Our author spent many years quenching her thirst for adventure as a travel blogger, and her adopted home town of Munich was somewhat relegated to a place of relaxation. This column gives her the chance to catch up on some of the things she missed. This time she searches for answers as to why she finds it difficult to go out alone in the evenings – something she does all the time when travelling.
Let's get one thing straight: I'm no night owl, but I do like bars. In New York I love those tiny jazz cellars in the Village; while in Paris, I fell in love with a cute winery situated on a side street just below Montmartre – and unfortunately never found it again. In Barcelona, I love the many different tapas bars, from where revellers stumble happily into the night after a few glasses of vermouth. In order to discover a city and all its facets, a detour into urban night life is needed: What are the city’s favourite tipples, and where are they imbibed? What is the general mood in and among the action, and do I feel good about myself – alone in a bar, in a strange city?
Zehn Minuten später erzählt der achtzigjährige Saxophonist eine Jazzanekdote aus vergangenen Südstaatenzeiten und ich trinke einen eiskalten Gin Tonic aus einem schmalen Longdrink-Glas.
When, in my home town of Munich, friends spontaneously cancel or no one is available for a drink, then Saturday night is spent on the sofa. I've never braved it alone here before. But that is something I want to change now. Above all else, I would love to find out where you can go out in Munich as a party of one and still have fun, and whether I will be the only one sat alone at the bar. As a way of closing the circle that started in New York, my first choice falls to the city’s cosiest jazz club.
Mister B's is just a stone's throw away from the Goetheplatz underground station. I enter the bar just after 9pm on a muggy, thundery summer's evening, while the jazz musicians are perched on a postage stamp-sized area in the shop window tuning in their instruments. The room really is tiny, and every available chair and bar stool is occupied. Mister B – full name Alex Best, the man of the house from Brooklyn – stands behind the counter beckoning me in. I suddenly feel overcome with shyness and have to fight the urge to turn on my heals and leave, but then he beckons again, the man in a fine-looking waistcoat. So I squeeze past the throngs of people until I find my spot in the doorway to the wardrobe. I watch as Mister B meanders through the rows taking drinks orders, while the beads of sweat are already forming in my neck.
Ten minutes later, the eighty-year-old saxophonist tells a jazz anecdote from a by-gone southern state era, and I drink an ice-cold gin and tonic from a narrow long drink glass. Everyone around me is fanning for air. All with a blissful smile on their lips. As the saxophonist's daughter strikes up “Summertime”, I lean against the door frame and take another sip.
I stay here for two hours, absorbing the jazz quartet and watching the audience order cocktails and peanuts. The demographic is both mixed and international, and at 32 I'm one of the younger ones in the crowd. Most speak English – Mister B uses a mixture of his native vernacular and German. I do not chat to anyone but that is fine by me, because we are all tuned into the music together, all quietly submerged in this musical ambience.
As I step outside and the cool night air collides with my hot cheeks, I am struck by the feeling that I have been somewhere completely different. This small jazz club, which offers classic cocktails and renounces the six well-known Munich beers, seems a little out of time to me. A mini-institution that, as I see it, is so important in times of thoroughly uninspiring bar concepts.
A few months back I wanted to enjoy a rooftop sunset, but the luxury bar was crowded. I had already waited for twenty minutes at the entrance to be allowed to take the elevator to the top, when the bouncer asked me if I was alone. I wondered if I should resort to telling a fib – that my friends were already waiting up there instead of honestly saying that I was alone. I opted for the white lie and got into the elevator. Once I reached the top, rave-like DJ music boomed out of the speakers, many guests just stared at me and the sun was already well-hidden behind a veil of clouds. I left after just five minutes and instead drove to a bar that has held a special place in my heart for years – a place that is also my chosen destination for this column.
