Last week I was in Berlin, my first ever visit. Middleagedad wanted to see some art, I wanted to look at the retail (work, honest) and shop vintage and youngestson wanted to check out the music stores. I can report that the art scene is inspiring, Hard Wax is the coolest (and definitely the scariest, High Fidelity has nothing on this) record store in Berlin and the retail and vintage a touch disappointing.
The cafe culture, however, was an eye-opener; goodness those Berliners know how to live. Every shop seemed to have a small bench outside to encourage hanging around and there are so many delightful independent coffee shops and restaurants positioned along every street that if you lived there you could easily see yourself forgetting how to cook.
And just like in London, the cocktail bar scene is fizzing, so all in the name of blog research, we tirelessly tested out a few in the Mitte area (where we stayed) for you.
Firstly, Melody Nelson, a charmingly scruffy bar with a great history, it used to be a hang-out for Stasi members and when the current owners redecorated the place was riddled with hidden microphones and secret recording spots. This added nicely to the atmosphere, which has a relaxed and groovy vibe. Its quirky name comes from a Serge Gainsbourg album and seemed like an excuse to use a giant images of a young and sexy looking Jane Birkin behind the bar. There were some fabulous cocktails, I’d recommend the Aviation.
We also learnt from the barman about an excellent Campari replacement called Gran Classico, a softer, more floral bitter that works very well in Negroni if you don’t like the extreme bitterness of Campari. You can usually buy it from the Whisky Exchange, although it is currently out of stock.
Then we tried Buck & Breck the bar that is on the ‘cool’ list of every person looking to impress….It wasn’t our favourite but the whole experience of trying to get in was interesting. it didn’t look too promising at first….Is it an art gallery? Is it even open? There’s nothing helpful on the frontage.This place takes the speakeasy theme to a baffling extreme.
There’s a small bell on the side which say’s “bar’, but ringing it garnered mixed results. We eventually figured out that you needed to telephone ahead then turn up and hope. Inside was small- with a strictly no photos policy, these cats were waaay too cool to allow Instagrams, oh yeah.
An all-black interior meant middleagedad and I tripped over all the bar stools and the taxidermy octopus the size of a cat, under a bell jar display on the counter was certainly not your normal bar decoration. The front window is an ‘art installation’ and changes regularly, so don’t expect to see Paradise Ending every time you go.
The bar tender claimed he likes to ‘work like a monk, tidy and religiously methodical in my approach’, but for all his snortingly-daft hipster-hype, he certainly could mix a drink, these were the best cocktails; elegant, well balanced and beautifully served, but the place is a bit up itself, it’s worse than going out in some bits of East London. We were there early (obviously, since we are always in bed by 10.30…) but I bet when it’s busy it’s a terrific place to people watch. Tuck your cynicism under your hat for an hour and go try a Martinez (recipe for this fab cocktail below).
Finally we tried Reingold, an established and very smoothly run bar that also based itself on the speakeasy- hidden-round-the-corner-door, ringing a doorbell to get in etc, but at least here they opened up like they wanted you to come in and have a good time. It’s got the glamourous amber lighting I love in a cocktail bar and service was delightful, neat barmen dressed in crisp white shirts attended to your every alcoholic-whim. The lavender cosmopolitan I had was delicious. We took youngestson along and he stated this was the most amazing bar he’d ever been to, admittedly not much of a claim at 18, but it certainly impressed.
All this research means that I have a new favourite cocktail, the Martinez. It’s simple to make and a lovely alternative to my other favourite, the Negroni. This is perfect as an aperitif, or any time really….enjoy.
2 oz gin, Sipsmith or Gordon’s
3/4 oz of sweet red vermouth, Martini Rosso or similar, works very nicely with the richness of Anitica Formula
1/4 oz Maraschino liquer- I used Luxardo
Dash of angostura bitters
Slice of lemon rind, rubbed around the rim and plopped into the mix to garnish
Measure out and then shake contents over ice, in cocktail shaker and serve in s a small wine glass.