Think Munich drinking, think Oktoberfest. No Bavarian visit is complete without a sizeable serving of beer, best sampled direct from the barrel at the legendary Augustiner Keller or, in summer, at the jovial Chinesischer Turm, a vast, suitably merry, beer garden which seats 5,000 people at the heart of the Englischer Garten.
If you’re yearning for life beyond ale, fear not! With a growing German gin scene and several experimental mixologists in town, Munich’s bright new nightspots include the award-winning Zephyr, with stunning fresh and fragrant concoctions, and the laid-back Bar Garçon, a klein aber fein newcomer near the Viktualienmarkt.
For drinks and culture combined, the Goldene Bar at Haus der Kunst and Lenbachhaus Ella are perfect spots for a post-exhibition Aperol, while the community-minded Glockenbach Werkstatt runs many music events, from hip hop open mic to jazz.
The best bars in Munich
The Goldene Bar at the Haus der Kunst is lovely inside and out, but particularly glorious in summer, when the terrace enjoys truly golden sundowner rays, as well as the occasional eye candy surfer heading up from the Eisbachwelle for a beer. Inside, the gilded wall maps are 1937 originals showing the origins of wines, spirits, and tobacco around the world. Shimmering beneath the gorgeous modernist chandelier, they lend the interior a luxurious atmosphere, but it’s the relaxed, mixed crowd that makes the Goldene Bar such a favorite. Chief bartender Klaus St. Rainer is a particular fan of gin, which you’ll find in the signature house cocktail (Tanqueray, Perrier Jouet, lemon, sugar, gin and tonic foam). A tip: Every first Thursday of the month, the adjoining Haus der Kunst art museum has free entry from 6 to 10pm, so you can enjoy some culture with your cocktails.
In case you haven’t heard, German gin is a big deal these days, and Zephyr has a top selection, from local The Duke to Monkey 47 Schwarzwald, which boasts a whopping 47 infused botanicals from Germany’s Black Forest. With a deliberately stripped-back décor, this hit locale near the Isar saves the art for the cocktails themselves—and for the stunning cornucopia of fresh ingredients behind the bar. The menu changes regularly but never fails to delight with such fragrant concoctions as the Zephyr Ice Tea No.6 (Blended scotch, rum, dark berries, peppermint, and cloves). It’s like a beautiful, trippy botanical garden, and nearly always packed. (If things get too busy, take a breather at the Flushing Meadows hotel around the corner; it has one of Munich’s best rooftop bars, with great views over the Maximiliankirche towards the Alps, if somewhat patchy service.)
It’s strictly stirred, not shaken at Bar Garçon, a neat little newcomer between Gärtnerplatz und Viktualienmarkt. Proprietor Mario trained as an architect and brought his creative flair to much of the bar’s pared down interior, including building the marble and wood bar. The bar is small, with predominantly bar stooling (though snag the coveted window seat if you can) and a great easy-going atmosphere. The tunes are disco and soul, and the menu is leather bound and laid-back, with tasty variations on classics like the Negroni or Manhattan and homemade syrups and juices. There’s a good selection of open wines, too. Note that true to many smaller German establishments, Bar Garçon is cash only.
It’s all about Tennessee charms at Zum Wolf, a much-loved little bar in the heart of Glockenbach—one of Munich’s prettiest neighborhoods and a popular gay and lesbian district. With pine-green walls and framed photos of rhythm and blues luminaries, it’s a cozy, unassuming place, where Etta James and an impressive whiskey list wind everything down to a smooth Dixieland kind of rhythm. The cocktail menu includes dependable classics as well as in-house creations like the Kentucky Lightning, a dusky, golden delight of wood-infused Bulleit Bourbon, Laird’s Applejack, honey and bitters. As you might expect, this place is particularly cherished by homesick American expats. If you get hungry, partner venue Little Wolf diner is directly across the road and promises hearty soul food from pastrami to jambalaya with giant shrimp.
