Open: 16 p.m. till 5 a.m.
You don't have to go to London, Paris or New York to enjoy jazz in a stylish and historical setting. L’Archiduc, an original Art Deco gem, has it all: a rich history, good music and an extensive and reasonably priced drinks menu. This is the place to be for (jazz) musicians, artists of various kinds, shoppers from the hip Dansaert district and all sorts of night owls.
Ups and downs… and up
L’Archiduc first opened its doors on 30 October 1937. It was a stylish establishment where people could meet their business and other contacts discreetly. At that time, trade fairs still set the tone inside the club (Brussels Expo was just around the corner), while outside, jazz was taking over the world. Brussels also gradually fell under the spell of this new music. You only need to re-read "Dance Band – Quand Bruxelles Jazzait…” by drummer Gaston Bogaerts to see that it's true.
One of the Belgian musicians causing a sensation with this new style was a certain Stan Brenders. He played with Charles Remue and his New Stompers, who in 1927 recorded the first Belgian jazz record in London's Edison Bell Studios. In 1936 he put together the jazz orchestra for the national radio broadcaster NIR/INR. After writing such a big part of Belgian jazz history, Brenders took over L’Archiduc in 1953. He initially had a wine bar directly opposite L’Archiduc, but he was strongly drawn to the club on the other side of the street, and when it came up for sale he grabbed his chance. With his past reputation as a musician, he attracted a very international audience. His friends included Nat King Cole, whose song ‘I Envy’ he once recorded. At that time, Brussels still had a buzzing nightlife. When Stan Brenders died in 1969, his wife kept the club open, but in the 1970s a lot changed. The neighbourhood became run down, and L’Archiduc lost its sparkle.
On 13 December 2015 it will be exactly 30 years since Nathalie and Jean-Louis Hennart reopened L’Archiduc and made it a true hub for Brussels (jazz) nightlife again. It's actually unprecedented, because not many similar clubs can boast of having only three owners over a period of eight decades. However, it wasn't easy for the couple. The famous doorbell is the original one from when the club first opened, Hennart said in an interview with the newspaper Brussel Deze Week. "When I took over the club in the mid-80s, this was a dark and dangerous district. The Dansaertstraat wasn't the hip area it is now. All that was here was Stijl, Sonja Noël's fashion boutique. In the evenings, and especially at night, L’Archiduc was a beacon of light in the darkness. Back then, the bell was very much needed. When things calmed down a bit, I kept the system going, but now everyone knows that when you ring the bell you're let in automatically." But there was more. "I launched the fashion for cocktails in Brussels. Previously a cocktail was a rather kitsch drink, served complete with umbrella. Right here is where the cool people of Brussels discovered what a real mojito was."
A meeting place for all
Film fans will probably get a familiar feeling when they settle into one of the seats, because these benches, complete with their original covers, were used for the train in the film 'Murder on the Orient Express'.
L’Archiduc is not just a place for jazz specialists though. Hennart wants everyone who comes here to just feel good and enjoy themselves. All are welcome. Ideally the owners want as colourful and varied an audience as possible, just like jazz is.
If you want to go to a concert here, you can. If the piano could talk, you'd hear a very rich chapter of jazz history. None other than Mal Waldron, Billie Holiday's regular pianist, had his own spot here for years. And how the piano came to be here is another story altogether. Brenders bought it from an old lady who had bought it way back when from the Centre for Fine Arts. Two pianos had been ordered for the museum, but after the Second World War broke out, it didn't have the budget for two, so the second one was put up for sale.
The Saturday afternoon concerts are a lovely tradition that's still going, entitled “le jazz après shopping”. The perfect way to start your evening off early with free (!) live music. Since then, lots of cafés have adopted this idea. Plus you can finish your weekend in L’Archiduc as well, because there are concerts on Sunday afternoons too, called "Round about Five”. And the names on the bill are no small fry either. They come from all corners of the world and from every generation. Recent performers include Gwilym Simcoc and Paul Jackson (the bassist who was Herbie Hancock's regular sidekick for years). And British singer-songwriter/stand-up comedian Earl Okin is a loyal guest who gladly returns again and again, as is American saxophonist Lew Tabackin (Charlie Haden, Joey Baron). There are also regular CD launches and press events there. Among the recent names are: Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap, who launched his album 'Reflective' here; jazz vocalist Yvonne Walter, presenting in this historic place her tribute to Coltrane (‘I Wish I Knew’); and the première of Island Jazz, the latest jazz fusion project from Monika Njava (Deep Forest), all at 6 Dansaertstraat.
Even lovers of literature will regularly find entertainment here. Hennart has managed to bring jazz guitarist Peter Hertmans and his brother, renowned author Stefan Hertmans, here for a unique happening (in January 2015).
After all these years, the club still has a magical power of attraction. In 2013 L’Archiduc received a Victor award from French magazine JV. And you never know who you'll bump into. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett came here when they were in Brussels promoting their albums. John Watts (lead singer of pop group Fisher Z) once wanted to play a jazz set here, and Black Francis (Pixies) was very keen to do an unadvertised warm-up gig here before his main concert in nearby venue Ancienne Belgique. And anyone who can lure owner Jean-Louis into a chat will immediately be told some lovely stories from behind the scenes. Ask him about the night that Randy Weston came here. Our advice if you're in the neighbourhood is: ring the bell, step into another world and enjoy music, drinks and (sometimes unexpected) company. There's no place like L’Archiduc.