The pub Alter Simpl in Maxvorstadt in Munich

Pubs in Munich

Drinking in the past

Some public houses are like time machines. We tell you about the bars, hostelries and cafés that still evoke the spirit of past decades.

1900: Künstlerhaus, focus: Munich lights up ...


What it used to be like: Opened in 1900 by Prince Regent Luitpold, the Künstlerhaus was a meeting place for the in-crowd to which Thomas Mann paid famous tribute in his novella "Gladius Dei": „… art blossoms, art rules, art waves its rose-encircled sceptre over the city, and smiles, yes: Munich lights up." The elite of all Munich's smart set met in the architecturally rather ornate neo-renaissance building: major artists such as Franz von Stuck and Franz von Lenbach held court here, the champagne flowed, people felt important.

What it's like today: The Künstlerhaus suffered heavy bombing damage in the Second World War, was rebuilt afterwards, but never managed to return to its former glory. Today, it mainly hosts receptions and dinners. But in the delightful interior courtyard, you can still imagine yourself in the glamorous age of the turn of the century.

What to drink here: Then: champagne, now: Aperol Spritz

1910: Alter Simpl, focus: drunken Bohemia


What it used to be like: While the already fusty lords of art were lauded at the Künstlerhaus, the young, wild Bohemian set gathered in the Simpl, a rustic ale-house in Schwabing. It was named after the satirical Munich magazine Simplicissimus, whose authors were also regular drinkers here: the strongman Ludwig Thoma, the detailed illustrator Th. Th. Heine, as well as the anarchist Erich Mühsam, and all manner of riff-raff from the shady underground. The beer haze regularly descended into rough brawls.

What it's like today: The interior design of the Simpl has been largely retained, or very sensitively and tastefully returned to close to its historical state. Today, of course, the avant-garde authors like Frank Wedekind have been replaced at the Simpl by industrious students from the nearby universities. The food is simple and good, as it always has been.

What to drink here: A Helles (lager) and an Obstler (fruit schnapps)

 

 

1920: Wirtshaus in der Au, focus: proletariat from around the Isar


What it used to be like: Schwabing was already chic in the 1920s, where artists met Bohemia – but the Au was the district of ordinary folk, workers, and artisans. One of their heroes – but also revered by the Schwabing artists – was Karl Valentin. The folk actor made legendary appearances at the Wirtshaus in der Au. At that time, it was an inn like many other in Munich: simple, beer-soaked floorboards, "Schweinernes" pork on the menu, and a dining room available to anyone without their own kitchen at home.

What it's like today: Because of its proximity to the Isar, the Au is today one of the city's most sought-after residential areas, and Karl Valentin's original clientèle, the ordinary folk, left a long time ago. But the Wirtshaus in der Au is still a rustic, genuine hostelry.

What to drink here: Dunkles (dark beer), the genuine original Munich beer

1930s: Goldene Bar, focus: gold-lacquered darkness


What it used to be like: Opened in 1937, the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst” (“House of German art”) was the biggest showcase building of National Socialist cultural policy. The inn, known today as the "Goldene Bar" was planned by the architect Paul Ludwig Troost as a space for artists' fairs, with a luxurious design reminiscent of upmarket hotels or an Atlantic steamship. The walls were designed by the artist Karl-Heinz Dallinger who was much-loved by the Nazis: He depicted all the world's major spirit cultivation areas on gold leaf. The idea was to demonstrate a cosmopolitan attitude, although Germany's wine-growing regions were of course placed at the centre.

What it's like today: The Bar's wall paintings have been retained, and the dark wood and leather interior décor add a touch of class. It's a truly sophisticated spot. And unlike the 1930s, the international crowd at the Haus der Kunst is truly cosmopolitan these days.

What to drink here: Riesling and owner Klaus St. Rainer's fancy drinks

 

1940s: Hofbräuhaus, focus: the founding of tourism in Munich


What it used to be like: Munich lay in ruins after the war. Even the Hofbräuhaus, the city's most famous hostelry, was almost completely destroyed. However the "Schwemme", the big beer hall, escaped largely unscathed and continued to be used. In 1949, the tourist information office published the "Munich 1949" brochure – marking the start of modern tourism in Munich. The Hofbräuhaus quickly developed as a hotspot for visitors from all over the world – and still is today.

What it's like today: The Hofbräuhaus is almost like Munich in miniature: such an original that it serves almost as a backdrop. And alongside the tourists, (grumpy) locals really do have their own tables

What to drink here: A "Mass" of beer. Just not from the earthenware pitchers. Those are reserved for the regulars.

