• 10.-12. October 2022
  • Exhibition Centre Berlin

21 July 2022, by Peter Eichhorn

In the Middle of Nowhere… drinking a Negroni



Bars in the middle of nowhere – anything but provincial. 

 

© Charles Bar

Far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities and the metropolitan bar scene there are many bars to be discovered that are well worth a visit. Peter Eichhorn has taken a closer look for us across Germany. 

 

The bar culture in Germany is great – but – it is not the same everywhere. In the metropolises we find diverse concepts, varied cocktails and bars for every mood and expectation. Dive Bar, high- volume bar, themed bars, mixology temples – catering to just about every taste. Hotel bars have also developed very well over the past few years and often offer a sophisticated bar concept for demanding locals plus tourists on top, rather than just a boring spritz and long drink lobby bar. Themed bars capture clients’ imagination with tiki bar formats, 3-component cocktails, no waste concepts or they excel at technically advanced processes using ultrasound, sous vide and rotary evaporators. The bar landscape in big cities is all about high-end bars, up-market drinks and demanding customers.

 

Bars in the middle of nowhere

But let’s not forget the efforts taken by those fantastic representatives of bar culture running bars in lonely spots ‘in the sticks’ that they deliberately chose outside of big cities. Places where there are no extended bartender networks and where even industry representatives only show up once in a while. For product presentations and masterclasses the big cities with their beacon effect rank top of the list. Commercial success under completely different circumstances, however, calls not only for creativity but also for special attention to the concept. We would like to introduce you to some of the bars that meet these high requirements and so we went and spoke to the people running them across Germany. 

© Charles Bar

“Charles Bar” in the Luther Town of Wittenberg

Since 2014 Martin Kramer has run the Charles Bar at the Luther Town of Wittenberg. This town in Saxony-Anhalt has 45,000 inhabitants. He beams with optimism when looking back at the bar’s development since opening in 2014. His thoughts also encourage those running bars in smaller towns: “I think particularly the early phase of a bar – that’s linked to a whole host of imponderables – is far easier to manage in small town than a metropolis. Basically, you’re quickly known in a small town so marketing activities play a subordinate role. Since opening the bar we’ve not even spent € 1,000 on advertising. Likewise, you stand a good chance of quickly building your customerbase. There are no constant comings and goings. What plays an important role for me personally now is that the days here ‘in the village’ have an end. After 2 am, nothing much goes on – a great asset in terms of family life”. 

The downside

He also mentions the difficult moments that should not be neglected. “Though you also have to accept that big financial leaps are of course not possible due to the small potential customerbase available. At the end of the day, takings are enough to pay your little team, finance your own life and sometimes there’s a bit of money leftover – that’s it. Sure, the rent is lower but the number of customers is, too. A bottle of gin costs as much as it does in Munich. It tends to be even more expensive since the industry rarely stops over or not at all, and bulk discounts don’t apply because of our low buying volume. So pricing is difficult. What can I expect customers to pay? It’s important for us to be accessible for everyone in town rather than only addressing an elite circle. We want to make hopefully good drinks affordable for each and everyone.

“Another challenge is recruitment. Finding an ambitious bartender is nigh on impossible. I ‘hit the jackpot’ with Alec, who’s been on the team for a year now. This allows me to better look after service and my customers but also my family. Apart from this, it is, of course, a good feeling to see the bar grow constantly, welcoming many regulars to the bar for over eight years now. We started with just under 50 different spirits and have – after eight years – now arrived at over 400 different spirits that are served on a regular basis. We’ve never invested ‘big bucks’ but still now have a really nice bar that’s known beyond the city limits.”

 

“Haus Zauberflöte” in Offenburg

In Germany’s southwest Willi Schöllmann put the town of Offenburg with its population of just 60,000 on the bar map. After opening “Schoellmanns Bar & Küche” he added “Haus Zauberflöte” with a well-thought-out bar concept. Summing up Schöllmann says: “Being seen and taken seriously is far more difficult outside a metropolis. Customers are less keen to experiment. Key here is to build confidence over a long period of time to bring your own creativity to bear.  It’s essential to keep the workplace attractive for interesting and good staff in the long term so you can keep up with the metropolises. Not just in monetary terms – rather in terms of the environment, appreciation and togetherness.” Schöllmann also wants to underline the positive effects: “Bars outside the metropolises usually have a certain unique selling point. If you hold out long enough and build trust in the region, you’re usually the first port of call. This means you succeed in building an excellent network which can then open up a multitude of new opportunities, variety and exchange. It’s great when you succeed in doing this.”



© Ulrich Siefert

© Jigal Fichtner

“The Old Jacob” in Bonn

In Bonn Sembo Amirpour recently ensured Germany’s former seat of government is no longer associated with its “capital without any notable nightlife” sobriquet. His bar “The Old Jacob” shows Bonn locals that the 1990s are finally over and cocktails are more than a Flying Kangaroo and Cherry Lady. He looks back on six eventful years: “Regardless of whether you want to act as a pioneer or not – it takes courage and a little insanity. But it also takes perseverance and creativity to playfully introduce people to this type of culture. You have to make other people happy with a friendly smile – and then it makes no difference whether you’re in London, Paris or Bonn. Where we started 6 years ago and where we are now are two completely different worlds. It makes me so proud to see the great bar people who have worked with us and continue to do so. Bonn was thirsty for this kind of bar and we do our best to serve cold drinks every day, in a relaxed atmosphere.”

