Frédéric Nicolay should really be crowned the unofficial mayor of Brussels. A self-effacing, self-starting oddball, he’s done more than anyone to give the city its distinctive edge: he’s reinvigorated entire neighbourhoods through his bars (Flagey with Belga, Albert with Bar du Matin and Porte de Hal/Halpoort with Potemkine), has launched what is probably its most aspirational beer (Vedett) and, more recently, has even taken to urban planning in the shape of his relooking of a public square. “I grew tired of seeing this dilapidated and derelict square in front of my offices,” he says when we meet one windy afternoon in the backstreets of the Dansaert/Dansaart area, “So approached the city, asking them for permission to spruce it up a little.” Taking matters in his own hand, the genial character planted 40 apple trees, installed reclaimed tree trunks (recuperated from an installation on Monts des Arts / De Kunstberg as public benches, nailed freight pallets to decrepit walls flanking the square’s front façade (a technique he first developed for Galerie Catherine Bastide, whose space is housed in Nicolay’s downtown office complex) and, most endearing of all, painted a white rectangle on the graffiti-riddled garage door in the hope of one day screening movies on it. The whole project took a couple of days – at most. “The entire works cost in between 7,000 and 8,000 euros,” he continues, rather astonishingly. Testament to a new generationof self-empowered community leaders with an entrepreneurial streak, Nicolay is quick to downplay his achievement: “I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. Anyone could do this. It’s a visual nod to the neighbourhood, but it doesn’t make any fundamental changes to it.”