Bar Centrale is Italy in pocket size. Every guest is greeted in Italian, the waiters behind the counter are just as spirited and talkative during the day as they are in the evening; you might even think that they were born just for this job. At this bar – which by day takes on the guise of a café and offers mouthwatering pasta dishes and salads – pretty much everything is special. The multi-coloured stone floor, reminiscent of the cool, eye-catching city villas during my last trip in Italy. The mini tiramisu in a cup. A “fair weather” open front, giving guests that outside feeling while seated inside. The grey-blue furniture from the 1960s to the back of the restaurant. Above all, however, it is the overwhelming absence of formality in what is a very mixed audience.
When I enter the bar during the early evening hours and order an Aperol Spritz at the counter, a beautiful woman sits at the table opposite, drinking a glass of white wine and smiling as her eyes traverse the pages of a book. She catches my eye and winks at me. Oh, il dolce far niente. I sit down on a bar stool along the wood-clad wall façade and take a sip.
Over the next hour and a half, I watch several men come in alone, drink an espresso at the counter and then leave, or who sit outside with a drink and enjoy the last rays of sunshine the day has to offer. One of them wears a traditional bavarian outfit including a hat and feather – he places the guitar on his back placed gently in the corner, opens the newspaper and proceeds to shut out everything around him. I listen to the Italian classics emanating from the speakers and chat to a couple. When they tell me about their upcoming adventure holiday, which will take them through the tiny country of Benin in West Africa, I tell them that I've also been there and I'm curious as to how they will find it. “We're almost always here at this time” they say. “We'll see each other again soon”.
To be honest, these two sentences by the couple I have just met are why I enjoy Bar Centrale so much. You barely notice when you are alone, because you are alone among many. And you will be sure to find solace among like-minded individuals home-sick for Italy.
For my last stop on this bar excursion, I make my way to the Glockenbachviertel district and pay a visit to Curtain Call, which opened in early 2019. At 11pm I stroll through the small bar covered in ultra stylish Art Deco chic, and take a seat at the short counter. Even as I cast my gaze and notice that I am the only unaccompanied person in the room, the young bartender hands me a glass of water and the menu. The main ingredient of many off-piste cocktails is Munich’s well-known Illusionist Gin, which shines turquoise and turns pale pink when mixed with tonic. The two inventors are the owners of the bar, who now enchant the regionally produced Gin in drinks like mine – the Celentano: Gin, red vermouth, Japanese plum liqueur, orange. I drink it slowly, and it tastes delicious.
In der Bar Centrale fällt kaum auf, wenn man alleine ist, denn man ist alleine unter vielen. Und man kennt sich, hier, im Zufluchtsort für alle mit Italienweh.
My vision drifts from the couple in the corner, their heads touching softly, over to the clique at the table in the middle of the room before stopping at the wall, where a lavishly painted curtain can be seen, which I learn was the work of stage painter to the Residenztheater (Residence Theatre), Katja Markel.
For the first time in my experiment, Curtain Call makes me feel like a lone wolf. A symbol, used in so much literature and so many films, for someone (typically a man) who deliberately remains solo, an individualist and loner who sips his whiskey in the back corner of a tavern.
I do not know if I'm beaming this lone wolf aura onto everyone else, but then I find myself in conversation with bartender Lukas, who always keeps a watchful eye on me in a most relaxed way: perhaps I would like another glass of water, or maybe a drink? I nod. And ask him if guests sometimes come here alone. He sits down for a moment and explains that it does happen every now and then. Some people sit here for a while, ordering a drink, but then later on they are usually joined by someone else. Far removed from the hustle and bustle, Curtain Call is all about taking the time to enjoy the moment – after all, that is something that works brilliantly on your own.
When I step onto the rain-soaked street at one in the morning, I call a taxi. The charming decadence of Curtain Call has rubbed off on me, and my eyelids start to feel heavy. I slide into the back seat and smile at how nervous my experiment had initially made me, and marvel at how easy it was to feel comfortable in three different bars. Perhaps this is not possible everywhere, but there is always a great choice on offer for solo travellers. And so, I allow these many positive experiences to envelop me, just like Munich’s night time charm out there.