10 Great Cocktail Bars In Berlin, Germany

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall back in 1989, Germany's unified capital city has changed in so many ways. One sign of Berlin's cosmopolitan resurgence: an astonishingly vibrant cocktail scene. All across this booming city of 3.5 million, the thirsty traveler will find vast spirits selections and meticulous cocktails. While Berlin has experienced an excessive proliferation of speakeasy-style bars with doorbells and hidden storefronts, a long-tired trend in the U.S. and elsewhere, the versions here thankfully lack the same high level of pretension, not to mention the excessive prices often found in cocktail meccas like London. Quirky Berliner humor and prototypical German precision ensure many superb bars where you can have a quality cocktail for less than $15 U.S. Here are ten of our favorites:

Berlin-Curtain Club 2-Virginia Miller-1 At the Curtain Club, bartenders offer various twists on the classic Blue Blazer flaming cocktail. (Photo: Virginia Miller)

Fragrances and the Curtain Club at the Ritz-Carlton Berlin, Tiergarten

Located just off Potsdamer Platz in the Ritz-Carlton Berlin are two of the best bars in Berlin — and Europe, for that matter — both under the purview of hotel bar manager Arnd Heissen. The first, Fragrances, is a high-end cocktail sanctuary and one of the world's showstopping bar concepts. Guests enter through a hallway off the hotel lobby into a museum-like exhibit that explores each cocktail on the menu, with spirits bottles and ingredients displayed next to fragrances that inspired each drink. Famed perfumes and colognes, from Giorgio Armani to Yves Saint Laurent, influence each cocktail, all of which are served with dramatic presentation and a refined sense of taste. One bourbon and rum cocktail arrives smoking in a little wooden house.

In the main lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, the Curtain Club is a completely different experience, but no less wonderful. Where Fragrances is reverent and removed, Curtain Club's long bar, dark woods and fat armchairs buzz with locals and travelers enjoying live music around the grand piano. Heissen and his talented team of international bartenders keep the vibe playful with an only-in-Berlin sense of humor and the most engaging presentation of a classic Blue Blazer cocktail anywhere set to music (the lights go down and each bartender has a unique song and interpretation of the flaming 1800s drink). As at Fragrances, Heissen's cocktails are as intriguing as they are balanced, inspired by unique aromatics and essential oils he collects at the bar. Case in point: Vetiver Garden lets the grassy, stone notes of mezcal shine, illuminated by Fukuyu yuzu sake, lemon, vetiver essential oil and egg white. Curtain Club is also the only bar in town to house every variety of the rare Stählemühle schnapps, produced by the distiller of famed Monkey 47 Gin, from coriander to Japanese mint. The Ritz-Carlton Berlin, Potsdamer Platz 3, 10785 Berlin

Lebensstern, Schöneberg

Famed for its appearance in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, the old mansion that houses the three-room, oak-paneled Lebensstern is a spirits' lover's heaven and easily one of the best bars in the world (located upstairs from Cafe Einstein). Glowing cabinets, surrounded by cushy armchairs and couches, are packed with insane rarities, including more than 600 kinds of rum, around 500 whiskies and 200 gins, from China to the Middle East — a stockpile that rivals the unreal spirits collections commonly found in Tokyo. There are tasting flights in numerous spirits categories, from rhum agricole to German gins, with many bottles decades old. Classic cocktails dominate, set to indoor smoking and live jazz. Entered after ringing a doorbell on massive front steps and being escorted upstairs, the elegant space appeals to drink aficionados and history buffs alike. An evening here feels like being blissfully lost in another world and time. Kurfürstenstraße 58,10785 Berlin, +49-30-263 91 922

Berlin-Le Croco Bleu-Virginia Miller Le Croco Bleu feels like a 1930s supper club set in a faux tropical island getaway. (Photo: Virginia Miller.)

Le Croco Bleu, Prenzlauer Berg

There are a handful of Berlin bars that feel like a time warp, and Le Croco Bleu is one of them, opened by Paris Bar and Rum Trader barman Gregor Scholl. Trying to find the bar, which is hidden in the former Bötzow Brewery just off busy Prenzlauer Allee, feels like walking into some abandoned, futuristic world. But once you step inside, you enter a wonderland of piping and brickwork — one that feels like a 1930s supper club set in a faux tropical island getaway, complete with greenery and a large stuffed crocodile, with crooners serenading you from the speakers. Servers in black ties and white coats bring cocktails on trays (generally ranging from €9 to €18), including dreamy creations like a Yuzu Mai Tai, combining Bacardi 8 year and Appleton V/X rums with yuzu, dry orange curaçao and lemon, topped with a yuzu-almond espuma (foam). It's sheer magic, a place to dress up and linger. Prenzlauer Allee 242, 10405 Berlin, +49 151 582 478 04

Rum Trader, Wilmersdorf

Berlin's oldest cocktail bar, Rum Trader, is virtually unchanged since opening in 1976 but feels more like stepping into Berlin's glory days in the 1930s, complete with big band jazz softly playing in the closet-sized space. There is a buzzer on the door, but it is best to call ahead as the smoke-filled space can barely fit two dozen patrons. This bar, run by the eccentric Gregor Scholl (also of Le Croco Bleu), is for the dedicated cocktail aficionado, those willing to give respect to the experience, one that ultimately is rife with romance, a place where time stops. As you sip a classic agricole rhum Ti Punch, or a neat pour of 20-year Dictador rum, you realize this is a slice of history, a one-of-a-kind bar that epitomizes jazz age Berlin. Fasanenstraße 40, 10719 Berlin, +49 30 8811428

Berlin-RedwoodBar Redwood Bar in Berlin is operated by two California ex-pats. (Photo: Virginia Miller.)

