One of Europe’s oft-forgotten capitals, Luxembourg packs a surprisingly hefty nightlife punch. Sasha Arms asks residents to raise a glass as she descends on the mini-opolis to celebrate her birthday.
It’s the night before my birthday and where do I find myself? Luxembourg of all places. The capital city of the miniscule country it shares a name with, Luxembourg often finds itself out of the running for the typical city-breaker’s weekend away, simply because they tend to forget it’s there. However, not only is Luxembourg rich with attractions to explore by day, by night the city transforms into one of Europe’s glitzier party capitals.
But before I hit the town I was to partake in a more homely local ritual – that of a family meal in the Luxembourgish village where I was staying. Veal stew, dumplings and spätzle (like a German egg noodle or pasta). Hearty, and very wise food before a blurry night out. Despite the fact that a lot of the bars in Luxembourg close at around 1am or 2am on the weekends (early for continental Europe), it’s not uncommon for families to eat a late dinner together and for the party-seekers to go out later.
And so, only after I was bloated with dinner, was it time to hit the town. The father of the very hospitable family I was staying with gave me a lift in his Lotus; I’d missed the last, two-hourly bus from the Luxembourgish countryside (although the city centre is only a twenty minute drive away. Yes, Luxembourg is that small). The Lotus was on a par with the usual mode of transport for Luxembourg’s party animals, who tend to drive into town in their flash cars, and park them in front of the bar for everyone to see.
Admittedly, I’d been on one or two blurry nights out in Luxembourg before, and I knew how much the nightlife scene could vary. An odd mixture of slick, classy venues – reflecting the wealth of the city – juxtaposed with some grunginess and a hip, alternative crowd. Curiously, however dingy the bar and however casually-dressed the clientele, many-a-Luxembourg-inhabitant can be seen ordering a glass of champagne as their tipple of choice. Grunge doesn’t necessarily mean poor and anti-establishment, especially in Luxembourg.
Nevertheless, tonight, I wanted to see the best of both worlds.
The first bar we came across was The Tube, the symbol of the London Underground shining over me like a beacon of where I’d come from. Two men fell out the door and collapsed on the pavement before I’d reached the threshold. Yes, this definitely looked a lot like home. I indicated to my friends that we should hurry on past.
After a false start, the bar selected as our first stop was Urban on Rue de la Boucherie. If you watch the film on Urban’s website, you’d believe it’s a bar where you go for a quiet drink and to read books. This might be the case during a midweek day, but not on a Friday or Saturday night when you have to push back the crowds with the door just to get in.
The first thing to hit my senses was the smoke. Initially alarmed that there might be a fire, I soon realized that they still smoke inside bars in Luxembourg. Quite a novelty for the average Londoner who’s become used to the smell of beer and sweat since the smoking ban; not so enrapturing for asthma sufferers. But heedless of the smoke, the place was absolutely buzzing with party-goers (there’s a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights), many of them of international from the sounds of the conversations around me. Sipping on a Luxembourgish Bofferding beer, I was trying to eavesdrop on the English speakers in a group next to my own. The words ‘totally awesome’, ‘dude’, and ‘far out’ (no clichés then!) were about all I could hear before I was lifted above the crowds. Was I being escorted off the premises before my blurry night had even started? No. It was midnight, and therefore officially my birthday. As I reached the ground again, after twenty something ‘bumps’, a shot of Sambuca was thrust into my hand and I drank it without further instruction. So that part was no different from an average night out in London really.
