There’s certainly no shortage of pubs and bars in Geneva, from trendy rooftop hangouts to student theme pubs and elegant post-work wine bars. But finding a good cocktail at a decent price can be a trickier proposition. At first glance it may seem your only choice is to head for one of Geneva’s many five star hotels or flashy lakeside bars and resign yourself to emptying the contents of your wallet quicker than you can say Mai Tai. But thankfully, there is an alternative. Cocktail culture has crept up on the city in the past few years and if you look a little deeper and explore a little further, you’ll come across a clutch of Geneva bars offering artfully mixed cocktails in surroundings that are far more original and quirky than you might expect and for prices that, while not exactly cheap (this is Switzerland after all) are, at least, fair.
One of the best places for a cocktail in Geneva, the drinks in this small neighbourhood bar are a cut above the over-priced, sickly creations in some of the city’s flashier city-centre bars. Here, the cocktails are wonderfully imaginative, expertly mixed and will likely blow your head off – in a good way. The copious menu includes both classic cocktails and more inventive creations (aperol, chilli-pepper and kumquat is one) and if you’re picky enough to not find what you want on the list, the talented barmen will mix you up something original. Prices are reasonable too, so it’s no surprise this place gets stupidly busy sometimes.
Named after the mechanic who once owned this former garage, this funky bar tucked away in the residential Eaux-Vives district is hard to find but well-worth seeking out. Laid-back and friendly, it’s beloved by the locals for its retro atmosphere, great outdoor terrace and menu of Mediterranean-style tapas. It also boasts an extensive line-up of cocktails which, while not overly imaginative, are well presented and generously measured. Start here for an after-work drink and some nibbles before wandering next door to the L’Atelier Cocktail Club – together the two bars make for a great night out that’s a far cry from the usual tourist haunts.
Occupying a charming, world-go-by spot in the Old Town, this restaurant and bar is the sort of place you can go for one drink and end up staying for dinner, nibbling tapas over several glasses of wine or lingering into the small hours with a cocktail on the outdoor terrace. Cosy and inviting, the decor nods to the Mediterranean with warm, earthy tones, palm trees and ornate souk-style lanterns. The large, eclectic menu covers everything from burgers and salads to Moroccan tagines and tapas, and it’s generally palate pleasing and generously sized, if not exactly gourmet. While the food may not have you rushing back, the atmosphere and the central Old Town location probably will.
The younger sister of L’Atelier Cocktail Club in Eaux-Vives, this bar is easier to find, occupying a prime spot on the bar-heavy main road to Plainpalais. As such, it’s often pretty busy, but don’t let that put you off – it’s worth waiting to sample its 25-strong menu of imaginative cocktails. Flavours are fresh and inventive – with a particular bias towards Japanese whiskeys – and the presentation is a work of art. If you don’t see anything you fancy on the list, the friendly bar staff will happily mix you a one-off. Wannabe mixologists can find out more about the skill behind the drink by participating in one of the bar’s regular cocktail-making workshops.
The main reason to visit this rather slick bar is, as you might guess, its rooftop. Above a commercial building on Geneva’s posh Rue du Rhône (taking the lift up from the lobby feels like you’re going to a business meeting rather than embarking on a night out), this bar’s outdoor terrace sports a fantastic view over the city, lake and jet d’eau. Inside, it’s less remarkable – the contemporary decor is smart but characterless, but it attracts a steady stream of Geneva’s work-hard, party harder set nonetheless. They come for decent cocktails, a varied food menu (burgers, sushi and much in between) and regular DJ sets that continue into the small hours.
Big, brash and loud, there’s nothing subtle about this Cuba-inspired bar which imbues this prime spot in Plainpalais with a beach holiday feel. Inside the split-level bar, the decor is busy and bright – walls are strewn with graffiti and the bar is crammed with spirits, limes and novelty items. Outside there’s a big decked terrace covered with straw parasols which comes alive on a summer’s evening. The food can be a bit hit and miss – choose from a menu of burgers, tacos, salads and quesadillas, or nibble on tapas such as guacamole, calamari and mini fajitas – but it does a mean Mojito, and for the buzzy atmosphere and the location this place is a hit.
A vision in pink and purple, this bar within the trendy N’vY Hotel aims to bring a sprinkling of New York cool to Geneva’s less-than-salubrious Pâquis district. And as hotel bars go, the owners have done pretty well at making this a drinking destination in its own right. Pleasingly designed, there are different seating options dotted around the room – choose from a sofa, squishy beanbag or velvet armchair from which to sip your cocktail, expertly mixed by the knowledgeable bar staff. There’s an extensive menu available in the dining area, with a well-priced lunchtime dish of the day to draw in local businesspeople. Prices aren’t cheap, but that comes as standard for a swish Geneva watering hole.
If you don’t turn up in a good mood, a night out here will likely put you in one. Barbershop is a lively bar with a Cuban vibe and colourful, eclectic decor that is obviously the product of someone’s overactive imagination – Converse trainers and children’s blow-up swimming rings hanging from the ceiling, a cowboy boot filled with corks on the bar. The menu of burgers, steak tartar, club sandwiches and salads works for a quick lunch, but it’s best to come in the evenings when you’ve the time to sample the amusingly named cocktails. With L’Apothicaire Cocktail Club next door, you could easily while away a night out flitting between the two.
In keeping with Carouge’s Italianate style, from the outside this place looks like an old-fashioned rural inn, with pretty shutters and paintwork faded in the strong Italian sun – you’d expect to find an olive grove in the back garden. However inside it’s rather different, sporting a funky bar lit in neon colours and a basement venue, Le Box, which stages live music events and party nights. As such, it’s pretty multi-functional. Come after work for tapas and a cocktail on the leafy outdoor terrace, visit on weekends for a copious buffet-style brunch, or head to Le Box to catch anything from French chanson to improv nights and local rock bands.
This is the sort of place that makes you forget you’re in Geneva. A self-proclaimed speakeasy, it evokes the dirty glamour and clandestine excitement of prohibition-era America. Its 1920s shabby-chic style is a cross between your granny’s sitting room and a charity shop in Kensington – think vintage glasses, mismatched chairs, crystal vases and kitsch knick knacks including a ceramic bird in a cage. The cocktails are equally idiosyncratic. This isn’t a place to stick to mojitos and dacquiris; instead throw caution to the wind and plump for a Malice in Wonderland (oolong tea gin, champagne, licorice), or a Mata Hari and cherry amaretto sour. Tucked down a side street in the Quartier des Bains, it’s off the tourist trail, too.