City Guide to Berlin

As we continue our journey through the best city bars in the world, Helmut Adam from Mixology magazine, investigates the German capital

If you’re looking for a symbol to stand for the Berlin of the moment, it would probably best be a construction crane. Though Berlin has been in a constant transformative process since the German unification in 1990, the number of new construction sites has visibly been shooting up again over the past couple of years.

In a recent PWC study, Cities of Opportunites, Berlin, for years attributed with a “poor but sexy” image, was ranked 15th, appearing for the first time alongside heavyweights such as New York, Tokyo, Sydney and London.

It’s not only the body, the physical substance of Berlin, that is currently getting a massive face lift. The ‘brain’ of the German capital, the city’s famous creative class, is experiencing an incredibly strong influx from abroad too – with no end in sight.

The native language of these new Berliners is very often English, with an east coast American accent. But sitting on the counters of Berlin’s bars, you’ll run into an increasing numbers of Brits, French and Spaniards as well. They all share a common goal – to be part of the rise of the German capital.

While these new citizens have already had an impact on the city’s gourmet coffee and craft beer scene, they are starting to have their own bar places, too. Not a month goes by without a new expat drinking den opening up. So far none of these has made the top 10 list. But it’ll only be a matter of time.

The most recent developments of note in Berlin are, however, the first signs of a big comeback of the capital’s western part. Since the wall came down almost all interesting restaurant and bar openings have happened in central or eastern districts. This seems to be changing. And the first visible sign is the western Monkey Bar making the top 10 list as a newcomer. Enjoy!

Monkey Bar @ 25 Hours Hotel, Budapester str. 40, Berlin

The 25 Hours hotel chain has opened a number of design-led venues in central Europe over the past couple of years.

But probably none of them got more media coverage than the opening of its latest Berlin venue Bikini.

A lot of that has to do with the rooftop Monkey Bar. It’s been stormed since its opening.

A smart cocktail offering, a playful interior and a stunning view of the city skyline are part of the successful formula.

Why the name Monkey Bar? You’re sipping your cocktails right next to the zoo and its monkey enclosure.

We doubt you’ll spot one of the furry animals though. With Roger Breitenegger and Cordula Langer you’ll find two experienced mixologists behind the stick.

Buck & Breck, Brunnenstr. 177, Berlin

Named after two infamous American politicians, James Buchanan and John Breckinridge, Buck & Breck is what you could call Berlin’s most ambitious mixologist bar.

The place is tiny, tucked away behind a window display curated by Berlin artist Theo Ligthart and is near to a police station.

Calling in for reservations is recommended as the bar has quickly been adopted by serious cocktail lovers and Berlin-Mitte glitterati since it opened back in 2010.

There are only 14 seats available at the massive black table counter that fills up most of the tiny space.

Drinks are composed with unparalleled precision and served in small glasses.

You won’t see many brands in this cocktail oasis. In order to save space on his mixing station, owner Goncalo des Sousa Moneiro has developed a colour-coding system for a small standard pouring bottle. So if you order off the menu, it’s a bit of a mystery as to what goes into the glass. But be assured – it will be a drink of the highest quality.

Becketts Kopf, Pappelallee 64, Berlin

Another Berlin bar that worships classic mixology. Becketts Kopf has won numerous awards over the years.

Owner Oliver Ebert used to work as a theatre director before entering the liquid business. You can still feel his past when you pick up one of the menus – Samuel Beckett novels with cocktail and spirits recommendations pegged into it.

Most cocktails on the list are his own creations based on classics. The spirits offering is very much off mainstream.

Ebert is known for hand picking his pouring spirits and for playing around with out-of-fashion ingredients such as sherry or port.

He does also collaborate with Berlin Michelin-starred chefs from time to time.

So if you’d like to pick up a dining out recommendation you’re absolutely in the right spot at Becketts Kopf – another oasis in the bar desert that is Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district.

Lebensstern, Kurfürstenstr. 58, Berlin

The ‘star of life’ is one of Germany’s most well known bars abroad and has won numerous awards for both its spirits collection and its talented bartenders.

The former villa of German silent movie star Henny Porten is a culinary gem. While the mezzanine floor hosts a famous Viennese style coffee house, you’ll find the real definition of a living room bar in the former private rooms of Porten upstairs.

Renowned bartenders such as Ricardo Albrecht (now at Immertreu), Thomas Pflanz and Thomas Altenberger have run the place in the years since it opened.

However, ups and downs seem to be the fate of Lebensstern. The talented bar team that was running the place for a number of years just left weeks ago.

