We all know German beer culture is among the best in the world, but Düsseldorf and the Rhine region are a world apart. Have you heard of Altbier? It’s a type of beer brewed in Westphalia that is synonymous with Düsseldorf. You can’t visit and not drink Altbier at the “world’s longest bar”—the Altstadt (old city), just like you can’t go to Paris and not eat a baguette. Altbier tastes a bit like bacon, and is best served in teeny-tiny glasses (and refilled frequently).
Though the beer culture is strong here, the cocktail scene thrives as well. Between imbibing heavily in the regional beverage of choice, and the insane per-capita cocktail prowess of Düsseldorf bartenders, Düsseldorf is so much more than a community centered around requisite industry happy hours. The city’s nightlife, alongside a range of fantastic restaurants, is vibrant, comes with a strong beat, is open to newcomers, and is all the more fun for being a bit unexpected.
The best bars in Düsseldorf
Channeling a heavy ‘60s vibe, Elephant Bar is all wood paneling and decadent marble. Whether shaken or stirred, the drinks carry the signature of Dennis Lieske, who comes to Elephant Bar with a hand-crafted know-how after many years of experience on the Düsseldorf bar scene. A wide-ranging selection of gin cocktails which feature homemade ingredients right down to the simple syrups are the underrated additions to a menu heavy on the Sours and Mules. Another important aspect for Lieske and his team is the music, which is diverse in style; you may hear anything from hip hop to electro to soul to jazz, as long as it has a good beat. Needless to say, this high-energy vibe is a blast.
The vintage vibes of Squarebar’s interior—think dark wood accents, royal blue walls and a stately mirror to top it off—compliment the carefully hand-crafted cocktails stirred with homemade ingredients behind the bar. Squarebar is operated by a small team of bartenders who have a genuine passion for mixology—and who really know what they’re talking about. The menu is rotating and does creative re-imaginings of classic cocktails. The “Muse and Grace,” for example (with vanilla oolong in Junmai sake, with Noilly Pratt, fresh grapefruit, crème de menthe and Italian bergamot essence), makes for a delicious wintertime drink that also packs a punch.
For people who really love cocktails, Bar Alexander is the place to be in Düsseldorf. Rich mahogany, vintage light fixtures and a wall of spirits both exotic and classic punctuate this tiny space. If the Germans had a word for hygge, this would be the picture next to its definition in the dictionary. Situated in the hip Unterbilk district, the bar gets packed pretty early on, but the real action happens later: deep into the evening, the bartenders sometimes run a cocktail lottery, offering up dealer’s choice of five mini-cocktails from Bar Alexander’s extremely extensive menu. If you’re driving, the menu of non-alcoholic cocktails is equally mind-boggling. Not only that, they offer cocktail training for those looking to turn a passive hobby into something a little more active.
Beuys Bar, named after the contemporary German performance artist Joseph Beuys, has an expansive menu, ranging from pre-dinner and retro classic to tiki and post-dinner drinks. The interior features a striped wall, plush banquette seating and a cozy vibe, while the selection of spirits doesn’t leave anybody wanting. The bartenders here are no slouches: the experimental list of cocktails is there to be played with: try the “Finest Smash,” an award-winning mix of bourbon, chartreuse, mint, lemon and red wine—an unconventional but tasty combination. As for atmosphere, the place hosts its “Back to Basics” event—and old-school hip hop, soul and R&B night—and spontaneous events when the mood strikes. Beuys Bar really does live up to its zany, avant-garde namesake.
This elegant, high-end cocktail bar with speakeasy charm is situated near the Hauptbahnhof—wedged in between the unlikeliest neighbors: an erotic shop and a gambling hall. If you have a short stopover by train in Düsseldorf, it’s easily accessible from the train station for a quick sip. Inside, the lighting is as moody as it gets, and behind the bar a very Instagrammable neon nameplate features prominently. The comprehensive cocktail list packs a punch—the drinks are finely crafted with high-quality spirits, so even if you imbibe slightly more than you should, the morning after won’t be so bad.
Brauerei Ferdinand Schumacher is home to the oldest Altbier in Düsseldorf, the Schumacher Alt; it’s been brewed according to family tradition for more than 175 years. The special malt mixture is what creates the signature amber color and fine bitterness of the Altbier—what locals call the best beer in the world, and the most popular item on the menu for tourists and local alike. The brewhouse is designed in the traditional German style and looks like something out of the 1800s. Try some traditional German brewhouse food—the fare is solid, and necessary to soak up all that beer.
Pardo Bar may seem an unlikely addition to a list of the best bars in Düsseldorf, as the bar is actually part of Düsseldorf’s K21 contemporary art museum—but that’s all the more reason to pay a visit. Pardo Bar is housed in a beautiful space, with high ceilings, lots of light, huge mirrors and bold colored walls, making it an appetizing place to spend a leisurely Saturday. There’s a great selection of beers and mixed drinks, and a lovely outdoor space for when the weather is nice. (If day drinking isn’t your speed, you can also enjoy a good cup of coffee and a snack there during the day.)
Some people call Düsseldorf’s Altstadt the “longest bar in the world,” thanks to the hundreds of bars, restaurants and beer houses that line the street. Some people also say that Zum Uerige is home to the world’s best Altbier. In fact, the world champion beer sommelier has proclaimed Zum Uerige’s Altbier to be the best German regional beer, which is no small feat. It’s sad to smell like caramel with a hint of cocoa and oranges, but all you need to know is that it’s delicious and distinctive. Go to Zum Uerige for the beer, but stay for the Rheinish specialty snacks and the traditional German brewhouse atmosphere. Tip: when you’re done, put your coaster on top of your beer glass to get the server’s attention.
At Bar Alexandra—the hip younger sister of Bar Alexander in the Altstadt—you might have to wait a while for a table, but once you’re seated you’ll understand why. A sleek, modern, decadent interior featuring red walls, leather furnishings and dark accents complements the selection of premium spirits mixed in unexpected ways. The bar has scored awards for its barrel-aged cocktails—concoctions that are mixed and aged in a small barrel behind the bar, like Negronis and Old Fashioneds. If you’re not looking for anything fancy, it’s a lively place with great music and a fun atmosphere, especially on Wednesdays: to get over the mid-week slump, Bar Alexandra offers student days, with cocktail deals running for only five euros each for students.
“Zum Schiffchen” means “to the ship,” and this massive brew house is about the size of a ship—the restaurant can seat at least one hundred, if not more. Long communal tables, wood paneling and mahogany trim add to the feeling of being in the underbelly of a big liner. Zum Schiffchen is the oldest restaurant in Düsseldorf—it was first mentioned in the chronicles of 1628, and legend has it that Napoleon once patronized the place. These days, it’s mostly tourists and travel groups, but that shouldn’t deter you. With a big beer garden outside, treat yourself to the holy trinity—schnitzel, pork knuckle and Altbier—and embrace a historic German drinking experience.