Drinks for at home: Berlin’s bars are delivering cocktails during the corona crisis
Credit: Bürkner Eck
The pandemic shut-down has been particularly hard on the bar industry: no patrons means no sales. Or does it? A number of Berlin establishments are making cocktails that their customers can come in and pick up. This means that they are at least able to earn a bit of money, and it also keeps them in contact with their customers – in fact, some bars are planning to turn this into a permanent service.
By Jan-Peter Wulf
Credit: Bürkner Eck
The Bürkner Eck bar in the Neukölln district of Berlin – like all bars in Berlin and throughout Germany – is closed for very obvious reasons. This does not mean that people have to do without their tasty drinks, however. Shortly after the government ordered the closure of all bars, Bürkner Eck opened the Hausbar, a web shop that they quickly created from scratch. Now they are using this shop to sell some two-dozen cocktails their customers can drink at home. Once customers have placed their order and paid for their drinks, these cocktails are poured into small, 100-ml bottles or large, half-litre bottles – for maximum enjoyment – and sold either through the bar window or delivered straight to the customer's door by the bar's own bicycle courier: as the bar’s staff enjoy cycling, this gives them the chance to do at least a few hours of work. We decided to try out this service ourselves. On a Friday evening – what would normally be prime-time for going to a bar – we ordered a ‘Colonel's Punch’, with bourbon, grapefruit and apricot liqueur, and one of the bar’s specialities, the ‘Ridgewood’, with rye, dry vermouth, woodruff, maraschino and a splash of absinthe, to be delivered. The bell rings, and the barman – or rather delivery person – hands over (without contact, of course) an attractive, hand-printed paper bag bearing the message: ‘Keep a stiff upper lip’. Inside the bag: bottles containing our drinks, nicely chilled, so that they can enjoyed even without adding ice. Even so, we decided to order a small block of ice in a glass jar to ensure that everything looked just right. The paper bag also contained a zest of lemon for drink number one, chocolate crumbles for drink number two, and some popcorn to snack on. The service, which came into being overnight in response to a real emergency, is rendered with a professionalism and attention to detail that belies its ad hoc origins. Many food delivery firms could learn a thing or two from the way in which these drinks are presented. According to Katja Hiendlmayer, who runs the Bürkner Eck, positive feedback from their delivery customers is making them want to continue offering this service even after the current situation has passed. As Hiendlmayer puts it: ‘It’s become a nice supplement to our business.” And adding a digital shop really wasn't rocket science: “There are a lot of very good tools available that are easy to use.”
"Deluxe Bag" for at home
The Thelonious Bar is just a short distance away from the Bürkner Eck. The bar is run by Laura Marsueschke, who was chosen by ‘Falstaff’ magazine as ‘2019 bartender of the year’ in the women's category. Her bar is also unable to welcome customers at present, but she is not about to forgo the chance to supply them with mixed drinks. As it says on the website: “Now the drinks will come to you!” It’s that simple. Marsueschke offers a range of classics, including the ‘Gimlet’, the ‘Manhattan’, the ‘Negroni’ and – speciality of the house – the ‘Walnut Sour’ in various sizes. She even delivers gin and tonic packages with a variety of gins and fillers. She also continues to come up with special new things for her customers, such as an ‘Easter Bag’ with two ‘Espresso Martinis’ and two ‘Irish Punches’, and a ‘Deluxe Bag’ containing an ‘Old Cuban’ premix and a small bottle of champagne. Depending on the distance, she either walks, rides her bike or uses a car to make her deliveries. Although she does not generate too much money this way, she says that: “It keeps me busy – and it keeps people talking about the bar.” It also helps keep her mind off the financial worries that are naturally plaguing her and all of her colleagues in the city. As to whether she will continue offering mixed drinks to go or for delivery, she has yet to make a decision – she is certainly considering it though.
