Paul Sullivan & Laura Harker profile some of the best spots in Berlin to score a superior mixed drink…
It’s unmarked save for an eerily glowing photograph of Samuel Beckett in the window, so you’ll need to ring a doorbell to gain access to this Prenzlauer Berg bar. Inside are two elegant, dimly lit rooms (one reserved for smokers) with low tables and chesterfield sofas. The comprehensive drinks list is divided into sections such as fresh and funky, and herbal and floral, and always features seasonal specials. The ice is hand-cut, and staff are happy to tailor-make drinks for the undecided. Absinthe fans may wish to sample the bar’s take on the classic Monkey’s Gland, made with English marmalade.
• Pappelallee 64, Prenzlauer Berg, 0162 237 9418, becketts-kopf.de
Bryk Bar’s mission is simple: to bring back aperitifs. To do this they’ve created an menu of wine and vermouth based drinks which can be paired with interesting nibbles, like their popcorn with dill. The leather armchairs and vintage wooden furniture create a sophisticated ambiance, and the staff can knock up a mean cocktail too. While there are a couple of well-known classics on their cocktail menu, most of the drinks – and their memorable titles – are the bar’s own creative inventions; try the Oily Bondage For Beginners and you’ll realise that whisky and Guinness syrup were made for each other.
• Ryke Strasse 18, Prenzlauer Berg, 030 3810 0165, bryk-bar.com
Buck and Breck
The newest and most low-key of Berlin’s cocktail spots, this tiny black room, named after former American president James Buchanan and his vice-president, John Breckinridge, occupies a prime location in Mitte. It’s disguised as an art gallery from the outside – the sole window is usually blocked out with crates or quirky decor – and the dark main room has enough room for just 14 people, seated around a large, square bar (no standing allowed). Owners Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro and Holger Groll churn out exquisite drinks such as the eponymous house special: a tasty, muscular mix of cognac, bitters, absinthe and champagne, from a small but perfectly formed menu that’s heavy on the arcane and historical. Even though there’s now a back room, reservations are recommended.
• Brunnenstrasse 177, Mitte, no telephone, buckandbreck.com
Tucked away in bohemian Schöneberg, the chosen stomping ground for everyone from Christopher Isherwood to David Bowie over the years, Green Door is a veteran “locals” spot that takes its drinking seriously. Owner and playwright Fritz Müller-Scherz opened the bar 15 years ago to promote what he calls “the power of positive drinking”. Hiding behind the rudimentary green sign and nondescript curtains lurks a kitsch interior that’s all gingham wallpaper, 70s framed photos and a dog mascot that rests on the bar. The cocktail list is impressively long, features specials every month and includes the bar’s eponymous signature drink, a mix of champagne, lemon, sugar, and mint.
• Winterfeldtstrasse 50, Schöneberg, 030 215 2515, greendoor.de
With its characteristic red-leather seats and imposing 18ft photographs of stiletto-heeled nudes, this classic cocktail bar bows deeply to renowned fashion photographer Helmut Newton. The upmarket atmosphere is emphasised by heavy oak tables and a lavish, colourful bar that serves up a wealth of distinguished drinks: superbly mixed classics like Manhattans and Martinis as well as “city specials” such as the Metropolis Berlin, which features Jägermeister, and the Shanghai, which has lychee and plum. There are also direct views on to the Gendarmenmarkt through large picture windows. Expect to mingle with businessmen, fashionistas and well-heeled tourists. An upstairs cigar lounge is available for private tête-à-têtes.
• Charlottenstrasse 57, Mitte, 030 202 9540, newton-bar.de
Reingold’s 1930s speakeasy theme is supported by a cast of bartenders with slicked-back hair, braces and cigarette lighters at the ready. Frequented by office workers, hipsters and local barflies, the long, narrow room has amber-painted walls, a giant mural of Thomas Mann’s children Klaus and Erika, and some German bar snacks for peckish punters. The soundtrack switches between swing and Motown and the staff are well-schooled in classics, as well as seasonal drinks: the One in a Million is a fruity-herby blend of aged Indian rum, fresh lime, rosemary, pineapple juice and vanilla liqueur, and the Chocolate Agavioni tweaks the classic Negroni cocktail by blending 100% agave tequila blanco with campari, sweet vermouth and chocolate liqueur.