The management has now announced that the bar will stay closed for the summer. We’re hoping for a grand reopening in autumn as this place definitely belongs in Berlin’s top list.

Reingold, Novalisstr. 11, Berlin

The famous libertarian siblings Klaus and Erika Mann are the dominant feature of this beautful Mitte bar. Sitting on the wall they’re together watching the place fill up night after night.

David Wiedemann, owner of Berlin’s most well-known bartending school, runs this drinking establishment.

Reingold bar was named after a famous luxury highspeed train that was assembled decades, if not a century, ago next door in the former Borsigwerke (train station).

The bar has young and eager staff, a great spirits and cocktail selection and a loyal following. To cope with the increasing number of event requests, Wiedemann has just added a separate micro club to the location.

Reingold is definitely a fixture in Berlin Mitte’s nightlife.

Amano BarAuguststr. 43, Berlin

Established by Mario Grünenfelder, Amano bar is somewhat the darling of Berlin’s bar scene. You’ll very likely bump into other Berlin bartenders on their day off here.

The reason for that is its central location, the great and friendly staff and the attention to detail applied to every cocktail produced.

Amano bar is a hotel bar without the feel of one. Towards the weekends it becomes a packed clubby space with DJs taking over the reins. If you don’t get a seat at Amano you can now simply walk over the street, where Grünenfelder has opened another ambitious bar project called Dean.

Stagger Lee, Nollendorfstr. 27, Berlin

This beautiful Western themed bar was opened by former Reingold employees and managed to claim a Bar of the Year award in the minimum of time.

It has been named after a popular American folk song. A beautiful old cashier greets patrons on entering the space.

Staying within the American theme the cocktail programme centres around bourbon and rye with the house cocktail being a delicious julep variation. But Stagger Lee does offer Bavarian beer from the tap, too.

It’s an easy-going place frequented by many regulars. Berlin is still a city where you can smoke in bars and Stagger Lee is no exception. The bar offers a separate room for smokers.

On the weekends Stagger Lee often has live music. It’s definitely one of those places that has managed to fill a gap in Berlin’s bar portfolio.

Immertreu, Christburger str. 6, Berlin

No Berlin district has been derided by the German ‘feuilleton’ to such an extent as Prenzlauer Berg.

Twenty years of heavy gentrification have turned the former rugged liberal refuge for artists into a clean and shining bourgeois haven.

The illegal bars and clubs of the 90s are long gone. Now, a vegan and organic food-craving, noise-sensitive middle class populates the area. Accordingly, Prenzlauer Berg’s culinary scene is regarded as saturated and boring.

So it’s somewhat of a relief that there are bars like Immertreu. Owned and run by award-winning mixologist Ricardo Albrecht, Immertreu is a place that so far has managed to steer clear of the branded limelight of cocktail competitions and industry events.

It’s a place that simply is about the customer.

Tier, Weserstr. 42, Berlin

This bar is a newcomer to the premium cocktail bar scene and it deserves to be pulled into the spotlight.

Berlin’s Neukölln district for a long time had the image of being a rough place where you wouldn’t go late at night if you wanted to keep your wallet.

This has changed dramatically over the past couple of years and especially the Weserstrasse is heralded as the new ‘Ausgehmeile’, with literally a bar on every corner.

The liquid crown jewel of this new area definitely is Tier. The name simply translates to ‘animal’ and the impressively designed menu is full of ironic references to our species’ two and four-legged relatives.

When the bar fills up at night there’ll suddenly be three bartenders working the tiny bar space. The backboard displays a good range of quality spirits and the staff know their cocktails. But all this nicely blends in with the neighbourhood feel of the place. It’s a bar you just feel comfortable in right away.

Le Croco Bleu, Prenzlauer Allee 242, Berlin 

The vast area of the Bötzow brewery is a sign of Berlin’s past status as the largest brewing capital in Germany. At its peak around the 1900s more than 300 breweries were quenching the capital’s thirst.

A German Mittelstand billionaire is now breathing new life into the red brick ruins. Until a European offspring of the famous Brooklyn brewery starts producing Pilsners or Berliner Weisses here, you’ll have to make do with the liquid offering of bar Le Croco Bleu.

It was named after two crocodiles that were allegedly saved from World War II bombardments by hiding them in the Bötzow brewery’s mash tuns. This crazy little bar space was built into the brewery’s former machine house.

The engineman’s little control box has been taken over by dressed- up bartenders who offer the discerning crowd a selection of classic cocktails, barrel-aged creations and vintage spirits.

Gregor Scholl of Rum Trader fame has thought this place up.