It was nearing midnight and I was walking over the Alzette River in Luxembourg City on Rue Münster. Michèle, a well-traveled 30-something-year-old local joined me, excited to show off her country’s capital city.
We had just polished off a couple of light beers at a nondescript bar on the other side of the river in the Grund neighborhood. There had been quite a bit of chatter outside with university students celebrating the end of their annual exams. Rather than let the depression sink in of how many years separated those baby-faced drinkers and me, Michèle mercifully led me across the river and over to Café des Artistes where I could feel like a walking fountain of youth.
Inside was as close to a time warp as I had ever experienced. Dim table lighting with historic photographs, framed artwork, and pictures of celebrities who’ve visited covered the walls like a kind of purposeful wallpaper. Soft lounge-style seating lined the corridors with simple brown table tops, wooden chairs, and a flickering candle. A middle-aged woman was busy hammering away on a vertical piano that appeared to be weathered from age but sounding as beautiful as the day it got its first tuning. Beside her was a younger man, his back against the wall, facing the crowd of drinking onlookers as he clenched onto his vest and bellowed out a slew of sing-songy traditional Luxembourgish tunes to the admiration of all.
Michèle and I grabbed a glass of the house wine, securing a standing spot amongst a standing room only crowd within arm’s reach of the performance. I’m never one for forcing conversation when something much more interesting is happening in front of me, least of all when the ambiance is such that I need to shout to be understood. Of course, my inability to make conversation or decipher any kind of chatter was welcomed in the face of such lively entertainment. I felt like Owen Wilson’s character in Midnight In Paris whose own time warp started with a late night ramble over cobbled streets before realizing he was back in the 1920s drinking with his literary idols. This actually felt much more like that experience than anything I had done in Paris (and I had coincidentally been there the weekend before).
No, my own literary heroes and idolized stars of cinema did not make an appearance (though the autographed headshots of many adorned the walls), but I grinned like a helplessly infatuated buffoon nonetheless as I gladly nodded along to rhythmic Luxembourgish classics that transitioned whimsically to something we, visitors and locals alike, could all sing, like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Everyone in that bar was on cue leading up to the crescendo, “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me…”
Rarely can a love for a place be encapsulated by just one establishment. Typically it takes a compilation of people, places, and things. Yes, Luxembourg City has the makings of a fantastic destination in spades. The elevated views of the historic city are dramatic, it’s a fantastically walkable city, there’s no shortage of history, there are excellent restaurants, and it generally has all the bits the typical traveler would look for in a visit. Yet if I were to ever make a guide for Luxembourg City or advise a prospective traveler, I’d say to start at Café des Artistes on a Friday night and know that you’ll figure out the rest from there.