They must be classified as "unpackaged goods"
Credit: Stairs Bar
Time to head to the western part of Berlin: it has now been three years since Konstantin Hennrich opened the Stairs Bar in Wilmersdorf, and he, too, has decided to run a pick-up and delivery service for cocktails until he is finally able to reopen his bar. The new service is off to a good start: “The online shop has been well received, and it’s working without a hitch,” reports Hennrich. Over the course of the first week in which the shop was in operation, he was able to make up for some 40 percent of a normal week’s take. Demand declined somewhat thereafter, but Hennrich had expected as much: “We see this more as a supplemental service. It helps keep us creative, it means that we can brighten up our patrons’ day with a cocktail even during these stressful times, and it’s also good marketing.” Hennrich notes that they must follow an overriding rule: drinks have to be made fresh on demand. “You simply cannot prepare cocktails until you have an order in hand.” Otherwise, you are officially a beverage producer, which means that you must apply standard labels to the bottles to ensure traceability, save samples and keep a record of every batch produced. If you do not mix the drinks or fill the bottles until an order has been received, on the other hand, and do not seal the bottles, these are classified as ‘unpackaged goods’. “As if your customer had ordered a cocktail to-go at the bar,” says Hennrich. Does he plan to continue operating his online shop once the corona crisis has passed? “Yes, but with different products than at present,” he reveals. Whereas the focus right now is on classic drinks – ‘Whisky Sours’, ‘Daiquiris’ and even a non-alcoholic ‘Negroni’, to name but a few examples, all served in half-litre containers – in future he would like to sell a range of exclusive cocktails that are not available in the bar.
Offering a menu of "food and drink" pairings for delivery
Credit: Pawn Dot Com
In closing we turn our attention to a bar in Berlin Mitte: Pawn Dot Com. It was only this past autumn that it opened its doors for the first time on Torstraße, a street known for its good food. The bar’s core competence lies in its innovative ‘drink and drink’ pairings: every cocktail the bar serves comes with a small side shot that supplements the primary drink. Customers may either drink it straight or, after taking their first drink from the large glass, pour it into the cocktail as ‘added spice’. Unfortunately none of these choices is possible right now, but the bar is instead offering a menu featuring various ‘food and drink’ pairings that can be ordered to go. For example, the ‘Crazy Drunken Chick’, which features a chicken thigh baked in paprika and sour milk with spinach kimchi and rice – paired with a drink combining vodka, sour mix, ginger beer, bitters and a gherkin. Or the ‘David Hasselhoff’, a salad with the restaurant’s own cured salmon, beef meatballs in a tomato-caper sauce, salsa and sourdough bread in combination with a drink based on pisco, cherry liqueur, crème de violette, lemon and cherry blossom. While the beverages are prepared fresh by the bar’s own team, the culinary offerings are the creations of ‘Gebrüder Eggert’, two brothers whose food events and catering have made them a name far beyond Berlin. According to the bar’s operator Dustin Render, who in addition to ‘Pawn Dot Com’ is also owner of the ‘Sharlie Cheen’ and ‘Emi Wynehouse’ bars on Torstraße, the original plan was to organise joint summer events in the attractive courtyard. While he still doesn't know if this tasty service will be anything more than a temporary offering, he is certain that his bar and its graffiti-emblazoned interior reminiscent of a tram tunnel will soon be offering culinary pairings from the Eggert brothers – as soon as he's able to reopen to his customers.
A bar is a bar is a bar
The day when bars will be allowed to reopen their doors – already being called ‘Reboot Day’ throughout the sector – is eagerly awaited by bars and their customers alike. Because no matter how impressive it has been to witness the speed with which these entrepreneurs from Berlin’s bar scene have converted their businesses to pick-up and delivery in response to the crisis, this business simply cannot replace a visit to their bars, either financially or emotionally. A drink is more than just a drink – it is also the atmosphere in which it is imbibed, a mood and a feeling. It is certainly nice at home, but the best place for true overall enjoyment is a bar – and it always will be.
10 Berlin bars that are currently delivering cocktails (a selection):