mixture of glass, wood and metal, introduced a more modern feel to keep the younger patrons happy. At the same time, the outside bar evolved, gradually getting roofed over to become a new room in its own right: the Patio. Whitewood-clad throughout, it was also equipped with a new DJ mix station. The “3 moods, 3 DJs or bust” formula proved a massive hit. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Jeux, Olivier, Stéphane and Christophe invited the legendary disco group Sister Sledge to give a concert, albeit held at another venue: the Groenendael racecourse.
Stéphane bows out of the adventure to explore new horizons. The same year, the “Jeudi Jay” concept is launched: every Thursday, a major name on the DJ circuit is given the run of the turntables: DJ Pipi (Ibiza), David Guetta, Bob Sinclar, Claude Challe (Paris) and many, many more...
After 15 years of working nights, Olivier and Christophe invite two old friends, Cédric d’Alcantara and Michel Dens, to join as managers of the venue, in order to bring new blood into the team.
This year also saw the first edition of the Rallye aux Jeux, a fun outing for vintage cars co-organised with Vincent de Raikem of the Rallye des Autos. The 15th anniversary celebrations, meanwhile, made for a distinctly X-rated evening.
On 6th December, Saint Nicolas, who clearly prefers schoolboys to night-owls, delivers an unwelcome gift: the Jeux (its front rooms, at least) go up in smoke.
There was no other option left but to take over the Patinoire, standing at the other end of the car park, to provide a home for regular patrons of the Bar Carré. The move was swiftly organised. A mere few metres away, once the thick coating of ash was removed, the Patio and the dance floor were both back in action just two weeks after the fire.
On 9th March, after nine and a half weeks of intense hard work, the much-neglected Patio emerges with a whole new makeover.
The new, more contemporary style brought the smile back to the faces of Bar Carré regulars. And of its bosses. Michel departed for new adventures. Meanwhile, Olivier and Christophe were already working on plans for the new Jeux d’Hiver, hand in hand with the Monuments et Sites heritage agency keen to see the Chalet des Rossignols restored to its 1925 glory. It would take two years to get the necessary planning permission, but they used the time to stage a multitude of events.
Work got under way and was organised so that part of the Jeux d’Hiver was always open for business. Patrons proved extremely understanding when it came to having to use temporary walkways under non-waterproof tents to get from one room to another.
23rd March marks the inauguration of the new Bar Carré, the restaurant and the Bar Salon, each with its share of hi-tech innovations. The third incarnation of the logo also makes its appearance at this period.
This was followed on 26th September by the opening of the new Patio and its famous stowaway bar.
On 20th February, the BoMA (Bar of Modern Art) with its spacious conservatory looking out onto the woods exhibits its first artist. Two months later, the final touch: the entrance is moved and the Bar Central is finally operational. Finished at last!
With sharp, ultra contemporary decoration designed by Christophe and a financial plan orchestrated by Olivier and Cédric, the Jeux d’Hiver entered a new era.