 

“Spirit of India” in Bad Salzuflen

The Teutoburg Forest is not only home to the Hermanns Monument, but also the Hotel Lippischer Hof with the “Spirit of India” bar by Christian Steffen. This Kneipp spa town with 55,000 inhabitants offers additional “liquid wellness” at the bar. After 20 years of bar experience, Steffen also looks at current developments: “The biggest challenges at the moment are the lack of staff and the sharp increase in the cost of goods, as well as rising energy costs. The shortage of staff, in particular, is forcing us to take a new approach. After 20 years, we’re now closing on Sundays for the first time, and for some time now we’ve been doing without food service, and we’re now even turning down events we can’t offer at reasonable prices. We want satisfied staff and so, in addition to good pay, we have to provide enough free time and quality of life. We’re now recruiting staff internationally, which is certainly not usual for a location like Bad Salzuflen. In September, a new bartender from India will start working for us. We try to pass on the price increases caused by the war in Ukraine only minimally to our customers through careful budgeting. At least we can maintain our quality and former employees find their way back to us.”  

© Das Schwarze Schaf

 

“Das Schwarze Schaf” in Bamberg

In Bamberg, Upper Franconia, Sven Goller is one of the pioneers of bar culture in this famous beer town. With his bar “Das Schwarze Schaf” (The Black Sheep), he has had a decisive impact on Bamberg and can now confidently describe the town as the “largest of the small bar metropolises” – because other bars are now also helping to advance Bamberg’s cocktail aspirations and, as a result, its range and diversity. Goller looks back on an exciting decade: “Ten years ago there was no established bar scene here. Back then, we first had to show the people of Bamberg that a cocktail is not served in a half-litre glass and drinks can be made with high-quality ingredients rather than juices from concentrate. It certainly helped us to take people by the hand and say, when they ordered something like ‘Sex on the Beach’, that unfortunately we can’t serve this drink due to a lack of ingredients, but that we can offer a vodka-based alternative, for instance with freshly squeezed lemon juice, homemade blueberry syrup and a pinch of elderflower.”

Which bar concept is suitable for small towns?

“After 10 years of ‘Schaf’ this town is now also ready for concept bars. Fortunately, Bamberg has also had a tiki bar for several years now, the 'Kawenzmann'. However, I would advise anyone in a smaller town without a cocktail bar scene to start with a ‘non-concept’ bar first, which attracts lots of people, but also shows its own quality standards. At the same time, in a small town you may be lagging behind the trend, but you are not so dependent on it and on international bar tourism either” says Sven Goller. “If you do a proper job, you can expect a very high percentage of regulars in return, a fact that we noticed primarily in Covid times. We have an incredibly loyal customerbase and have come out of the winter lockdown months stronger for it. The biggest hurdle is definitely finding good bar staff and then keeping them. Especially as a bartender, I can of course understand the lure of the big city or abroad. We try to counter this and encourage people to stay with us with Bamberg’s quality of life and our excellent working environment.”

 

It started with a students’ bar …

With success, you can become bolder and act more consistently, as Goller explains: “We started as a students’ bar, and in the beginning we thrived on very young people, beer and long drinks. Now 90% of our drink orders are mixed drinks. We even got rid of our draught beer in Bamberg, the beer capital, and only sell small beers in 0.33-litre bottles. Actually an outrage in Bamberg!

Our customers have grown and grown up with us and we currently attract a wonderfully mixed crowd that ranges from students to fellow restaurateurs, Bamberg locals to tourists. Always proving a real boost have been awards and winning competitions. The chance to swap ideas at competitions has always helped my team and me, and as a bar we’ve seen this a lot since 2017 (Editor’s note: Sven Goller has won the World Class Germany Competition). Turnover has increasingly been generated by cocktails and the bar’s ‘catchment area’ has also grown. More and more people from the surrounding area from Nuremberg, Erlangen, Bayreuth or Würzburg come to our bar. As a city of beer and bread, Bamberg has always been a region of pleasure. In the meantime, it is now richer in culinary terms with good drinks served on ice.”

 

Cheers to the provinces!

Opportunities and challenges. It is great to have committed bartenders who also accept these challenges outside of metropolitan regions. They prove it is working. And there are now more of these pioneers that are well worth discovering and supporting. As a customer, of course, but also as a spirits provider who still has a heart for on-trade sales.  

 

Charles Bar

06886 Lutherstadt Wittenberg

www.charlesbar.de

 

Schoellmanns Bar & Küche

77652 Offenburg

www.schoellmanns.de

 

Haus Zauberflöte

77652 Offenburg

www.haus-zauberfloete.de

 

The Old Jacob

53111 Bonn

http://theoldjacob.com/

 

Spirit of India

32105 Bad Salzuflen

www.hotel-lippischer-hof.de/en/gastronomy/spirit-of-india/

 

Das Schwarze Schaf

96049 Bamberg

www.dasschwarzeschafbamberg.de