Monday, October 20, 2008

Barfly's Beat: Berlin - The Pleasure of Serious Drinking


I was coaxed pell-mell to Tiergarten by mein host, Helmut, a cocktail courtesan of bilingual ability and veritable repute. Over a grappa in Mitte by the side of the river, we’d chopped through the places to be, because I sought a pervasive drink in the underworld, and didn’t mean a dip in the Spree.

Two minutes later, and up-pulled a midnight blue Mercedes Benz: what followed next was an ephemeral footnote so beguiling, that tracers start and focus ends. Indeed, I recall no more than the opening of a rear window – through which I tossed my bearings away – with the rest of the ride a fever-dream of displacement/fantasy.

Hence, upon braking at 102 Potsdamer Straße and entering the VICTORIA BAR, our host, Beate, had readied her signature elixir: ‘The Hildegard’. Named after Frau Knef, the first-ever German actress to film a nude scene, it is a wham-bam of straight-up Vodka and Champagne that left me whistle-wet and immediately keen.

Part-Mama Fratelli – with forearms of spinach and an inkling of Pro-Dom charm – Beate’s soft-lens eyes shone “available”, though her sonorous yadda raised alarm. Queens of the Court, of course, have the knack and know-how to keep one honest awhile; and a dress-shirt, tie, and apron lent this Ma’am a matronly mercantile.

VICTORIA BAR specializes in pairing strong drinks with interesting eats, but, as enthusiastic as I was, I couldn’t accept the offer of an Old Fashioned served up with Oxtail Soup: Wie sagt man auf Deutsch, "Do I look like a fruit loop?”

Armed with the menu, then, and an express purpose, I pawed through 50-odd pages of what seemed to me a foretold curse. Pile-up sketches (below the Bourbon) and pin up etchings (beneath the Gin) imbedded the bill-of-fare with a memento mori; who knew Raphael Danke’s series of ‘Sex & Car Crashes’ didn’t amount to the sum of a state-sponsored scare story?

Pursed-of-lip, I pointed out the ‘Green Victoria’ as my poison of choice, slipped off my barstool, and made for a meditative moment in the boys'.

Apocalypse in the shape of Stu Mead’s Chinoise wallpaper interrupted me at the rest room recess, though, where motifs of playful narratives decanted water-of-life vignettes. ‘Philosophy’, I came to realize, was not about degrees of artifice, layers of conceit, or grades of misgiving, rather, it was a proposed evincement pursuant upon design: in this case, The Art of Living.

Thus, in a 90-minute sitting, I took that Green Victoria, a ‘Lord Jim’, ‘Sun Ra’, two of my customary Sazeracs, and I’m quite sure I met David Niven.

At some stage, I noticed one of the walls was exposed to look like the swirling cross-section of a tree, laying bare an imprint of transience that moved beyond the quoted starting-point of san soucie (meaning ‘without a care’, it is a nod to the opulent Rococo grace of the 18th Century Potsdam retreat of Frederick the Great).

Loosely, Berlin’s very existence – hung here handsomely and most even-handedly – seems founded on the embrace of discontinuance. Take the late-19th Century REALISMUS mirror reflecting the Ingo ‘Kallo’ Strobel lamps, à la Cabaret, and the mousse-green booth beneath a solitary leather drape, circa 1948.

Nuance, I learned, is the underplayed child of chiaroscuro, and it was borne here by the conceptual artist Thomas Hauser, whose meisterwerk is so big-balled, he must’ve had a sundial down his trousers. Eighteen colors from white-to-black form a continuous piece over five huge frames; a futurist study of an abiding Martin Kippenberger, but I daren’t even attempt to explain.

Jawohl, the owner, arbiter, and aesthetic loner, Stefan Weber (alas, absent during my visit) seems to have cultivated a well-read, and well-heeled class of customer. Ordained by none-other than The Big Willie of Bavarian Bartending, Herr Charles Schumann, the face of Baldessarini – who “Separate the Men from the Boys” – VICTORIA BAR is moments away from cruising traffic, but it's worth the risk just to hear Beate's voice.

Green Victoria: Pisco, Lemon, Mint, Sugar, Champagne

- Graeme

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