On January 28, 9 months after its inauguration, the end is here for the A-Tower as we came to know it. Rarely have the people of Antwerp experienced anything like it. In the middle of town, at one of the most (in)famous towers – the aptly named the ‘A Tower’, you can guess where the ‘A’ stands for – a group of young creatives were given the opportunity to design, build and manage an entire 24 floor building, including a bar, a nightclub, a restaurant and multiple art spaces.
Since its inception in May 2016, everyone knew it was only going to be temporary. That seemed to be an extra motivation for people to come together and enjoy themselves. Klub Goud was located on the 21st floor, creating a dancefloor with unmatched views over the city, especially during the morning hours of sunrise. Bar Gloed found refuge on the 4th floor, making use of its much loved open air terrace – and Noorderlicht, both literally and figuratively a high end restaurant on the top floor was only around for 3 months, but was practically booked fully every night.
For a good nine months, Klub Goud or Bar Gloed were prime options to consider if one was looking for a fun night out without the pretentious attitude that is quite dominant in many other venues in the city. Oftentimes people would be disappointed when the club was at capacity, or when the bar was just too crowded. But most got in eventually – and they found a true, albeit temporary, gem where memories where made.
One of the driviing forces behind the whole project, but Klub Goud in particular is Bert Vanlommel, who is also known as the owner of the Bar Leon, as well as one of the promoters of the Spek and Noord events and Borgerwood Festival. To say he had a rollercoaster of a year is an understatement. If he wasn’t solving a problem in the bar downstairs, he was finding solutions for another urgency upstairs. We sat down with this centipede and took a look back at the most intense year of his life.
Hi there Bert! How did the owners of the tower come to choose your team for this insane opportunity? What did you think when you saw the offer in your inbox?
"Well, one of the owners of the building had already worked with Matexi (a real estate company, red.) on a similar project and they were interested in doing something cool there too. In search of a suited partner, Matexi made a small, off-the-radar competition for organizations that could come up with a creative idea for the 4th floor (the current Bar Gloed) and a more high-end concept for the 21st floor (they had a restaurant in mind).
Subsequently, we applied with a proposition for the bar and creative idea for the first four 12 floors, based on temporary residents that we would handpick. We imagined that the upper half of the building and their wish for a restaurant could be done by another organization. But they loved it. They loved it so much they wanted us to do the whole building! This blew us away. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a bar that we had to rebuild, but a 24 floor tower! We preferred to host a club on the 21st floor instead of a restaurant – and Matexi gave us their blessing. From start to end they were really dynamic and open minded. The fact that we had direct contact with the owner made sure we could always act fast and freely."
To rebuild an entire office floor into a club is no easy task, it seems. What were your biggest practical challenges to overcome?
"Temperature management (it tended to get quite hot in the summer) and crowd control: many people have the very natural urge to walk around and explore the building once they are in. We needed to find a way to keep people in the places they are allowed to come. The Brussels based design duo ‘88888’ helped us a lot with the vision and scenography of the club. They came up with a very distilled vision in which music, light and the panoramic view would play a crucial role.
But to be honest, redesigning the club floor was peanuts in comparison to the work that was needed to furnish Bar Gloed. At this stage, the fourth floor was stripped down completely, sanitation and electricity included."
Initially you planned to stop in October. But during the nonstop closing weekender you announced that the club and the bar would continue to stay open until the end of January. Many probably thought it was a marketing tactic. But it wasn’t like that at all, right?
"Well, my ticket to Myanmar had already been booked. That’s probably the best proof to show it wasn’t a scam. In the very last week before our closing weekend we received a question from the owners, who wondered if we wouldn’t want to continue a little while longer. They were very very enthusiastic with the positive reactions they received and the planned reconstruction works had encountered some delays, so the building would have been empty anyway. Obviously, at this stage the end had already been communicated, some contracts with employees had already ended and many vacations had already been booked. After letting this info sink in for a night we decided to accept the offer, so at the closing weekend we hung up a poster, saying “they asked us to stay a little while longer… We said yes”.
For Bar Gloed we transformed the whole floor into a more cozy winter bar, with more frequent free events by local event promoters, which turned out to be very successful! But the craziest thing we did during this period was furbishing and installing a fully functioning high end restaurant on the top floor, Noorderlicht, for which all credit goes to my colleague Bertrand Lekeux and our chef Patrick Proot. This was pretty insane. We designed the whole thing and then installed all those custom made furniture items, a new kitchen, an electricity network, a floor, new tiles, etc. All for only being 3 months in business! But we pulled it off!"
