Berlin is the Aladdin's den of bars. You'll find all sorts of treasures here, but the best ones don't always make themselves easy to find. Maybe they're behind an unmarked door or on a roof, or trick you into thinking they're more of a restaurant than a late-night paradise. Go off road with this list of essential establishments.
Guess what - this bar has a green door, kept shut to all but those who are true cocktail lovers. You might need to sacrifice some of your personal space as this place is legendary, but the reward is a cocktail made with all the best things you could possibly put in a glass. Young hipsters rub shoulders with old gentlemen in this bar that feels more like a hunting lodge from the year 3015. Maybe it's the glowing spaniel bar light?
For one of Berlin's underground gems, look up: above the roof tops of Neukölln you'll find a bar that isn't just a bar. In summer the open decks are perfect for lounging from breakfast til late-night boozing. Every other night you'll have to share the sky with electronic acts, indie films and swing dancing sessions. Even in winter the garden bar keeps itself warm with weekend fleamarkets. This is the place that escapists dream of.
If you want to find this bar, you'd better do a google image search on Samuel Beckett's face first. The only way that you can tell that there is a bar there is the floating head of Samuel Beckett, helpfully but eerily lit up in an orange glow. Sometimes the graceful bar staff set out some chairs in the heat of summer, but mostly the door is shut tight and guarded by a small brass doorbell. Once inside, you will be confronted with the next and final challenge before being allowed to enjoy the finest cocktail of your life: the menu. This is tucked into the centrefold of a book on Beckett, and to decipher the poetic and harshly abstract drinks descriptions you'd probably need a PhD. Or just help from one of the bartenders, who speak fluent, soothing English and are happy to concoct something a little different for you.
I first discovered Dr To's out of desperation, which then very quickly turned into an addiction for their phenomenal cocktails. Walking down Weichselstrasse on a Saturday night is both a wonder and a nightmare, as there are tonnes of candle-lit bars, but all of them are full. Finally our party of two desperately found a seat outside at what looked like a trendy noodle bar, but which also had a decent page-long list of cocktails with names like Godzilla. As you'd expect, they often have Asian twists such as matcha tea or sake, and as we did not expect they were some of the best cocktails we'd had in Berlin. Expect the unexpected when you take your first sip.
This quiet space next to the loud and lauded dive bar Fos
(nicknamed F Bar) is everything you'd expect from the new and progressive scene in Wedding. It is uncomprosingly dark, with seating that cares more about weirding you out than making you comfy. This is the setting for that night you thought was only possible in arthouse movies. The best time to experience Studio8's full atmospheric potential is on Sundays - that's when you can share stories and smokes with up-and-coming musicians after their live set.
You might be called a traitor by your German friends, but it'll be worth it. This small bar has a menu to match any of the big Berlin breweries - and only a few of their bottled beers line one wall from top to bottom. Belgian beers are often small but strong, and there's something for all tastes: bitter, fruity, sweet and wheaty, or dark and earthy. If you think you don't like beer, get ready to be won over.
Make sure you have a map when you're trying to find this bar. Clue: it's tucked away down a narrow street under the arches of the S-Bahn bridge. Once found, be prepared for an unexpectedly long night. The low lighting and amazing selection of beers and spirits is pretty persuasive. But the real temptation comes with the autumn and winter-time live music nights. In the tiny backroom kitted out with a piano, it's all too easy to become the party-starter by grabbing a stranger and swinging them around to French chansons.
By day you'll be fed with hearty vegetarian food, and by night you'll be sucked into the tiny room next door. Don't try and swing any cats here. Having said that, this bathroom-sized bar is so intimate that all it takes is one person to start bobbing their head to get the rest of the drinkers on their feet (tried and tested). The music will help with that too, being a good mix of cool and kitsch. Want to make it a long night? Emma Pea is perfect for kicking off or winding down, as it's smack in the middle of RAW Gelände, a beloved run-down colony of clubs and bars. If you're looking to explore this area a bit more, tag along on our Pub Crawl.
The moral of the story is that you will find bars just about anywhere in Berlin. And the better news is that they just keep opening. Pretend that you're at least twice as curious as you normally are and you won't have any trouble finding them. Happy seeking!