Redwood Bar, Mitte

Californians and produce-driven cocktail fans will feel right at home at Redwood Bar, thanks to its West Coast proprietors (owner Kevin Brown is from Sacramento, bar manager Shawn Beck from San Francisco). But so will anyone craving a laid-back bar, a barrel-aged cocktail (a rarity in Berlin) or well-made classics, listed on a flavor spectrum, like "dry" (El Presidente, Vesper, Boulevardier, Calvados Cocktail) or "sweet" (Negroni, Hanky Panky, Manhattan, Vieux Carre). In keeping with its California roots, the bar itself is a striking redwood tree slab, and the staff head to a nearby farmers' market daily for fresh produce, utilized in the cocktail of the day and featured drinks. Go the fresh route with the likes of a Maypole, mixing gin, lemon, strawberry, basil and chili tincture, or go boozy-bracing with a Constantinople, combining rye whiskey, coffee, cardamom and old-fashioned bitters. Bergstraße 25, 10115 Berlin, +49 30 70248813

Stagger Lee, Schöneberg

Think Old West saloon in a dim, seductive, old-timey space, and you'll start to picture the allure of Stagger Lee, named after the oft-covered folk song. There is a doorbell, but you can see right into the bar, so it doesn't feel exclusive so much as laid-back. The wood-lined cocktail parlor is marked by saloon doors, antique lamps and a piano. American whiskies and tunes set the tone, while bartenders are equally adept with the other dominant spirit on the menu: tequila. Sipping a Margot, a refreshing combination of Aperol, sweet vermouth, soda and Sudtiroler Wacholderschnaps, you might just wish this were your neighborhood bar. Nollendorfstraße 27, 10777 Berlin, +49 30 29036158

Becketts Kopf, Prenzlauer Berg

Hidden speakeasy Becketts Kopf (translating to Beckett's Head) has been one of Berlin's revered bars for more than a decade, drawing many a bartender to move to the city to work here, as evidenced by the international staff. It's best to call ahead to see if there is seating in the two-room space (no standing around allowed, with one room for smokers). To enter, press the buzzer next to an illuminated photograph of Irish novelist Samuel Beckett, the bar's namesake. Menus hide inside Beckett's books, but the accommodating staff can easily go off-menu, pulling from the venue's highly curated spirits selection. After talking German schnapps, the staff served me a Forrest cocktail, mixing Old Bardstown bourbon infused with rosemary and one of a couple rare bottles of the aforementioned Stählemühle schnaps, a schnapps aromatic with pine and leaves. Pappelallee 64, 10437 Berlin, +49 162 2379418

Berlin-SchwarzeTraube-Virginia Miller There is no menu at Schwarze Traube; bartenders custom-make each drink to your preferences. (Photo: Virginia Miller.)

Schwarze Traube, Kreuzberg

Though some bemoan the hipper-than-thou staff and exclusivity of speakeasy-esque Schwarze Traube — and the experience does require some patience and time to wait for custom drinks — here, drinks are unique and tasty. Bartenders seem to keep to themselves until approaching you to discuss your preferences to create a custom cocktail. One of a few intriguing drinks customized for me was made with a local German gin, Ferdinand's Saar Quince, mixed with Campari, cardamom, lime, muscat grapes and Ferdinand's Rubinette Apple Lemon Thyme Bitters, with fresh nutmeg grated on top. Wrangelstraße 24, 10997 Berlin, +49 30 23135569

Buck & Breck, Mitte

Buck and Breck (named after the former U.S. president James Buchanan and his vice president, John Breckinridge) is yet another speakeasy-style spot with an art gallery front. B & B only seats 14 people around one large bar that takes up the whole room. But unlike many of the classic cocktail–heavy speakeasy bars around Berlin, this one is set to a hip-hop soundtrack, with bartenders in T-shirts and baseball caps and patrons smoking around the bar. It's a seductive setting and an easy place to make friends over well-crafted but not fussy cocktails. Reservations recommended. Brunnenstraße 177, 10119 Berlin, +49 176 32315507

Bar Amano, Mitte

Though Bar Amano cocktail prices run high (€13 to €15), and the somewhat stuffy hotel bar space isn't exactly uplifting (especially if you'd rather skip the clubby weekend DJ atmosphere), the rooftop bar and views are inspiring, allowing guests to gaze out over the Berlin skyline. The artful menu is like a history of America via cocktails, and not everything works, but creative combinations can sing, expressing the culinary side of cocktails. Case in point: El Conejo Muerto, a bright, savory blend of Marca Negra Espadin Mezcal, carrot curry syrup, house celery bitters, lime and orange peel. Auguststraße 43, 10119 Berlin, +49 30 8094150