I’ve made it no secret I’m a huge fan of the German cocktail scene – Berlin is one of my favourite cities to go drinking, and Le Lion in Hamburg is possibly the finest bar I’ve visited anywhere in the world – so I always look forward to my annual visit to the country for Bar Convent Berlin. This year prior to arriving in Berlin I made a short detour to Cologne, a city I was eager to visit after hearing so many good things about its bars. Being short in time, and knowing I would be busy in Berlin, I took a break from my usual habit of documenting the bars on Oh Gosh! TV, but I was so taken by the city I felt it at least deserved a blog post…
Arriving in Cologne on an early evening flight, and conscious of having just two nights to explore the city, I quickly checked-in and headed straight for Al Salam. Perhaps best known for its delicious Arabic dishes, the family-ran Al Salam also offers an excellent cocktail menu under the direction of owner’s son Mohammad Nazzal. The restaurant was lush and comfortable, and the food was delicious – but I’m no restaurant critic, I was here for the drinks.
I started with a Martinez – something of a goto drink I often order when feeling indecisive – that was made very well by a new bartender who had only just started at the restaurant. For my second drink I left myself in Mohammad’s hands, and the resulting ‘Oriental Julep’, a Mint Julep variation served in a beautiful traditional pot, certainly didn’t disappoint. Full of tasty middle-eastern cuisine, I could have easily stayed for several more drinks but sadly, and happily, I had more bars to visit.
The great thing about Cologne is that all the top cocktail bars are within easy stumbling distance of each other, and after a short walk I found myself outside Shepheard. I had wanted to visit this bar ever since meeting former head bartender Ricardo Albrecht (now at Lebensstern in Berlin) at my first BCB in 2008, and that was further cemented when I met current head bartender Stephan Hinz during the G’Vine Connoisseurs Challenge earlier this year.
Shepheard is a narrow space, with an upscale but relaxed vibe. While undoubtably a classic bar, Shepheard eschews the trend to try and look like a bar from 1900, featuring a perfect blend of modernity and tradition. Busy with a fun weekend crowd, I enjoyed a glass of Champagne while awaiting a seat at the bar then took up a comfortable seat at the bar eager to enjoy everything the bar had to offer.
Now I have to be honest here, my memories of Shepheard are – shall we say – slightly rounded at the edges, but the cocktails I had from Stephan and fellow bartender Alexander Sourmpatis were all superb, and matched with similarly excellent hospitality. I stayed off-menu for my entire stay, and each cocktail was both delicious and a perfect match to my vague request (e.g. “strong, with whiskey maybe”). Also worthy of note was the Bollinger champagne that Shepheard sells per glass at a wonderfully low price. Other bars please take note.
I left Shepheard wishing it was located around the corner from where I live, and very pleased I chose to visit Cologne ahead of Berlin. Even better I still had another evening to explore more of Cologne’s bars. Stay tuned for part II when I visit Spirits, Ona More and Capri Lounge…
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