When I returned to Antwerp back in March, seven years after that first visit, the cigarettes had disappeared (the final ban came in 2011), but the brown cafés seemed otherwise unchanged, populated, as ever, by an equal mix of cat-toting old timers and cool young kids, who came not as a matter of fashion, but as a matter of course. Clearly the doctors’ explanation of the bars’ nomenclature had been wrong. Before leaving for my trip, I spoke with Kees Bloemendaal, who owns a brown café, to find out what the term actually means, but even he seemed unsure. “Everyone would define a brown café differently,” he conceded, “but the staff have to know the people who come regularly.” I asked if the bars had to be old. The city’s most famous brown café, Den Engel, dates back to 1903. Many others have been around since the 60s and 70s, but others, he said, have opened far more recently. “Maybe they have to feel old,” he said, with a diffident shrug.