• Novalisstrasse 11, Mitte, 030 2838 7676, reingold.de
Another knock-to-enter, speakeasy-style venue, the ‘Black Grape’ is one of the comfiest cocktail bars in town. There’s dark wallpapers and birdcages and a purposeful lack of menu; simply tell the staff what kinds of spirits and flavours you’re in the mood for and they’ll suggest you a winner. If you’re lucky to have owner (and 2013’s World Class Bartender of The Year) Atalay Aktas behind the bar, ask for his signature drink; his My Destiny (rosemary and thyme infused Kettel One Vodka, fresh lime juice, agave syrup and ground black pepper) is an example of the bar’s holistic cocktail style.
• Wrangel Strasse 24, Kreuzberg, 030 2313 5569, Facebook
Ring the doorbell to enter into this quirky bar, which aims to transport guests back to a time of gold diggin’ gun slingers. With a faux bear skin on the wall, saloon doors, a huge antique till and blues and jitterbug tinkling from the sound system, Stagger Lee is in reality more ‘upmarket saloon’ than rough and ready cowboy hangout. Drinks take on an inevitable Deep South theme, with an emphasis on Bourbons and Ryes, but there’s also the odd Tiki cocktail thrown in to the menu for good measure. Our drink of choice is their Bucket of Blood: tequila and zesty tomato juice are given the usual Bloody Mary garnishings, but the real treat is that crispy rasher of bacon that’s dipped in the glass.
• Nollendorf Strasse 27, Schöneberg, 030 2903 6158 , staggerlee.com
This tiny bar has a big history. With roots that allegedly stretch back to the prohibition era, it consists of just one table, several bar stools and a small bar that hosts around twenty patrons at a time. The entire ensemble is commandeered by the smartly attired, bespectacled Herr Scholl (or one of his assistants), whose flawless drinks are served in vintage glasses and made with old school paraphernalia like strainers, muddlers and scoops. The menu is heavy on gin as well as, of course, rum, stretching from heavenly Hemingways to spectacular Rum Sours.
• Fasanenstrasse 40, 10719 Berlin, 030 8811 428. No website
Before Potsdamer Strasse turned into a hip hangout, the Victoria Bar was first to bring a dash of class to the area. Its award-winning interior features a classic wooden bar and walls decorated with satirical artworks by the likes of Sarah Lucas, Marcel Dzama and Martin Kippenberger. Popular with a refined yet unpretentious clientele, the Victoria offers expertly mixed drinks: try the Prince Charles, a heady mix of cognac VS, apricot brandy, angostura and champagne, or the psychedelic Sun Ra, which blends tequila, mezcal, Old Pascas 73°, dry orange, almond syrup, and fresh lemon and lime to aptly psychedelic effect. Cocktail classes are available at the venue’s School of Sophisticated Drinking.
• Potsdamer Strasse 102, Tiegarten, 030 2575 9977, victoriabar.de
Despite being a briefcase-lob from the US Embassy, this quiet, one-room bar is far from a haunt for diplomats. Owner Günter Windhorst has crafted a place that’s loose-limbed and intimate, egged on by his own jazz and Latin collection (vinyl only), and paintings of jazz musicians on the wall. There’s an emphasis on American-style drinks within the 52-page menu but innovative touches balance out the classics (try the lemongrass Gimlet – an exotic adaptation of the gin and lime juice classic. It’s a great place for a pre- or post-theatre tipple – or just settle in at the bar and watch the staff apply their craft with impressive diligence.
• Dorotheenstrasse 65, Mitte, 030 2045 0070, windhorst-bar.de
Würgeengel means “Exterminating Angel” after the Luis Buñuel film – and is much easier to pronounce after a few drinks. One of the city’s more relaxed cocktail bars, it matches a winsome, old-school interior (leather booths, candles on wooden tables, a glass-latticed ceiling) with a drinks menu that has great cocktails and a fine selection of whiskies and wines from Veuve Cliquot and Dom Pérignon to great rieslings from Rheinhessen and deep red riojas that go with the tasty, well-priced tapas (large mixed plate €10.50, tapas-for-two for €16). There’s good Italian food at the Gorgonzola Club next door, and the atmosphere retains a pleasant neighbourhood feel.
• Dresdener Strasse 122, Kreuzberg, 030 615 5560, wuergeengel.de