Each night, a small Antwerp bar along the Scheldt River comes alive with the energy of locals dancing beneath a spinning disco ball. They’re not grooving to a live band, jukebox, or playlist. At Cafe Beveren, they’re moving to the music played by one of the city’s last functioning Decap dance organs.
In the early 20th century, Belgian dance halls buzzed to the beat of mechanical, multi-instrument “organs.” These self-playing mini orchestras became so popular that design firms found themselves building more compact versions to fit inside smaller venues such as cafes and bars. One such firm was Gebroeders Decap Antwerpen (Dutch for “Decap Brothers Antwerp”). It’s Decap’s 1937 dance organ, complete with an accordion, drum set, and saxophone, that sits in Cafe Beveren today.
While these devices have largely disappeared, replaced by jukeboxes and music-streaming services, Cafe Beveren’s organ still attracts both nostalgic older generations and younger customers who come for the cheap beer, dancing, and quirky, no-frills vibe. And, like the drinks, playing a song is very affordable: Anyone who wants to hear a tune can simply drop a one-Euro coin into the organ’s control box, then watch the instruments come alive.