Just steps away from the crowds of the Grand-Place, down an alley marked with the word Toone and two cherubs, lies a nearly 200-year-old puppet theater. Founded in 1830, the Théâtre Royal de Toone still offers several shows each week. For those who want to pair their puppetry with exceptional Belgian beers, its space is also home to a pub that lets you drink among the marionettes.
According to Toone’s current owner, Nicolas Géal, Brussels had around 50 puppet theaters in the 19th century. Marionettes were often used to perform satires, as artists believed it was safer to filter biting commentary through the innocuous face of a doll. Today, the marionette theaters of Brussels have all but disappeared, but Toone keeps the tradition alive. Its 1,400 puppets perform classics such as Romeo & Juliet, The Three Musketeers, and the Nativity story.
After the curtain falls, thirsty audience members can head to the adjacent pub. While the show may be over, the theater’s “stars” still dominate the creepy-cozy space. Dolls dangle from the rafters; decapitated, mustachioed puppet heads peer down from above a door; and, on a small, spotlit stage, two swashbuckling marionettes freeze mid-duel. In addition to its diverse array of dolls, Toone also has an impressively varied beer list, from refreshing blondes and tart, cherry krieks to full-bodied browns and offerings from almost all of Belgium’s Trappist breweries.