Are there things you would have done differently, given the chance?
"We could have used an extra hand in the core team on the production and administration level. Findings solutions for all the day to day questions and problems concerning stuff like the keys, elevators, events, parking was a full time job itself. There were a couple of months that really felt like a rollercoaster – sometimes at the brink of insanity. Bertrand and Patrick for example had to sleep in the tower during this whole period because there was just too much to do. For the rest, just some practicalities like taking out the carpet on the club floor from the beginning, better ventilation, more bathrooms. All in all I’m extremely happy with the way things went."
Klub Goud proved that the city of Antwerp is in high need of a medium-sized nightclub with an eye for details and a heart for alternative music. What’s your stand on the current nightlife situation in the city?
"To be honest I think that for its size, Antwerp is doing good when it comes to culture and nightlife. The last few years there have been a lot of valuable additions to the scene, like Ampere, Club Vaag, Bagger, Het Bos, Vzw Emma, Kelly Palmer, etc. A nightclub like Klub Goud or Club Vaag have a very manageable capacity: not too small, not too big, so people feel comfortable very easily. During the last nine months we worked with a wide range of local promoters, each with their particular fan base, and that resulted in a variety of different events.
To me it seems that we’re in the middle of a ‘temporary spaces trend’ and new clubs that are here to stay, like Club Vaag or Ampere are relatively rare. But it’s true that there is a need for medium-sized event spaces with a 200 to 500 capacity, including reasonable partnership terms and a vibe that doesn’t feel too commercial. With the recent closing of Piaf, Emma and now Klub Goud, many promoters will have to look elsewhere again to throw their parties. Dear city of Antwerp, what about the rebuilding of Café Capital you promised us for years and years?"
What have been the most memorable moments for you while working here?
"Musically, Nosedrip going B2B with Robert Bergman on Spek was a personal highlight. Another dear memory was the sleepover me and a couple of friends had on the roof. The moments I felt like a tourist in our own tower always struck me as special – at these times I realized that it was bigger than what I could contain. During some busy days there could be four or five different events happening at the same time – at these times I could be surprised by what was going on everywhere."
How do you look back at your time here?
"Meeting all those people, spending so much time in the bubble of nightlife, living at night, hardly seeing my boyfriend, family or friends, … It was the busiest, most intense time in my life. Sometimes I broke down because it was just too much. But overall I’m so grateful for this unique, once in a lifetime chance. I wonder if I will ever be able to experience something like this again."
What will happen with the Antwerp Tower now?
"Many rumours are wrong: the tower will not be demolished. Matexi will renovate the whole building. There will be shops on the lower floors, a hotel and the upper half will become apartments. The large terrace from Bar Gloed will be lifted up to the sixth floor, where there will be a bar or restaurant business. The Antwerp Tower will be a connection between the renewed De Keyserlei and the shopping boulevard De Meir. This neighbourhood is regarded as a place you pass through; it’s missing social cohesion. Having residents in the building will hopefully benefit the pedestrian traffic downstairs. It will fit perfectly with the promising reorganization of the Opera- and Roosevelt squares."
What’s next for you, after the end of this adventure?
"This year I’m going to give a little more attention to my bar, Bar Leon. Secondly, I’m going to throw parties with Spek and Noord here and there (look out for Noord’s 10th birthday celebration) and obviously I’m going to a little traveling too. I got a lot of free time to catch in. I’m open again for new projects in 2018, but 2017 will be a year devoted to my partner, my friends and the good life. On my to-do list for the moment: more yoga, traveling to Selectors Festival in Croatia, visiting Cologne, London and Berlin, attending a wedding, hiking in the Pyrenees, raving at the Live At Robert Johnson nightclub in Frankfurt and teaching a friend how to ride horse!"
What are you going to miss the most?
"Two things. One: certain moments, like when you close down the club in the morning, overlooking the city while the sun is rising, when you experience the energy of realizing you’re in the middle of a project like this. And secondly: sitting alone on the roof while the sun sets, looking over the city skyline."
Join us and celebrate the last time at the A-Tower with parties at both Bar Gloed and Klub Goud + sounds by Nosedrip, Elias Mazian, Robert Bergman, Kong and many more. Starting Friday 27 and ending somewhere Sunday, in the morning or afternoon. Whenever the last man standing closes the doors behind him. All information can be found here.
We're also giving away 2 duo tickets for Friday night! Feelin' lucky? Click here!
* Pictures by Daniil Lavrovski and Mathias Lambrecht.