Charles Schumann is an institution not only in Munich, but in all of Germany. By far the country’s most famous bartender, the suave 76-year old has also modelled for Comme des Garçons and Yamamoto, has produced cult tomes on mixology, and is the star of a new documentary. His Odeonsplatz establishment has a top location right by the Hofgarten and includes the main Schumann’s Bar (which transitions from restaurant to drinking hotspot around midnight) as well as the smaller “Camparino” next door, and the intimate “Fleurs du Mal” on the first floor. Each promises an excellent lineup of classic cocktails and an interior as smooth and elegant as the eponymous owner, from the wood finishes to the meticulously placed bottles of Campari. A bar renowned as an old-school journalist and artist hub, Schumann’s is packed with everyone from seasoned locals to schickimicki (read: snobby) party groups. Arrive earlier rather than later, or book a table so you can segue seamlessly from dinner to dirty Martini. Never want to leave? The illustrated Schumann’s Bar book includes some 500 cocktail recipes for you to bring Schumann’s style home.
This new addition to the Munich bar scene has won a quick crowd of loyalists with its hip hop beats, casual yet connoisseur crew, and top quality cocktails. Co-proprietor André started out at the acclaimed Zephyr Bar and has kept up the experimental mixology, bringing his know-how to such playful, sweet-and-kick new combos as the Farang Mule (Tanqueray, coriander, lemongrass, chilli, ginger, lime, and pineapple foam). The interior channels 1980s Miami and come rain, shine, or thick winter snow, the aesthetic is pure sun and saturation: tropical plants, striped paper straws, and drinks as orange and pink as a ride down Ocean Drive.
If you fancy combining drinks with some live music or provocative ideas, check out the program at Glockenbach Werkstatt, an exemplary community centre, crèche, and kindergarten by day and one of the most interesting Munich hot spots by night. The café and bar space hosts events almost every evening, from poetry slams to blues nights to round tables on gender marketing. Don’t expect fancy cocktails here—this is more a no frills and big smiles kneipe (pub) vibe. In good weather, the Glockenbach’s beer garden is also open, a relaxed city refuge from 5pm to 10pm. If you happen to be in Munich for a longer stretch, check out the Glockenbach’s great program of courses, from African drumming to DIY bike care.
In Munich, it’s only right that at least one beer garden makes the bar list. From May to September, the Chinesischer Turm in the heart of the Englischer Garten is one of the city’s most jovial and scenic. With space for up to 7,000 guests around its impressive 18th century wooden pagoda, it’s one of Munich’s three biggest beer gardens, with no shortage of dirndl and lederhosen-clad locals to kick back and drink with at the communal benches and tables. It’s entirely self-service here, with hearty Bavarian dishes to accompany your beer, including Stecklerfisch (grilled fish on a stick) and Schweinshaxn (roasted pork knuckle). Take a walk up to the neo-Classical Monopteros (a small Greek temple open to the public) nearby for great sunset views.
“Ella” was the pet name Wassily Kandinsky gave to his friend and fellow artist, Gabriele Münter, and this stylish ground-floor bar and restaurant in the new wing of the Lenbachhaus Musuem is the perfect spot for a pre- or post-Expressionism tipple. Once you’ve ticked off the excellent Blaue Reiter collection upstairs, kick back with a spritz at the luminous onyx bar or on the spacious terrace and enjoy top notch views onto Munich’s neo-classical Königsplatz. The Norman Foster designed space is all about light and warmth, with generous windows, blonde wood flooring and wall paintings by local artist Thomas Demand. While the museum’s collection focuses on German modernism, Ella looks south of the Alps with a focus on Italian wines and fresh twists on classic Italian dishes. It’s a great spot for weekend brunch, as well, open Saturday and Sunday from noon on.
Another Munich institution, the Augustiner Keller has been pouring foaming ales since 1812 and continues to win numerous awards for its fine Bavarian tradition and cuisine. There’s outdoor seating for 5,000 beneath the garden’s glorious chestnut trees, and plenty of warm interior rooms for colder days, including the atmospheric, vaulted-ceiling “keller.” The beer is stored in and served directly from giant wooden barrels and—Achtung!—is available in one-litre steins only. The noisy crowds can be a little daunting for first-timers, but just find a spot at one of the communal tables and you’ll soon be chinking glasses long into the night. Not sure what to order? Go with the Augustiner helles, a crisp, light lager and a classic Munich beer.