Berlin’s cocktail bar scene is as intriguing and diverse as the city itself. Expect everything from Weimar-inspired speakeasies to cosy Wohnzimmerbars that make you feel right at home.
Despite Berlin’s reputation for urban grit, it’s not all Späti beers in this city. Along with its sophisticated cocktail lounges and historical speakeasies, Wohnzimmerbars are beloved in Berlin for their unpretentious and welcoming vibe. These dark, cosy, candlelit bars usually feature mismatched vintage furniture and artfully faded wallpaper, and it is here where you’re just as likely to have your Negroni served in a jam jar as you are a cut-glass tumbler. The German capital’s best cocktail bars range from these homely watering holes to elegant rooftop bars – prost!
Buck and Breck
Bar, Cocktail Bar, Cocktails, $$$
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While Buck and Breck is tiny, it is among Europe’s best places to go for cocktails – if you can find it, that is. The speakeasy-style bar, previously rated the best in Germany and 16th best in the world, isn’t visible from the street; you’ll have to look for a discreetly labelled doorbell at the address, next to a police station, to buzz in. Inside, it has sleek black furnishings and a 14-seat communal, island-style table, one side of which is devoted to the mixologists who pour from unlabelled bottles identified only by coloured bands. Order from the bar’s signature menu, or have the bartenders design a drink for you. Don’t expect to instagram your drink, though – in true speakeasy fashion, no phones are allowed. The barstools fill up fast, so arrive right when it opens to make sure you can grab a seat.
Leave the pretension at the door when you walk into TiER; this low-lit cocktail joint isn’t one of those starched-collar cocktail lounges. Located on one end of Neukölln’s eclectic main drag of bars, Weserstraße, TiER – meaning ‘animal’ in German – is known in and out of Berlin for its extensive cocktail list. The margaritas and old fashioneds are particularly good, but the bartenders’ more inventive concoctions are well worth a try, too. Inside, expect Wohnzimmerbar vibes and a looping video of Bond villain Blofeld stroking his white cat. Smokers will also appreciate the large patio area. Top tip: If you need to wait for a table, head across the street to Ä (try pronouncing that) – it’s another Weserstraße gem.
Situated at the other end of Weserstraße, Geist im Glas is a much-loved and lively Neukölln watering hole where there’s no menu – just the receptive team of mixologists and some wickedly good house-made infusions. It’s also sehr Berlin, with well-worn vintage furniture and raw concrete walls adorned with black-and-white art. Boozy brunchers, be sure to make a repeat visit on the weekend, as it also serves up one of the city’s best brunches, with fluffy dulce de leche pancakes served with bourbon maple syrup and heaped plates of huevos rancheros. And yes, the breakfast cocktails – on the menu this time, and some served in pitchers – are just as delicious in the daylight as they are at night.
Although many of Berlin’s best cocktail bars are speakeasies, there’s no password necessary to enjoy views so gorgeous (featuring Berlin’s state opera building, the TV Tower and St Hedwig’s Cathedral) that they inspired a signature cocktail at this elegant rooftop bar. The ‘Touch the Sky’ is a blend of Belsazar rosé vermouth, fresh strawberries and champagne. If you’re not drinking, the home-made ginger lemonade is a tangy yet refreshing alternative. The Rooftop Terrace is the perfect place to visit in the summer after an afternoon of shopping on Friedrichstraße – just call ahead to make sure it’s not closed for a private event.
Cocktails at Mr Susan centre around a single ingredient | Courtesy of Mr Susan
At Mr Susan, light fittings take the shape of palm trees and peacocks, while blue-velvet and brass stools seat guests at a pink terrazzo-tiled bar. Opened in June 2018 by owner Susan Choi and bartenders Shawn Beck and Damien Guichard, this stylishly decorated Mitte newcomer, however, isn’t all about looks, with the dozen or so cocktails here expertly crafted and uniquely centred around a single ingredient. Take, for example, the well-balanced Sesame Cocktail with whiskey, apricot brandy and a few key drops of sesame oil. Mr Susan is the perfect place to pop into and refresh after a day of exploring the nearby Weinmeisterstraße shopping district, Monbijou Park and the popular Friedrichstadt-Palast performing arts venue.
Also dubbed the ‘Institute for Advanced Drinking’, Rum Trader truly is an institution. It is one of Berlin’s oldest speakeasies, and you’ll feel like you’re drinking in another era. Drinks in this dimly lit bar are served in vintage glasses, and the barman-owner dons a waistcoat to host his guests. He eschews a menu, preferring to talk to his guests to devise the perfect drink for their palates, and the results, largely rum-based (though he also has a great selection of gin), prove he knows what he’s doing. Although the bar’s been open since the ’70s, it still manages to fly under the radar. Top tip: You’ll want to dress smart for this speakeasy-style bar, and the owner caps seating at around 20 (it fills up quickly).
This unmarked speakeasy along one of hip Kreuzberg’s main streets throws it back to the Roaring Twenties with bold, inventive libations and burlesque evenings that have helped this cocktail joint become a well-known name in Berlin. Ranked among the world’s best bars in 2016, Prinzipal hasn’t rested on its laurels. The drinks on the tiny menu aren’t cheap – some of them are as much as €17 (£15) – but they’re a story in and of themselves. For example, concoctions include the Almost Virgin Ayahuasca (cachaça, guarana, bitters, aubergine, sage and lime) and Yin & Yang (Haiti rum, sweet potato, coffee, habanero and coconut).
Located in Schöneberg, which is known for being an LGBTQ hotspot with a bohemian past, Green Door’s a go-to for cocktail lovers in Berlin, and it’s not hard to see – or taste – why. This retro-kitsch joint (think blue-checked walls and red telephones) opened by playwright Fritz Müller-Scherz slings some of the best drinks the city’s bartenders can offer. If you can’t decide between the offerings on the expansive menu or among the monthly specials, the house drink – the eponymous Green Door – combines champagne, lemon and mint and is always an excellent choice.