Drinking in Neukölln: the easy cocktail
Neukölln is hot on everybody’s lips, but where does one drink a cocktail in this Berlin district? Andrew Wilkin takes a look at the fledging scene.
From ProblemBezirk to HipsterBezirk, Neukölln is Berlin’s most discussed area of the moment. And yes, it’s changing. Fast. The scruffy, cobbled streets around the area’s main thoroughfare Karl-Marx Strasse have become the mainstay of the young creative class – with galleries, co-working spaces, bars, cafés all springing up faster than you can say G-E-N-T-R-I-F…However, the Weserstraße partymeile, the Tempelhofer-Freiheit bordering Schillerkiez and the rest of the district have always been more well-known for Turkish kebabs, wedding-dress shops and student bars than for expert mixology.
Until now. Cocktails are now starting to rear their head in the district south of the Landwehrkanal. If you’re after a drink of a high quality, Neukölln may not be number one, but it’s starting to show some verve. This Bezirk offers a more egalitarian type of cocktail-drinking, fore-headed by an old dog and two new arrivals onto the scene…
Tier – the animal that gave birth
The name Tier in Berlin bears no introduction. The pioneer in bringing fine drinks to Neukölln, Tier made its introduction on the Weserstraße on the 31st December 2009. Revered city-wide for the work of its barmen, Tier’s frosted windows hide an intimate, understated atmosphere – one punctuated by low-level lighting, a long elongated bar and most apt, a rack of TV sets depicting feline activity. Half of the bar is devoted to conventional table and chair seating, whilst the other half, named ‘the island’, is closer to the ground – armchairs and stools on a raised wooden build.
Looking for meaning behind the name, the German translation of ‘animal’? Owner Sven Abel proclaims it came to him from a German saying, „Der Hund ist mir zugelaufen“ – referring to when a lonely dog, sans Master, follows someone new, who then takes the dog. It then becomes “your dog.” Sven continues, “Tier is not a name, it’s a creature, a lively thing leaving space for everyones individual interpretations of what it may mean.”
Tier undoubtedly heralds the dawn of the Neukölln cocktail – high-quality drinks in an environment of negligible stiffness, but not like Bei Schlawinchen’s either…As Sven says, “some bars pretend to be like cathedrals nowadays, this is somewhere you can laugh!” And the quality really is there too, classics mingling with twists on a menu acclaimed enough to make the nomination list for the Mixology Bar Awards 2015, touted for the Bar Menu of the Year!
Sven Abel gives props to one other bar, 500m out of Neukölln in Kreuzberg – the Bellman Bar. If it wasn’t for Bellman, and in particular its inspiring atmosphere, lighting, vinyl and drinks, Tier wouldn’t exist, he notes. High-five for the Kreuzberg veteran!
Tier, Weserstraße 42, 12045 Berlin
Velvet – lit up in black and gold
Tier did not necessarily signal a boom in long drinking in Neukölln. As the bar manager Finbar Klam says, Velvet was the 2nd cocktail bar to arrive in Neukölln in October 2013, nearly four years after its animal-referencing precursor! In slightly less manic surroundings on the Ganghofer straße – here only the sound of the Karl-Marx traffic echoes in comparison to the heckle of the Weserstraße drinking mob – Velvet is also the work of some newcomers to the cocktail scene. It wasn’t all intuition however – the five owners (Finbar Klam, Kilian Hohls, Nils Twachtmann, Niko Kramer and Carl Berthold) employed the help of a friend who, having worked in bars for seven years (including Reingold) came up with the concept.
They’ve hit on the vibe perfectly. Black and gold-styled, it’s old-English to a hilt, evoking smokier dens of times past. It’s a simple affair in layout, focused in on the green-lit bar, lighting up the libations, in amongst seating and a vibrant soundtrack. Top tip for a cocktail: try the Dr Freud, a classy, custom-made concoction consisting of Chartreuse, vanilla infused rum, 10 years Laphroaig, lemon juice, Angostura and half a nectarine. And once again, intimacy is matched by a laid-back vibe. Finbar talks also of a “chilled and Neukölln” clientele drinking a mixture of beers and cocktails in their bar – it really does seem like the two go hand-in-hand.
Twinpigs – shaking things up, Lynchian style
Crossing over Karl-Marx Straße, onto Boddinstraße, here’s the newest of our libation-loving trio: Twinpigs. It’s run by a tripartite team of cocktail aficionados – Pär Kjellen, Paulo de Araujo and Maximilian Garth. And get past the tricky name, and you’ve got a bar with a mandate to shake things up.
Inspired by Friedrichshain’s The Antlered Bunny, the concept is clear here – classy cocktails, in a convivial space fit for early-evening drinking, and maybe some late-night dancing too. A brighter affair than the others, there’s exposed brick walls, wooden floors and flea-market furniture (it is Neukölln after all). There’s a DJ booth, with a special cocktail themed around the DJ on certain nights. The extensive menu takes the guest on a journey – there’s the old, the new and the long. Classics, subtle twists and long drinks. It’s a tactic that works wonders on relative newbies to cocktails.
But that’s not it! There’s craft beers – Markthalle Neun’s Heidenpeters is served here – and wine too. Twinpigs can genuinely be termed a reimagining of the cocktail bar, something more raucous than Tier or Velvet but still with a hint of refinement – something highly original among cocktail establishments in Berlin. And about that Lynchian mind-boggler of a name? Get your thinking caps on.
The state of play
Given the development of the district writ large, there must be some surprise shown that things have not developed faster. Yet, that’s not quite it – there’s some space for some last-minute mentions here. Nathanja and Heinrich is noted by Tier’s Sven Abel as a top-notch space for a drink (and they serve some selected cocktails to boot!), and The Black Lodge offers up a faithful Twin Peaks homage with a solid cocktail list.
Fuchs and Elster have very recently opened a new speakeasy space (a trend many claim never really caught hold in Berlin like London or NYC), and Belgian-beer purveyors Yuma Bar are reportedly going to open a specialist cocktail bar too.
Judging by the past track records of those two Weser mainstays, there’s no doubt these will continue the easy-cocktail drinking trend of the district.
The verdict? It’s a fledging scene, one that hasn’t expanded with haste since Tier’s arrival in 2009. There’s an unmistakable local flavour to proceedings, undeniably influenced by expatriate heavy nature of Neukölln.
The vibe is casual, louder and there’s space for other beverages too. Neukölln really is the place for the easy cocktail.
Foto: Neukölln via Tim Klöcker