This is a glorious place, the Philharmonic Society Vilhena (1874) is steeped in the Maltese tradition of band clubs whose aims are to promote musical participation, and by doing that supporting every village feast on the island.
Every village, or specific area, has a band club and the status of Vilhena club is commensurate with the ornate Baroque suburb of Floriana. Many a visitor will have ridden the bus through the magnificent Porta des Bombes, whizzing past the Vilhena Band Club on their way out of Valetta, scarcely noticing the elegant arcaded streets and principal buildings of Floriana.
The shaded bar is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the band clubs official activities take place in the grand rooms upstairs, in the privacy of it’s members. It’s worth going up the stairs, as far as the ornate wrought iron gate, just to see the huge model buildings, fashioned from matchsticks. Just don’t step on the cushions, which serve as supplementary seating, on the marble steps.
During the day Il-Gazin Vilhena is a lovely place to relax with a coffee, read a while, chat, or just watch the world go by. Despite it’s proximity to Valetta’s city gates, literally 400m, you are unlikely to encounter many sightseers. I would encourage you to have a look at the fortified lines and impressive public architecture of Floriana, and call in to see bar manager Henri who has managed to inject a little buzz into the place, which up until 3 years ago had been closed to the public.
That buzz happens mainly on a Friday evening when they have a regular Jazz session with musicians and audience sat in the arcaded space outside the bar, passers by tip toeing through the throng, past the band. If you look on the Il-Gazin, Vilhena Band club Facebook page you’ll see there are also many other regular music events and screenings. A tip for Malta is to search on Facebook, many places like this are more likely to have a Facebook page than a website.
The quality of the music is excellent, another Maltese tradition, something in which the numerous band clubs play a big part. Centred round an octogenarian saxophonist who is both erudite and a real character, as well as a brilliant player. The rest of the ensemble, which is semi fluid aren’t bad neither.
Get there well before 9pm if you want a decent vantage point, but don’t worry if there’s nowhere to sit outside because they are quite happy to trundle out the odd chair and table from a never ending, hidden supply, and even the odd sofa or two.
For refreshment you can have whatever you’d expect from a classic Maltese bar. A pint bottle of Cisk is only €2.50, I never asked how much the draught Cisk was, but as it’s the only draught beer you’re better of concentrating on the bottle fridges.
The little one on the bar top is stocked with thee or four different Mikeller beers. The, help yourself and take it to the bar, fridges by the door contain all the Farsons-Simonds brands, a lot of which are worth trying; Double Red for one. The other has alsorts of Belgian beers, Brussels Beer Project, Leffe, Duvel and stuff like that. Prices vary, but I doubt you’ll find cheaper in Malta.
I could go on about the art deco style round windows in the doors, the bronze goddess holding the lamp at the foot of the stairs and the many other, I’m guessing 30’s, internal features.
I could mention the vintage images of local architecture and features around the walls. The marble plaque, ‘Reminding us of the glorious history of Floriana Football club hosted by the official Vilhena club with friendship and successes’.
I won’t. I’ll just tell you about the friendly people, the cool vibe, the excellent music and it just being the coolest place to be in Malta on a Friday evening, even sat outside with your coat on in January.
What? The pate like stuff on the plate with the Maltese crackers? Bigilla, Maltese broad bean dip, a local staple and just the thing to accompany a few bottles of Cisk, because believe me, This is Malta!