A bar in a restaurant: what is the secret to success?
Credit: Al Salam
‘Restaurant and bar’ – this designation has been given to numerous concepts in the catering trade. Yet it is a rare occasion when this designation is actually true – while the menu might well offer a few nice drinks, a properly curated bar is unlikely to be found. Slowly, however, that is beginning to change: more and more, restaurants and bars in these establishments are coming to be seen as equals. But what are the criteria for making this hybrid concept a success? Jan-Peter Wulf has been exploring Cologne and Berlin in search of an answer.
“You absolutely have to have a high-quality product” Mohammad Nazzal, ‘Al Salam’, Cologne
Quelle: Deutsche Barkeeper Union
Is the ‘Al Salam’ a pioneer in the ‘restaurant and bar’ category? Absolutely, according to Mohammad Nazzal: “We were one of the first ones to properly focus on cocktails in a restaurant.” The restaurant has been open since 1986, when Nazzal’s parents first opened it. Mohammad and his brother began working there as adolescents – eventually they took it over, and continue to run it today. When his parents asked him in the early 2000s if he would like to take on more responsibility, and if so in what area, he was quick to respond: “Yes – the bar!” He and his brother had already explored and become familiar with the city’s flourishing bar culture, and were especially impressed by ‘Shepheards’, which was then under the management of Attila Kiziltas and bar manager Mirko Gardelliano. “One encounter made a particular impression on me: Mirko handed me hundreds of pages of printouts with the new bar menu – just so that I would be able to understand what a bar menu can look like.” And that's how the first proper bar menu was written for ‘Al Salam’, where the only drinks that had been available in the past were along the lines of Campari with orange juice (better than nothing!). Speaking of juice: right from the start, fresh, home-made juices were used to make the drinks, most of which had an Oriental flair. As Nazzal says: “If you have a kitchen that makes everything fresh, you have to take advantage of that.” A decision was also made: if there is going to be a bar, then this bar should help out the kitchen as well. That's why, for example, whenever citrus fruit is pressed at the bar, they press fruit for their colleagues in the kitchen at the same time. Nazzal remembers the days before the Wacholder (juniper) craze: “We also had top-quality gin right from the start.”
Well-balanced drinks with a subtle aroma: drinks must also go with the cuisine
Quelle: Al Salam
“We are a restaurant with a bar, and not the other way around,” explains Nazzal, and his message is clear: Food comes first. The cocktails – which incorporate aromatic ingredients such as lavender infusions, maraschino cherry compote, rose blossoms, cardamom and saffron honey, to name but a few – are mixed in a way that ensures balanced and subtle creations which are suitable for being savoured with the meal itself. “And they are chosen to accompany meals even more frequently than wine. We like to offer our patrons recommendations about which drinks go best with which dishes,” explains Nazzal, who is also the First Chairperson of the North Rhine-Westphalia chapter of the Deutsche Barkeeper-Union (DBU) and actively involved in promoting the modernisation of this professional bartending association. Based on years of experience offering cocktails in a restaurant, what advice can he offer those in the restaurant trade who are interested in increasing their drinks offerings? “You absolutely have to have a high-quality product. As a restaurant, you need to offer even more reasons for people to choose you: Why should a customer decide to drink cocktails in your establishment? And your theme has to suit your restaurant. Oriental drinks are our top seller,” explains Nazzal. In fact, he recently sat down and reduced the drinks on offer by 50 percent to their core competencies. Even so, patrons can still request a classic cocktail and have it mixed for them personally – just like in any other good bar. “You have to have your own identity, and you must remain true to yourself.”
“You have to be an all-rounder and make sure that you are up to speed on aperitifs and digestifs” Andreas Andricopolous, Golvet Berlin
Quelle: Dennis Dorwarth
The bar in Berlin’s ‘Golvet’ restaurant on Potsdamer Platz has also remained true to its identity – drinks focusing on Aquavit have once again been available here since 3 September. Finally – as the Michelin-starred restaurant in the sky above Berlin had been closed for nearly six months on account of the coronavirus lockdown. Like many other establishments, the restaurant took advantage of the enforced break to make structural changes, setting up food pop-ups and a premium take-away service on the ground floor. The new chef, Jonas Zörner, took the reins from his predecessor Björn Swanson, while Andreas Andricopolous – who has been part of this ambitious restaurant and bar project since it first began three and a half years ago – has remained in charge of the bar. His bar had been located in the entrance area of the spacious establishment, but now it has been placed right in front of the large terrace – with a magnificent view of the Berlin skyline. “We had already planned this before the coronavirus,” he reported.
