If you happen to find yourself in Bruges on a Sunday evening, make your way to Lucifernum. You are in for an absolute sensory overload. What is Lucifernum?, you may ask. I actually don’t know where to begin. But, here’s my attempt at describing our journey down the rabbit hole that is Lucifernum…
We found out about Lucifernum on one of the funky tourist maps that we got when we stayed in Bruges (read here). It’s a good thing the map had the actual address, as we would not have looked twice at this place. With what looks to be a construction site on a building with scaffolding and the usual orange and yellow flare, we had to doublecheck we had the right place. The only clue is a small blackboard of a sign stating its opening hours (Sunday 8pm – 11pm). It turns out that it isn’t construction or a renovation underway, but ‘art’. That should have been our first clue as to how quirky this place would be.
We apprehensively and excitedly entered the foyer and rung the bell. A man in the full garb of a tuxedo and with an eccentric flare greeted us and introduced himself as the ‘butler’. It turns out ‘The Butler’ is none other than Willy Retsin, the owner of this wondrous home. An incredibly eccentric man, Willy has proudly put his home, supposedly a former Masonic lodge, on display for those who are curious enough to enter. Upon handing over €10 for a ‘ticket’ (to which you exchange for a deliciously potent cocktail at the bar), we were encouraged to walk through a hallway adorned with, or should I say inhabited by, an array of mannequins dressed in clothing from the 1940s and 50s, such as sailor outfits and tuxedos. “Take as many photos as you like, enjoy, and I’ll see you in the salon”, we were told, before he disappeared.
There are so many paintings spread all over the walls, barely leaving any room for the walls at all. The artist, Willy’s deceased relative Gilles Retsin, is brilliant and it’s said that he had hidden masonic symbols throughout all of his pieces. The paintings are amazing, however completely clustered, and squeezed into every inch of each room. I could easily spend hours studying and admiring the details in each piece (and search for the hidden messages and symbols), however the place is only open for 3 hours, and there was still much more to see. It’s almost a shame to have so many things to look at in such a small place; I felt that the beauty of each piece was distracted by the piece next to it. Despite not being able to enjoy each piece as an individual artwork, he’s created an amazing effect and ambience by clustering them all together.
Amongst the paintings, there are the odd kitschy pieces of furniture and household items, including waffle irons (irons, being the plural), mannequins and beer bottles. This guy has made hoarding into an art form. You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into a strange fantasy or whimsical universe of a 1950s movie-set crossed with an antique second-hand store crossed with a shrine to a better time in the mysterious artist’s life.
But the abundance of furniture, tuxedoed mannequins, paintings and the odd coffin (or is it a bed for our host?) aren’t the only part of the experience; each room has different music playing over a speaker and different music for each room, ranging from classical, to opera, to jazz; thus adding to this sensory experience.
If you find yourself upstairs, you will find paintings, by the same artist, displaying different erotic scenes covering each wall. Feel free to blush, take notes and then move onto the bar…
The bar is a cozy abode, with multiple fireplaces (some real, some electric), lots of mood lighting and the same addition of music to nurture the classy drinking atmosphere. The cocktail list is decent, with warm and cold drinks on offer, and one is offered in exchange for your ticket you received upon entering this crazy house. If you are in a group, you can exchange two tickets for a bottle of wine, however I recommend the cocktails. Be warned, they are tasty, but strong. I had a warm rum-based Vanilla cocktail that certainly warmed me up quick (and I confess to being so overwhelmed and excited about the whole experience that I forgot to take a photo of the cocktail list). I’m not sure if it was the nearby fireplace, the temperature of the warm cocktail (or the amount of alcohol that was in it), but I had quickly forgotten about the freezing cold temperatures outside and was happily soaking in the eccentric environment before me. It was especially amusing to see Willy interact with everyone, going about his business in his tuxedo complete with WWII medal (that another patron pointed out, if you looked closely enough, had the swastika).
This guy was an absolute character. Only referring to himself as “The Butler”, anytime we tried to ask him a question about the house, paintings or history, he simply referred us to the website. When we tried to ask if he was the artist, or where he got the WWII medal from, he simply replied with “Yes, yes” before being pushed out the door. I’m not sure if it was out of shyness, humbleness or simply being over every other traveller asking the same questions every other Sunday. Either way, if you are in Bruges on a Sunday night and happen to find yourself outside of what looks to be a construction site on the side of an apartment building, step inside, take a glimpse into the crazy world of Lucifernum and have a drink with Willy.
Fast Info: Open Sundays 20:00 – 23:00; €10 entry (includes a drink); Twijnstraat 6, 8000 Brugge