Colin van Gestel-Messiaen has been a jazz lover all his life. When De Twee Spieghels Jazz & Wijncafe came up for sale eight years ago, he jumped at the opportunity. De Twee Spieghels is now Leiden’s premier jazz venue, hosting more than 220 live gigs annually. Together with his husband, Colin also organizes De Leidse Jazzweek, held at multiple locations in central Leiden each January. Colin, 42, lives in Leiden, within easy walking distance of De Twee Spieghels. 

“I started my search for a bar like this about 10 years ago … the jazz culture in Leiden was declining from what it had been in the years before. The Duke, which was a famous jazz bar for many years, turned into a sports bar. A lot of jazz artists grew up playing there, and they missed their home base when it closed. And as a customer of that bar I missed my home base as well. So I started to search for a new place where jazz could thrive, and that led me to De Twee Spieghels. I wanted to create a home base for the artists here in Leiden. And by coincidence this bar [De Twee Spieghels] was available.” 

Founded in 1972, De Twee Spieghels “was the first jazz bar of Leiden.” The bar’s interior has not changed since it opened. “A lot of things are still the same. People that have been coming here from the beginning still recognize it. The bar is completely the same. The stage is raised a bit, but it’s the same size and location as the original.” Nobody is quite sure how De Twee Spieghels (The Two Mirrors in English) got its name.

“We attract a lot of customers who like to travel, but also expats and international students love to come here as well. This music is something that attracts people from every part of the world. And it doesn’t depend on education or which job you have or which religion. Like food and drinks, it just brings people together.”

“There is a rich tradition of jazz in Leiden. Leiden has produced some really great musicians already for more than 100 years, including the guitarist Martijn van Iterson and Karel Boehlee, who is the most brilliant piano player I’ve ever seen and heard … they make such beautiful music it’s incredible.”

“I think jazz is alive and well. Because it’s not just one style of music. Jazz has so many faces. Everybody likes some style from the jazz world, so I think it will remain popular. Jazz is still developing as well. There are new techniques, new exciting things happening.”

“I grew up in Leiden. I finished school after my HAVO. It was enough for me. My dyslexia was discovered very late. I needed a break for one or two years after the HAVO, so I started working in a bar, and I did that for about seven years. (laughs) And then I started working in retail … but once you’ve worked in a bar or a restaurant it stays in your blood. So it’s not surprising that I came back to this work.” (laughs)

Before purchasing De Twee Spieghels, Colin worked at the Odessa nightclub in Leiden for a few years. “That job gave me enough experience to start this … I also gained experience while working in retail. I worked for several companies as a retail auditor. I had a couple of stores that I managed, and I also educated people there on the floor. There were some stores that weren’t as productive as they should be, so then I would visit these stores and bring them back on track.”

Colin has 10 employees at De Twee Spieghels. “Which is really a lot for a small place like this. On the busy nights with live music we always need a minimum of two people, so that’s one reason. And we’re open every day during the week. There is live music five or six days per week on most weeks. On a yearly basis we have more than 220 gigs, so that’s a lot.”

Colin enjoys “the social part of having a bar here in Leiden. You get to know a lot of people, and also bring people together. That’s what I really like the most … I still work some days behind the bar. But I’m now 42, so I no longer work late.” (laughs)

The social aspect can also be a challenge. “Over the years, you become a bit of a public figure. And I don’t always want to be social … it’s not always possible to just enjoy the music on stage with a nice glass of wine.”

“I’m very happy about how De Twee Spieghels is going right now. We developed the bar very well in eight years time. It’s really reaching an adult phase now, and it’s very stable. Now I’m thinking about the 50-year anniversary that’s four years from now. And also the 40-year anniversary of the Leidse Jazzweek, which I’m also organizing. That will be in 2020.”

“I’ve been organizing Leidse Jazzweek together with my husband for the past couple of years. It’s a lot of fun. The musicians love it, and the bar and restaurant owners love to cooperate with it.” Leidse Jazzweek features more than 75 gigs in Leiden, mostly in the city center. “Everybody goes into town in that cold January weather and enjoys the music … the city is completely packed with people doing the pub crawl with a lot of concerts. That’s really a lot of fun to see.”

Colin “tried to expand with a second bar. It was less successful, but a very good education … it was really rough, but it gave me a lot of knowledge. I started the new bar in 2013, which was the worst year for bar and restaurant owners. The timing was really bad due to the economic situation. But luckily somebody bought the bar from me within a year and made it successful, so it worked out and I got to experience.”

Colin and his husband purchase wines in Burgundy for De Twee Spieghels. “We’ve done this for a long time. We have exclusive rights with some wine producers in Burgundy. That’s a very nice part of the work I do. We like to bring back some really fine wines that aren’t available anywhere else … because there is no middle-man, we can invest a bit more in quality. We buy it a bit cheaper, but the quality is much higher than any other bar.”

De Twee Spieghels also produces its own beer. “Pronck makes it for us, and it’s very successful. It’s beer with a jazzy twist. (laughs) It’s fresh, but with a crispy bite. So it has a strong character and it’s not too high in alcohol. We won some prizes with it. They’re a local brewer and I love their work.” 

One claim to fame for De Twee Spieghels is that it’s the site of jazz master Ben Webster’s final concert. “He played here on September 6, 1973. He had to stop the concert after nine songs because he wasn’t feeling well. He went to a hospital in Amsterdam that evening, and he died two weeks later. So his very last gig was here. It was recorded by coincidence. It was a very bad recording, but it was the last recording of Ben Webster. (laughs) And that makes this place famous even now. People are really intrigued by this historical fact.”  

The original posters advertising the 1972 Ben Webster concert still hang on the bar’s walls. “The first year that I started here eight years ago, I invited all the surviving members of the group to a reunion concert. It was the first time since 1972 that they were back together. That was a really nice experience. The bar was completely packed.”

De Twee Spieghels is located at Nieuwstraat 11 in Leiden. Information is available Information about De Leidse Jazzweek is available at