Bartenders at ‘Golvet’ also work for the restaurant
Quelle: 40 Seconds
Andricopolous is still working on creating the new menu, which he plans to introduce in October. Aperitif culture will have a major role to play here – while ‘Golvet’ patrons also drink cocktails with their multi-course meals, they are particularly popular before food has been served. “Many of the people who visit us really check us out first: they will take a seat at the bar, drink and order a little bite to eat, then reserve a table for their next visit,” reports Andricopolous, who says that working as a bartender in a restaurant offers more variety than working in a bar: “It’s much more important that you're an all-rounder. You have to work closely with the kitchen team, collaborating on developing new things. Sometimes we also swap out drinks or spirits on the menu with wine.” And more: “You also get to help in the restaurant – or at least that’s how we do it here. I know the menu inside and out, so I can recommend particular dishes and even help serve them.” That means that customers who have not yet visited the bar can get to know ‘their’ bartender for the evening – and maybe even sit at their bar for a drink later on. “A restaurant bartender certainly has to know a lot more about aperitifs and digestifs: cognac, vermouth, spirits and brandies all play a much bigger role here than they do in conventional bars.”
“Slices from the kitchen are used at the bar”: Jules Winnfield, Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro, Berlin
Quelle: Jan-Peter Wulf
Cocktails and vegetarian cuisine with a regional and seasonal slant – that is the special combination on offer at the ‘Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro’ in the Schöneberg district of Berlin. Jules Winnfield and Te An Nguyen opened their establishment at the corner of Goltzstraße and Pallasstraße – entrance to a charming area rich in culinary offerings – a little more than a year ago. They had previously run a club at Potsdamer Platz. The fact that their new business has two key components – food and beverages – has done more than simply allow them to reopen more quickly than most bars after the coronavirus lockdown. It has also helped them to adapt to the changing customer requirements that have accompanied the much-touted ‘new normal’. “We are currently focusing more on the food side. In the past, this was also a livelier area where things would run quite late into the evening, but people are simply not as relaxed right now, and many people just want to head home after their meal,” says Jules Winnfield. And he can understand that, as all the employees – including bartenders – wear masks, as required by law. This helps keep people safe, but it does nothing for establishing a relaxed atmosphere. This does not mean that cocktail culture in this colourfully designed cocktail bistro has become any less important, however: Drinks such as the ‘Marmelada’ with two different types of rum, Chinese Baiju, quince, coconut, honey and pumpkin seeds, or the ‘Bloody Thomas’ with tequila, pink pepper, lime, agave and red beet all testify to the mixological ambition that defines the efforts that were launched in collaboration with bartender Yvonne Rahm (Named Germany’s ‘World Class Bartender’ for 2018, she has since emigrated to Portugal). The kitchen and the bar also work hand in hand at the ‘Bonvivant’ – case in point: red beet: “Whenever there are slices remaining in the kitchen, they are puréed and filtered so that they can be employed in drinks,” says Winnfield. Any time that parsnips are left over from meal preparation, these are transformed into tasty chips that can be served with the drinks – yet another example of the establishment's zero-waste approach.
A special table for pairing food and drinks
Quelle: Jan-Peter Wulf
There is even a special digital table in which the ideal food-and-drink pairings are recorded. “Our menu changes from week to week, as we take a very seasonal approach. We use this table to set down which dishes and ingredients go best with particular drinks.” They also make a note if any particular mixtures are perhaps too sweet, sour or overpowering for a particular dish. And make the appropriate changes: “We've now made it through an entire year and all four seasons – time enough to get the hang of it,” says Winnfield with a laugh. In spite of strict hygiene requirements and a reduced number of seats, the creators of the “Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro” are not about to call it a day.