Munich, without beer
The Martini Club in Munich aims for a prohibition-era New York speakeasy vibe. (Martini Club)
Munich is unmistakably a beer city. It is where the beer garden was invented, where the beer hall was perfected and where the world’s largest beer festival is held every year. But beyond the pilsner-soaked tents of Oktoberfest is a sophisticated wine and cocktail scene that challenges Munich’s reputation for being a hoppy haven.
A long-standing stalwart is Schumann’s on Odeonsplatz, a large square in the city centre. It is the sort of place that attracts the affluent and the beautiful, and looks more like a buzzing US hotel lobby bar than a Bavarian beer hall. Reservations are advised for anyone wanting to get a table on its ultra-busy Thursday evenings.
Schumann’s offers a classic example of something that Munich’s best bars pride themselves on -- a drinks menu in the form of a thick booklet. Theirs contains a good collection of single malt whiskies and an enormous cocktail list, with many of the entries marked with the date they were created. But the real speciality at Schumann’s is Campari, a dark red, bitter-tasting aperitif with a sweet edge. The shelves behind the bar are lined with Campari bottles, and on a recent visit, a classic Campari and soda was being enjoyed at most of the bar’s tables. Slightly more adventurous patrons could be seen sipping a Negroni – a mixture of gin, vermouth and Campari.
On the other side of Munich in the Isarvorstadt area, Königsquelle is Munich’s real whisky haven. From the outside, it looks like a standard pub in a residential area, but inside the dusty, almost museum-like space (with a fish tank bizarrely located in the the middle) the many wall-mounted cases of tiny whisky bottles give the game away. There is no printed menu and the bar staff admits they have given up counting how many bottles they have in stock, but hundreds of bottles line the shelves. Rare whiskies are sourced from distilleries in Scotland, Ireland and the US, and all are handwritten onto a special menu. Unfortunately for repeat visitors, the selection is on a “when they’re gone, they’re gone” basis, with past offerings including a 1999 port cask-finished MacDuff and a double matured 1995 Tobermorey.
A couple of blocks southwest, the Toskana wine bar has a similar shambolic charm. It is essentially a wine store with a few chairs and sofas shunted into the gaps. Patrons are encouraged to share a table and socialise, while the knowledgeable owner Constance Heuberger serves up her favourite wines from Tuscany, as well as other Italian wine regions, and occasionally gives in-store seminars about Italian viticulture.
For a more conventional wine bar experience, Giesel’s Vinothek at the Excelsior Hotel near Munich Hauptbahnhof, the city’s central station, has more than 600 options by the bottle, with a fair proportion available by the glass, including ice wines from Canada and bottles from Greece and Turkey. An emphasis is put on showcasing new German wines -- the sauvignon blancs and pinot blancs that have emerged in the last decade rather than the traditional rieslings. Under the painted, vaulted ceilings, Vinothek also offers wines grown in traditionally beer-loving Bavaria, such as the J Hoffman Bacchus which uses a native German grapecalled Bacchus to produce a light, fruity, summery white.
Rum is the speciality at the Roosevelt Bar in the Lehel neighbourhood just to the east of the city centre. It is an unassuming place that mixes a local, cafe-terrace vibe outside with a colonial look complete with wooden ceiling fans inside. Owner Uthoff Kai proudly stocks about 245 different rums, arranged by origin at the back of the bar. They come from as far afield as Hawaii, Mauritius and the Philippines, although the aged Caribbean and Latin American rums are best for sipping neat. Diplomatico from Venezuela, Zacapa and Botran from Guatemala and Barbancourt from Haiti are among the ones Kai personally recommends.
A Brazilian spin on the rum bar can be found at Ver O Peso in the Haidhausen district on the eastern side of the Isar river, where Valdemar Da Silva rules over a small, dark, wood-panelled bar. He sources obscure cachaças (Brazilian cane sugar rums) from across Brazil, mixing them up into cocktails on request. The caipirinhas are most popular, but the Ritmo do Brazil – a mix of cachaça, vodka, chocolate liqueur, acerola juice and lime juice -- is excellent too.