1950s: Schwabinger Sieben, focus: Munich from the bottom


What it used to be like: A low, makeshift building that was erected in the first post-war years in the rear courtyard of a bombed house: for decades this was home to one of the city's most notorious bars – the Schwabinger 7. Dark, smoke-filled, disreputable It was the meeting place for everything that was alternative in Schwabing, such as the students involved in the 1962 "Schwabinger Krawallen" (Schwabing riots).

What it's like today: The Schwabinger 7 remains a constant in Munich. Reckless members of every generation find their way here. The general tone remains anything but friendly, the pub being an important counterpoint to Munich's in-crowd. The pub was forced to relocate to a neighbouring building a few years ago, but it retains its rough charm.

What to drink here: A "Goass" (beer with cola and schnapps)

1960s: Bei Mario, focus: Dolce vita in the Maxvorstadt


What it used to be like: There were Italian hostelries in the city before Mario Gargiulo. But they served a high-end clientèle. Mario brought pizza to Munich and served it to the masses, who from the mid-1960s were slowly but surely opening up to new culinary experiences. Going to "Bei Mario" in Maxvorstadt district was for many Munich residents their first encounter with the "dolce vita" of the southern Alps.

What it's like today: The interior design is largely still original dating back to the first years, with blue tiles evoking a gentle Mediterranean ambience. The dishes are simple but good, and the wines are affordable.

What to drink here: Chianti and Lambrusco.

 

1970s: Ruffini, focus: lefty Munich


What it used to be like: In 1970s lefty circles, grass-roots democrats felt the need to discuss everything. This mindset resulted in the Ruffini café and bar in Neuhausen district. A colourful group of students, communards and activists founded the café, with the shareholders getting to decide every issue.

What it's like today: The idealistic community spirit of Ruffini did not descend into the chaos the Conservatives would have loved to see. Rather, it became a melting pot of good taste. Its reputation for fantastic cake and wonderful coffee soon spread beyond the limits of Neuhausen – and remains intact today. The bar's ban on mobile phones also attracts a certain clientèle.

What to drink here: Cappuccino – or small wines

1980s: Deutsche Eiche, focus: the manor house


What it used to be like: The Deutsche Eiche is an institution in Munich, no, in the whole of Germany, if not the entire world. Founded over a hundred years ago, after 1945 the hostelry became an established hotspot in what was Munich's red light district at the Gärtnerplatz (square). It quickly also became the meeting point for Munich's gay scene. In the 1980s, Freddie Mercury and Rainer Werner Fassbinder were regulars here.

What it's like today: The current hosts saved the place from threatened demise in the 1990s in the wake of the Aids crisis. They resolutely extended the sauna, the "Männerbadehaus" (The Men Bathhouse). Today, it is one of the biggest sex games spots for men. Plus, the "Eiche" restaurant serves "plain" food in the best sense of the word.

What to drink here: Weissbier (wheat beer)

 

1990s: Schumann’s: the hothouse


What it used to be like: Schumann’s is Germany's most famous bar. Opened on the Maximilianstrasse in 1982, and soon becoming a legend under owner Charles Schumann, it is the epitome of a major bar: the clientèle is divided between VIPs and wannabees – and it's not income that decides status, but the goodwill of the patriarch Charles. In the 1990s in particular, Schumann’s was something of an intellectual hothouse, where German cultural classes reinvented themselves amid thick smoke and fuelled by cocktails and substances.

What it's like today: Relocated to the Odeonsplatz in 2003, Schumann’s lost some of its dark and daring charm, but this was compensated for by a sophisticated atmosphere and fine cuisine. It remains a true establishment today, and things are never dull here.

What to drink here: Negroni.

2000er: Favorit Bar: the eternal Berlin rivalry


What it used to be like: At the beginning of the 2000s, Munich was happy to be compared with Berlin. Everything about the so-called scene seemed hotter, bigger, and simply better there. The Favorit Bar bravely stood firm. Founded in 1999 in what was a dead inner city, it became the meeting place for cool Munich: artistic types, writers, stylishly confident party people. The music is carefully selected, as is the weekend clientèle.

What it's like today: Time stands still at the "Favo", apart from the smoking ban (you could cut the air at one time). The elegantly curved benches covered with ox-blood red linoleum never seem to age. The clientèle stays as old too (age group: long-term students …), older guests are welcomed.

What to drink here: Helles (lager) and gin and tonic

 

 

Text: Paul-Philipp Hanske; Photos: Frank Stolle

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