Raising the spirit(s) in cocktail land

At the beginning of January, the film ‘Cocktail’ was on TV. Made in 1988, it has a young Tom Cruise behind the bar, proving that cocktails can not only taste great, but also look good – and I don’t mean Mr Cruise… He doesn’t really do it for me, not like a well-made cocktail does.

It seems that the TV station had a similar reason for showing the film as I have for writing this post. Why show these colourful drinks, served in all their glory in Caribbean beach bars, in the middle of the darkest time of the year? Because it lifts the mood, of course. Well, at least that’s the reason for my post. And the good news is that you don’t have to fly to the Caribbean to enjoy one of these delicious drinks. There are plenty of places in Bremen where you can find them.

Shake it, baby! Das Werkzeug des Barmixers: Der Shaker!

Shake it, baby! The barman’s most important tool – a cocktail shaker.

First off, I head for the Lemon Lounge on Am Wall. As I traipse through the ankle-high snow that has fallen in the last 36 hours, I feel more in a post-Christmas mood than in a sunny Caribbean one. But all that’s forgotten as soon as I enter the bar. “There’s the right cocktail for every occasion,” Mario Ippen, owner of the Lemon Lounge, explains. He and his team were celebrating a belated Christmas party only yesterday. “Obviously, no one really felt like drinking a chilled fruity cocktail on a Sunday afternoon when 15 centimetres of snow had just fallen,” he says, laughing. So instead, they enjoyed an Irish coffee: “The perfect drink for an afternoon like that.”

Gut eingerichtet und ausgestattet: Die Bar in der Lemon Lounge.

Well-equipped and fully stocked – the bar in the Lemon Lounge.

The drinks menu, which lists over 100 cocktails, is incredible. All of them are classics, listed by decade. After all, the history of cocktails goes back more than 200 years. The word ‘Cock-tail’ first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century, and in 1806 a newspaper article presented the definition of a cocktail. But the origins of the name remain a mystery to this day. There are some outlandish theories out there, you only have to take a look online…

The Lemon Lounge on Am Wall was established 14 years ago. Owner Mario Ippen was in the right place at the right time, so to speak. He had been mixing it up (both drinks and music) at the trendy Lemon Club in the Schnoor quarter. When he decided to quit, he came upon the premises on Am Wall by chance – and just had to grasp the opportunity.

Einmal "loungen", bitte. In der Lemon Lounge kann man allein ob des gemütlichen Ambientes ganz gut versacken - und dann kommen auch noch so leckere Getränke dazu.

Perfect for lounging. As well as serving the most delicious drinks, the Lemon Lounge is relaxed and friendly and simply a great place to go out.

Ippen places particular emphasis on style and atmosphere. “Our guests are always the focus of our attention,” he says. “We want them to have a good time, accompanied by excellent drinks.” So, quality and style are what set the Lemon Lounge apart, but the place also has another trick up its sleeve – barrel-aged cocktails. “We take a Manhattan mix, for example, and store it in oak barrels,” explains Ippen. During the lengthy ageing process, the mix combines even more and takes on the taste of the barrel, resulting in a totally new drink.

Barrel Aged Cocktail? Ja, nicht nur Whisky und Co. können in Fässern gelagert werden.

Barrel-aged cocktails? It’s not just spirits like whisky that can be aged in barrels.

Ippen regularly runs cocktail making courses, where participants learn all about mixing and the art of combining flavours.

Gut in Szene gesetzt - die Gin-Auswahl in der Lemon Lounge.

Just the tonic – the gin selection at the Lemon Lounge.

If I die, I hope I go to heaven – here

My next destination, two weeks later, is 1st Class Suicide, which has moved from its old venue on Auf den Häfen in the Viertel quarter to Friedrich-Ebert-Strasse in Neustadt. The snow is still thick on the ground, and I’m happy to shed my winter coat and warm up with a luscious whisky sour. The drinks menu at the 1st Class, as regulars affectionately call it, also lists over 100 cocktails. The venue is now about twice the size after the move to new premises, and it joins a growing number of pubs and bars in the Neustadt quarter. The 1st Class quickly got crowded, especially at weekends, in its old premises on Auf den Häfen. But the quality of the drinks is still the same, of course. They’re still devilishly good, and I take my time over a whisky sour that costs €5 during happy hour from 8pm to 9pm.

Größerer Raum, ansonsten ändert sich nichts: Das 1st Class Suicide überzeugt mit leckeren Mix-Getränken.

More space, same great drinks – cocktails at 1st Class Suicide are simply divine.

Muss nicht immer mit Alkohol sein: Auch der "Bora Bora" im 1st Class holt einen zum kleinen Ausflug in warme Gefilde ab.

The alcohol-free Bora Bora at 1st Class whisks you away to warmer climes.

More tips for great cocktails

I’ve been reliably informed that Enchilada on Schlachte Embankment and Blauer Fasan on Langenstrasse are also highly recommended when it comes to really good cocktails.

Enchilada opens at 5pm, and happy hour lasts a lot longer than an hour here – until 8pm! What’s more, prices for certain drinks are reduced from 10.30pm onwards. On Tuesdays, you can roll the dice to decide the price of your drink, which I think is a great idea. Especially if you’re not a high roller ;-)

If you prefer to stay close to the city centre, you should visit Blauer Fasan. This cocktail bar on Langenstrasse, which runs parallel to Am Brill, pleases the crowds with a menu full of classic drinks and its own creations. The bar also runs courses so you too can become an expert mixologist. Doors open from 7pm, Monday to Saturday.

Schützt das Getränk vorm Einschneien und macht gute Laune - das Cocktail-Accessoire schlechthin!

Prevents snow (!) from diluting your drink and lifts the mood – the perfect cocktail accessory!

Lost in the Bermuda Triangle

And then there’s the notorious Bermuda Triangle, and you don’t need to travel far to reach that either. In fact, for many residents of the Viertel quarter, it’s dangerously close. It’s all too easy to enjoy one or more cocktails and end up ‘shipwrecked’ in the Bermuda Triangle… The bars here serve a wide range of cocktails, giving the Bremen winter a touch of the Caribbean. If you’re on a budget, you can visit one happy hour after the other up to at least 10pm, as some of the venues have coordinated the timings with each other. You can find out more here.

Just a short hop from here towards the river is ChinChilla, another top cocktail venue. It can be found on Am Sielwall. With its style, atmosphere and excellent drinks, it tempts you to have just one drink more, although of course you were only going to stay for one…

As with so many things in life, mixing cocktails is a matter of opinion – Mario Ippen, for example, mentions several times that a ‘proper’ whisky sour is made with freshly pressed lemon juice. Anything else just isn’t right. Which is why I asked the owner of the Lemon Lounge for his recipe for a ‘proper’ and – more importantly – really good whisky sour. Here it is:

  • 6 cl Maker’s Mark bourbon whisky
  • 4 cl freshly pressed lemon juice
  • 2 cl cane sugar syrup
  • Shake all the ingredients and six ice cubes vigorously for about ten seconds. Then pour into a tumbler with ice or into a pre-chilled sour glass without ice.

It should end up looking something like this, and tastes great even if it’s snowing outside ;-)

Whisky Sour geht auch im Winter - der muss eh gekühlt serviert werden, damit er ordentlich durchwärmt ;-)

You can still enjoy a whisky sour in winter – it needs to be served chilled anyway so that it warms you up properly.

Und so sieht Whisky Sour dann aus, wenn man es kann...

And this is what it looks like if you know what you’re doing…

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