Thursday, 23 September 2010

Trois: Luxembourg City

Go Ten interior
Source: Go Ten website

I visited Luxembourg City for work last week. Although much-maligned, it's a place worth exploring, as I found myself doing during a rare period of down-time. Here are three places that caught my attention.

1. Restaurant Pizzerie Bacchus
I took visiting Luxembourg City seriously, and bought just about the only dedicated guidebook that exists. Finding myself with an evening to spare and thinking that the hotel's in-room selections a bit limited (five types of omelette, five types of sandwich, expensive fish dishes), I flicked open the Bradt guide, found the 'cheap eats' section (I am a responsible corporate citizen when travelling on expenses; plus our nightly dinner allowance is of the McDonald's Happy Meal side of punitive) and settled on Restaurant Pizzerie Bacchus.

This is a great pizzeria serving beautiful pizzas baked in an authentic wood-fired oven. The staff are friendly (expect a heartly farewell and a handshake from the manager) and the restaurant itself is superb. I elected to sit on the covered terrace (which could do with some repairs) and enjoyed a quiet romana pizza and a glass of a bitter orange drink which could only be described as being how I'd expect Campari and Irn Bru to taste like.

For €15 it was a steal, and probably the best pizza I've had since John's Pizzeria in Greenwich Village.

32, rue du Marché-aux-Herbes

2. Go Ten
There is a bit of a online furore about the lack of a Starbucks branch in Luxembourg City, which is something of a surprise given how many expats there are here. This isn't in any way a bad thing as it encourages you down the non-chain route. Walking back to my hotel I chanced upon this trendy, sleek, dark bar-cum-noodle restaurant with a pulsing electronic soundtrack and pretty waitresses.

Avoiding mid-afternoon cocktails on the basis of principal I elected for a coffee and a chance to chill out in the funky surroundings. I would have stayed there all afternoon if it wasn't for the small inconvenience of my flight home.

10, rue du Marché-aux-Herbes

3. CD Buttek Beim Palais
This tiny, cramped shop caught my eye after I'd left Bacchus for an evening wander around the city. More specifically, the Neu! boxset in the window caught my eye, so after Go Ten I made a point of popping in before I left for the airport. I'd describe it as being like a record fair stall inside a shop.

The shop had good jazz and ambient / electronica sections and middle racks stacked to the rafters with vinyl from every genre imaginable. I settled for a Pete Shelley 7" before temptation got the better of me.

16, rue du Marché-aux-Herbes

CD Buttek Beim Palais window display
Source: MJA Smith

Starbucks, 90-94 Old Broad Street, The City, London, EC2N 1DP

Source: MJA Smith

I am having professional coaching at present, and one of the things my coach has drummed into me is that I shouldn't hang on to the past. It's a familial trait that has oftentimes prevented me from moving forward, professionally and personally. So it seems rather out of keeping with that counsel to write about the past, but so it shall be.

Walking to a meeting from our offices along Old Broad Street, at typical full speed, I happened to glance across at the branch of Starbucks at 90 - 94 Old Broad Street, on the junction with London Wall and Wormwood Street. The building in which it's situated (I believe it’s called Boston House) is one that I have always adored, fashioned as it is from grand red brick with lighter coloured embellishments, a carved mural just above shop-front height. I've always thought it to be one of the most elegant – if slightly careworn – premises in the City, a reminder of days gone by when compared with the sleek, glass edifices now sited majestically on the immediate horizon. Only today, when I looked across, the familiar signage had been removed and dark blinds adorned the windows. And then I noticed the 'branch closed' sign on the door, and I felt thoroughly dismayed.

This branch of Starbucks has been there as long as I've worked in the City – a whisker off a decade – and has been the scene of one pivotal moment in particular. In September 2002, our department head was killed in a car crash. Coming into work on the Monday, and hearing the news, we removed ourselves from the cloying atmosphere of the office during the morning and regrouped in the below-ground seating area of that very branch of Starbucks to share some collective, mostly silent, grieving.

It was also the scene of many informal business meetings, friendly catch-ups with people who went from being clients or colleagues to good friends, mostly because of the relaxed conversations we'd have in that branch of Starbucks; it was where one of my later managers would proffer his accumulated business wisdom to me over black tea and a 'bun' (his individual, quaint way of describing the assorted pastries and muffins on sale). For a time, it was also a place I'd sneak off to occasionally during the mornings for quiet contemplation and reflection, watching City workers file past, absorbed in their own thoughts, pressures and stresses as I sat on one of the high stools in the window.

Of course, there are Starbucks ten-a-penny in the City, and there are still two branches within a two minute walk of our office; then there's the anti-capitalist lot who despise the very sight of the now-familiar round logo. But me, I'm going to miss this particular branch. London's psychogeography is built upon the ghosts of people and events from the past, accumulated and passed-down memories, blue plaques commemorating famous residents of buildings (despite often being forgotten across generations), other plaques advising of buildings that were demolished centuries ago; for all the memories I have, this branch of Starbucks will loom large in my own personal psychogeography of the City.