First Night in Berlin

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There’s just something about rolling into a city at noon, after a solid eighteen hours of travel time that just screams “It’s going to be a late night”. So, after a nap and some real German sausages for dinner, it was time to meet up with Helmut Adam and Simon Difford for what I can only imagine will be the first of many Berlin bar crawls this week.

We started out at Beckett’s Kopf, an amazing cocktailian-type bar. We walked in to super cozy, intimate little space and were immediately greeted by Cristina Neves with the cocktail menu, which was bound in between chapters of a hardcover book about Samuel Beckett. We selected some choices from the classic cocktails section and, rather than waiting around forever for something that never arrived, received some dead-on cocktails in our hands. I tried a Buck and Breck and the best Bronx Cocktail I’ve ever had as I sat and watched bartender Oliver Ebert executing drinks from behind the bar with razor-sharp precision.

Helmut then took us to Rum Trader and introduced us to Gregor Scholl and Thomas Ständer, who were our guides through a sea of Dark and Stormys (Darks and Stormy?) made with Bacardi 8 and Fentiman’s Ginger Beer, Daiquiris, and Corn ‘n’ Oils (again, what’s the plural?) made with the new Forgotten Flavours falernum. Herr Scholl served as a wonderful reminder to all of us that while we tend to get so wrapped up in flavors and ingredients, arcane recipes and (as my co-bartender so eloquently puts it) all our housemade bullshit, nothing can pass for genuine hospitality and thoughtful service. Gregor’s graciousness and mastery of his space is something I’ve honestly never witnessed in the United States, or anywhere else for that matter. Leaving the bar was almost heartbreaking for us, as we’d been so well treated that it felt like leaving home.

But, like brave little souls, we were able to withstand the pain once we were being given the tour of Café Einstein by bartender Thomas Pflanz. Not only is the bar located in one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever been in, not only do they have a full organic herb garden to pick fresh ingredients from outside on the terrace, but this German bar has (on the authority of my companions) a wider selection of gins than any bar in the United Kingdom. Really. I sat there, wide-eyed, ogling the back-bar as I spotted products I’d never seen, products that I thought were no longer in existence, and even a few from back home that I wouldn’t expect to find in a bar in Berlin.

From what I’ve already seen, the German bar trade has got a leg up on all of us in the English-speaking world, and they’re anything but smug about it. There was graciousness, hospitality, enthusiasm and a real love of the business about last night, and I’m looking forward to seeing much more over the next week.

You’ll probably notice that I forgot to pack my camera along on this particular bar tour, which won’t happen again. As I know many of you aren’t accustomed to tolerating my incessant droning without the relief of an image or two sprinkled throughout, I’ll offer this:

With apologies to my younger brother, but then again he wasn’t the one wearing lederhosen.

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