As sure as a sore head follows a night out with John Gakuru, a tour of the local bars must follow the first day of a trade show.
And so it came to be that BarLifeUK went on a jaunt of some of Berlin’s finest bars after day one of Bar Convent Berlin (BCB).
With map in hand and Euros in pocket (a heads up for anyone visiting Berlin’s bars for the first time, carry cash, most bars seem to be allergic to card payments) we headed into the Schoneberg / Tiergarten districts of town (we had done a couple of other areas on previous nights – find out about those here).
These districts seem to have the most concentrated selection of bars around with several great venues within walking distance of each other.
Before a night of cocktails and shots a stop to line the stomach is always needed and there has probably never been a cuisine invented which lends itself better to this task than that of the Germans.
I know this is a drinks website but the food in Berlin deserves a mention. Following previous meals of Pork Knuckle, Beef Olives, Sausages and various types of fried potato and Sauerkraut we found a restaurant called April.
I had a checklist of food to eat and as of yet Schnitzel and Potato Salad had been missing; however this was to be rectified. Whilst sipping on a beer I saw the waitress carrying a dish that’s size summoned up thoughts of tectonic rather than dinner plate across the restaurant, I almost got up to help her it was so vast.
As it was placed in front of me the table legs bowed as a Schnitzel the size and rough shape of North America was placed in front of me. It may have been big but managed to be as thin and moist as Kate Moss in a shower. I ate I breathed out heavily and I was ready for whatever the night threw my way.
First stop was round the corner at a bar called Stagger Lee which was hosting an event laid on by the Cocktail Kingdom. The bar was packed but with 80% of people in there drinking the Elijah Craig Manhattans being expertly prepared by the team of bartenders, 2 of whom had been flown over from New York, service was quick.
The Manhattans were exceptional, beautifully balanced and served with a cherry soaked in enough booze to slap you firmly round the face as soon as popped it in your mouth. With drink in hand I surveyed the bar and what a great place it is.
I can only imagine that if the producers of Boardwalk Empire had visited before filming started then Steve Buscemi’s house would have emulated it exactly. Dark red wall paper, wooden panelling and big leather armchairs filled to room. The music rounded off the experience perfectly with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong mixing in with the joyous chatter.
To be honest I could have settled into one of those comfy chairs and happily spent the night drinking Manhattans and talking to (or more accurately boring the arse off) anyone who passed my way, but this was no time for sitting around enjoying yourself, there were bars to visit damn it!
A 5 minute walk away was Lebensstern, a bar which had been recommended to us by pretty much everyone we had seen and it wasn’t going to disappoint. Located above a rather fancy looking restaurant is a rather fancy looking bar.
This bar is famous for a couple of things (having been featured in the Tarantino blooderama Inglorious Bastards) but it was the spirits selection we were most interested in feasting our eyes and indeed mouths on.
Off the main bar are a series of rooms each with inbuilt glass cabinets holding bottle after bottle of fantastic brands from across the world. In 2010 the bar won Best Drinks Selection at Tales of the Cocktail and with the hundreds of bottles throughout the bar (which can be bought as well admired) the only questions seems to be why it hasn’t won every Drinks Selection award in the world.
There are so many rare and special edition bottles of rum (and indeed other spirits) in the cabinets that it was a surprise that each room didn’t contain a box of tissues for visitors to clean themselves up with after a quick look.
At this point I have to highlight one of my disappointments with the bars in Berlin during the show (and really there are almost none) and it is to do with the cocktail menus.
A lot of the bars we visited during our trip had produced a ‘special BCB menu’ for the occasion containing 5 – 7 cocktails and had hidden away their usual menus.
I understand the reason for this as I am sure the venues are full of bartenders during this period wanting to be served nice drinks quickly and this approach certainly speeds up service.
I also wouldn’t particularly mind if these lists contained the bars signature cocktails however the fact is they all seem to contain a Gin & Tonic, a Horse’s Neck and a Moscow Mule.
A large proportion of the visitors to the show, like me, come from not only out of town but out of country and BCB is a fantastic opportunity to visit the cities bars and enjoy some of the local bartender talent. In actuality I have found myself being forced to decide which bartender makes the best Horse’s Neck!
Okay mini rant over back to Lebensstern. Philip Duff was propping up the bar and whilst we wandered through the rooms admiring the displays (a sure way to get you in the mood for a drink) Philip kindly ordered a couple of Dark ‘n Stormy’s for us. As we sipped we were joined by the lovely Audrey Fort from G’Vine Gin in town ready for her talk with Philip at the show. A couple more drinks and a great chat with some folks visiting from Amsterdam and it was time to move on yet again.
Mother Nature is obviously a fan of a good night of bar hopping as the moment we stepped outside she turned off the taps on the rain which had caught a few out including an exceptionally wet Rob Rademaker from Bols. Next on the list was Victoria Bar.
Located on a main street, Victoria Bar is a brightly lit bar with a fantastic reputation for great drinks. As we were entered we were given the most surly and inhospitable greeting since the spacesuit welcomed the fart. If the rain hadn’t just started up again in grand fashion I would probably have walked out there and then but with an open mind a couple of drinks were ordered.
The menu was great and we picked out a Brooklyn and a Guyana Manhattan. Surly man didn’t seem to deem us interesting enough to serve however his colleague made us two fantastic drinks. The décor was nicely done (if a little bright) and music was, well, patchy but all of this was insignificant compared to the quality drink and the spicy nuts which my stomach was a big fan of. Perhaps the guy was just having a bad night, I hope so because the cocktails deserved better.
Somehow the clock had ticked way further on than I realised and we had to miss out a couple of bars to head back to the Michelberger Hotel were the one and only Ueno San was holding court behind the bar and producing some of his exceptional creations.
Despite the latish hour Ueno was in full swing as was the crowd surrounding the bar who seemed to be enjoying watching the man work almost as much as they were enjoying the drinks he produced.
The great and the good were in attendance enjoying themselves and any tiredness I felt was soon washed away by the smiles, banter and man hugs taking place. A drink (or was it two?) later and it was time to crash to prepare for another day of great talks at BCB and of course the awards later in the evening.
For more about the show itself click here and on the seminars in particular click on this one. But the awards in the evening were a real highlight.
Mixology Bar Awards
In a lovely venue anyone who was anyone in the German bar industry was there to celebrate the best of their bar culture. Many of the bars we had visited over the last two days were nominated however it seemed that the whole of Germany had reason to celebrate when the winners were announced.
BarLifeUK was honoured to accept a Lifetime Achievement award on behalf of Joe Gilmore from The Savoy who, understandably at 92 years of age, was unable to make it. We shall be handing the award over to Joe at The Savoy very soon.
Here is a full list of the winners:
- Bar Team of the Year – Gekkos (Frankfurt)
- Newcomer of the Year – Henning Neufeld, Les Trois Rois (Basel)
- Mixologist of the Year – Klaus St. Rainer, Goldene Bar (München)
- Host – Frank Kettlitz, Fasanen 47 (Berlin)
- Bar of the Year – Stagger Lee (Berlin)
- Hotel Bar – Les Trois Rois (Basel)
- Lifetime Achievement – Joe Gilmore, from the Savoy Hotel (London)
- New Spirit of the Year – Smith & Cross Rum
- Bartender´s Product Choice – Bollinger Champagner
- Mixology City Award – Vienna Bar Community