Three times lucky
Bern is generally thought of as a picturesque, easy-going and tranquil place. A short, exhilarating stay in Switzerland’s capital is enough to confirm all this. It will further lead to the realisation that Bern is also home to a cosmopolitan and innovative local bar scene with wonderfully tasty creations.
It’s a hot day in July 2023. The summer holidays are just around the corner and the train compartment, as always, is packed with commuters, making it like a sauna. Fortunately, no one is taking their clothes off just yet. Shortly before pulling into Bern station, as always, the bright green Aare manages to catch my eye in an almost magnetic fashion. It won’t be long until it’s time for a drink! Also, I have a clear mission to fulfil: three concoctions at three different venues in the city in a single evening. However, after checking into the Schweizerhof Bern & Spa hotel, I find myself yearning for another kind of refreshment, so I head down to the river.
Switzerland’s capital city is home to exactly one-third as many people as reside in Zurich. You get the feeling that every single one of them is drifting down the Aare this afternoon, navigating their way under the Monbijou Bridge and past the Dampfzentrale cultural centre on their way to the wonderful Marzilibad lido. The roots of this open-air pool can be traced back to the late 18th century. However, unlike in the past, entry is now free.
Nevertheless, it takes a bit of effort before you can enjoy a dip in the river. Only after a long walk in your bare feet against the flow of the water do you finally get your reward: a refreshing jump into the cool water. The current of the Aare is not to be underestimated, which is why only really good swimmers let themselves be carried downstream. Needless to say, this fun adventure is for adults only – just like the consumption of alcohol. Which finally brings us to the actual topic of this article and the beginning of my mission.
After all that swimming, I’m not only thirsty but also hungry, so I choose a restaurant to get started. Victor is one of the businesses that has recently been enhancing the area around Viktoriaplatz, filling it with life and good vibes. A beautiful walk over the Kornhaus Bridge takes you there in a jiffy. Once I arrive at the no-frills bistro, which has been brought to life with skilful colour and design accents, I order olives, a piece of mountain cheese – and a Kuching Mule, a reinterpretation of the famous Moscow Mule, which, incidentally, was created almost a century ago in Manhattan. Why our version is named after a Malaysian city is just as mysterious to me as the deeper meaning behind the bistro’s slogan: All cats are beautiful. The evening, it seems, is a tad too young to get to the bottom of such profound riddles. Why my drink has Kuching in its name, however, is probably because the ingredients not only include the obligatory gin and ginger beer, but also lime, cucumber and chilli. My conclusion: the drink’s sour and fresh notes stand out much more than its spicy side. All in all, while not a revelation, it’s a satisfactory start that fulfils its purpose: it has given me a thirst for more.
– Viktoriaplatz 3,
With my hunger satisfied, I stroll back over the bridge to the old town and head straight to a bar called Die Taube, which is German for dove. The place was recommended to me by the hotel – fortunately, because it turns out to be a fairly well-hidden, inconspicuous nightspot. The minute I reach the bar, I am feeling a spark in the air. What I get is a warm welcome, great music (hip hop), a wittily designed menu and some expert advice on beverages. There are many creations I'd love to try, including the Calvinforina with mezcal verde, pisco, dry curaçao, chartreuse verte, kiwi, lime and soda water or Keli’s Milkshake, which daringly pairs gin with lime, raspberries and white chocolate. The people who work here clearly not only understand their craft, but also love it. That means there’s no need to hesitate about ordering a classic cocktail which, in my case, is one of my all-time favourites: a Sazerac. This is an adventurous, tart and strong drink – not for beginners. After a short chat with the bartender, I go for the 50/50 version, and seconds later rye whiskey and cognac are congregating in a wonderfully chilled glass that has been rinsed with absinthe. A little later,
I cool my throat outside in the fresh evening air beneath the Berner Lauben, the name given to the Swiss capital’s historic arcades. I am completely satisfied, not only with my drink but with the world in general.
– Rathausgasse 50,
Lobby Lounge Bar, Schweizerhof
I resist the temptation of delving deeper into the drinks menu at Die Taube and make my way back to the Schweizerhof. At the bar in the hotel lobby, I am welcomed by bar manager Krystian who offers me something very special: a glimpse into the future! The Cherry Flavor, which the native of Poland prepares for me himself, is one of the establishment’s twelve signature cocktails to be included on the new drinks menu that he is currently working on (and is available from September 2023). This creation has everything it needs to turn heads: sweet, cherry-based Luxardo liqueur, smoky mezcal and fruity pisco not only ensure a harmonious mix, but also make the cocktail extremely moreish,as the alcohol is (dangerously well!) integrated. The addition of a cloud of candy floss and grated dark chocolate creates a wow effect while also providing Instagrammability. ‘The drink is reminiscent of the pink sunsets that you can enjoy from our sky terrace,’ says Krystian with a wink. I take it as a sign as I head towards the elevator. Even though the sun has long since gone down in Bern and most of the people, who just a few hours ago were still bathing in the Aare, are long since asleep, I know exactly where I want to end this enjoyable evening. And who knows, there might be another barfly up on the hotel’s roof who’s looking for some profound conversation ...
– Bahnhofplatz 11,
Words Oliver Schmuki
Illustrations Daniel Föllmi
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