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A term probably originating in medieval times, in the Alsace region of France. It originally described premises where beer was made - this later being extended to where beer could be drunk. During the 19th century, food became attached.
In modern times, we understand a brasserie to be a relaxed form of restaurant, serving French influenced food. A bistro could be said to be similar, but brasserie is more often attached to larger, possibly less cosy, premises.