If the Berlin bar scene is anything, it’s diverse (and thrillingly so). With cocktail dens and speakeasies rivalling Paris and London’s best, alongside a thriving neighbourhood pub and dive bar culture, it’s hard to go wrong when it comes to drinking before you sample Berlin’s storied clubs – or indeed head straight to the next bar along the Strasse.
To really get a sense of this city, you’ve got to spend some time drinking Pfeffi or peppermint schnapps with locals at one of the best bars in Berlin. But what should you know before you go? Many of the following stay open into the wee hours, and most get quite smoky as the night goes on. We say balance out the evening’s vices with a walk in the Grunewald, or air out your clothes the next day if need be. And as with most places in Berlin, don't expect to be able to pay with credit cards anywhere. So find your nearest ATM, and let the night begin.
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Best bars in Berlin
Barbie Deinhoff’s in Kreuzberg is a bar, alternative art gallery and indie rock venue that embodies the best of Berlin living. It doubles as a queer performance space, but most people come to its bright, casual rooms for the young, mixed crowd, the top-notch local DJs and the hilarious art adorning the walls. Two-for-one Tuesdays are popular, attracting a particularly skint Kreuzberg crowd.
Behind an actual green door (ring the bell for entry) you’ll find this popular cocktail bar, which attracts a solid crowd of upmarket regulars as well as booze tourists on the Berlin quality cocktail trail. Inside it’s quietly classy with a touch of kitsch. The impressive drinks menu showcases spirit-based mixology at its best and includes the house Green Door cocktail, a refreshing mix of champagne, lemon, sugar and mint.
This long-running cocktail bar is an oasis of fine drink in the rather sparsely served Prenzlauer Berg. It follows the classic speakeasy model: enter via an unmarked door and find yourself in rooms draped in red velvet. Settle back on the chesterfield sofas and enjoy the fresh air of the no-smoking room – a relative rarity on Berlin’s bar scene. Try the Aviation, a paean to the classier days of air travel: a florid mix of gin, violet, maraschino and lemon. A grizzled portrait of playwright Samuel Beckett – not averse to a drink himself – keeps watch over proceedings.
This is a proper German pub: nine beers on tap, bizarre house schnapps – tiramisu liqueur, anyone? – and dirt-cheap prices for the area. If you get tipsy, there are plenty of Schmalz-based (lard) treats to bring you back to earth. Come early for a massive plate of Wiener Schnitzel or sausage, and stay until late.
The drinks are standard fare, the line can be long, and there’s usually small cover fee of a few euros. Despite all this, Klunkerkranich earns a spot on our list because of one thing: the view. Perched on the top of the Neukölln Arcaden, this rooftop bar is the perfect place to watch the sun set on a warm summer night. From the Arcaden, take the lift up to the top floor and walk through the parking lots until you see the entrance.
Subtitled the ‘Institute for Advanced Drinking’, this tiny bar is a Berlin classic, thanks to its eccentric owner, Gregor Scholl, who is always present and smartly dressed in bow tie and waistcoat. There’s no menu: Scholl will ask which spirit you like and whether you want something ‘süss oder sauer’ (sweet or sour). Don’t waste his time (or talent) by asking for a mojito. Hugely atmospheric and with room for only 15, Rum Trader is best avoided if you’re on a budget.
This dive bar just off Kottbusser Damm is a particularly eccentric example of a Berlin Kneipe (pub), decorated as it is with dolls, old bicycles and instruments. It’s usually rammed all day, with rowdy characters propping up the bar or hammering away at the table football. Naturally, the beer is both cheap and plentiful. Rumour has it they haven’t closed since 1978.
A vast 1960s estate housing a majority of Turkish families is also home to Möbel Olfe, an always-packed alternative gay bar. Old chairs are glued to the ceiling in a cheeky nod to the space’s original function as a furniture shop. Thursdays really get pumping – you often see a foggy mass of bodies pressed against the windows on either side of the building – while Tuesdays are more for the ladies (though all are welcome on any night).
Down a backstreet off Torstrasse, this cosy bar is a favourite of Mitte media types. With a large horseshoe-shaped bar dominating the room, it’s bar stools or standing only, as this place seriously packs out with a slick, bespectacled clientele and the occasional actor or celebrity. The house wine is very good. Alternatively, try the Kölsch beer from Cologne – tradition dictates that it’s served in a tiny glass, constantly refilled by the barman until you abandon it half-full or lay a beer mat over the top.
From striking wooden panelling to Victorian curios dotted along the bar and an esoteric toilet, the attention to detail in the décor is reason enough to come here. The speciality is infused alcohols, shots of which are poured from a giant bottle at the bar or mixed into house cocktails, such as the Geist Russian, a rich blend of vodka infused with vanilla, cinnamon, Kahlúa and cream. The weekend brunch features huevos rancheros, chicken with waffles and fabulous Bloody Marys, but you’ll need to get there early.
More like a grandmother in Neukölln years, the long-running Mama mastered the reworked GDR look with its vintage living room furniture, intricate murals and a soundtrack that veers towards Balkan beats. The unpasteurised Svijany beer on tap is excellent.
It’s a bit of a mouthful, but this sultry boozer is named after Luis Buñuel’s absurdist masterpiece The Exterminating Angel, in which a group of bourgeois worthies find themselves inexplicably unable to leave a lavish dinner party. The smartly dressed waiting staff, glass-latticed ceiling and leather booths certainly evoke an old-world sensibility, but despite the glamour, it’s accessibly priced.
Whatever state you’re in (the more of a state, the better), you’ll fit in just fine at this boisterous den of glitter and furry walls. Roses draws customers of all sexual preferences, who mix and mingle and indulge in excessive drinking. No place for the uptight, always full, and very Kreuzberg-ish.
Café by day and bar by night, the nautically themed Ankerklause has firmly resisted the temptation to gentrify itself, despite its enviable location, with balcony seating hanging over the canal. The coffee is average, and you might want to avoid drinking too much of the house wine, Château Migraine, but the breakfasts and cakes are hearty and moreish. Give market days (Tuesdays and Fridays) a miss – it’s always rammed.
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