Although Urban’s open until 2am on the weekends, it was time to move on before then to sample our next venue. El Compañero on Rue de l’Eau is a Spanish-inspired bar (you can eat tapas there earlier in the evening) playing pumping Latin tunes that have people hooked whether or not they’ve heard the songs before. Having lived in Latin America, I left my friends to deal with drinks at the bar while I headed straight for the tiny dance floor. Luxembourg’s international inhabitants tend to live as one in the country, more so than in other cities that have high numbers of ‘foreigners’. But if there is a Latino enclave in Luxembourg, then it has to be inside El Compañero. The DJ knew his stuff, playing everything from reggaeton to merengue, and the people on the dance floor were dancing like only Latinos know how. Watched over by images of Che Guevara, the bar was populated with people of scores of other nationalities interchanging between languages, including a German-looking Rasta flower-seller. Now that was a sight for sore eyes, but unfortunately he was camera-shy…
I for one would have stayed in El Compañero until morning, but it disappointingly closes at 1am (1.30am by the time the doormen convinced me there would be no more music and I really must leave). My friends had bumped into some old school friends at the bar, which is not uncommon given the minuteness of the country. It seemed a bit like my old Uni days – while you might go out with a small group of people – you’d mix and match as the night went on and you bumped into more and more people you knew.
In the meantime, it had started snowing outside, so our evolved group only really had two options – go home and get warm, or find a late bar. The choice was the latter, obviously. V.I.P. Room is a five minute walk from El Compañero, but a lifetime away in terms of the crowd and décor. Found in a central spot on Rue des Bains in the Old Town, V.I.P. Room is part of a wider French chain, and possibly causes more controversy among Luxembourg’s residents than any other bar. In fact, it’s described as a ‘lounge/restaurant/club’, so you could easily spend a twelve-hour stretch there if you liked it that much.
V.I.P. Room causes conflicting opinions because it’s widely known as being the trendy/classy/voguish place-to-be in the city, but whether it lives up to this name seems to be up for discussion. The white leather seats, feature chandelier and people supping champagne would make you think it is. The seedy undertones, which I didn’t spot, but many locals alluded to, might make you think differently. It seems that two types of people go to V.I.P. Room – those out for a laugh and a dance; and those trying to be trendy. We told ourselves we belonged to the former category. Some people I spoke to complained that it was full of “wannabe-but-not-quite-rich-men posing” (whatever the definition of ‘not-quite-rich’ is by Luxembourg standards) and “packs of women out hunting”. But I found all of these complainers inside V.I.P. Room so I guess you can make of that what you will… One thing is for sure. V.I.P. Room is full of well-dressed, well-preened Europeans. This is not a place for the grungy, alternative crowd. It’s a little bit Miami and something closer to what you’d get in London compared to the other bars on my blurry night.
Spilling out of V.I.P. Room just before daylight broke, beer jacket fully operational, I thought I’d end the night with a bit of a stroll. This isn’t as classical a picture as you might first imagine. I was supposed to be getting the Night Rider back to where I was staying in the countryside. Yes, that’s right, the ‘Night Rider’. This was no drunken imagining that the Hoff was on his way to escort me home, but one of the many free night bus services Luxembourg state runs to get people home safely. But, throwing caution to the wind, I sacked off the Night Rider for another few hours in V.I.P. Room, so now I had to wait for morning proper to get the first bus back. So I thought I may as well use the time wisely.
I wanted to check out Rue Emile Mousel, a recently built street that’s full of bars and aspiring to be a new nightlife centre of Luxembourg. While some of the bars were still in full swing, the stretch had that new smell about it, and lacked the charm and atmosphere of the Old Town. This is something that will surely change as it becomes more established. Still, people seemed to be enjoying themselves in the meantime. Retracing my footsteps to leave Rue Emile Mousel, I was musing on how drinkers in Luxembourg were much more refined than in the UK. People don’t binge drink like we do, and when they do, they don’t get too lairy. My friend and I discussed the difference in dress and body sense among continental Europeans too – I hadn’t seen one bum crack or monstrous belly hanging out yet. And if it’s a winter evening, everyone chooses a coat over pneumonia. As if on cue, a local girl came lurching towards me, skirt tucked into her knickers, thrusting her glass of beer in my face and slurring in a German/French combination that you hear often in Luxembourg. “Take it! It’s not drugged, but I just can’t take it anymore… Please!!” That was the problem with stereotyping people – you were always proven wrong sooner or later. Kindly refusing the offer, I made my way wearily to the bus stop, where I promptly fell asleep.