James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Finding Meaning in Holiday Day‑Drinking

Finding Meaning in Holiday Day‑Drinking

Cocktails in Munich

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve always has a strange quality to it. The two holidays have no historical or cultural connection—they just happen to fall close together on the calendar. Many take annual leave between them and rest or get lost in a haze of gluttonous debauchery.

I was in Munich—famous equally for its robust industry sector and its rowdy beer halls—contemplating the meaning of this odd week.

I was also partaking in the three festive traditions of late December: shopping, eating, and drinking. While looking for belated Christmas gifts—don’t judge—in a fancy mall called the Fünf Höfe, I bumped into an outpost of the city’s most famous cocktail bar: Schumann’s.

Schumann’s has been turning out well-mixed classic cocktails in the New York tradition since 1982. Prior to my trip here I had not expected Munich—long in Berlin’s shadow when it comes to nightlife—to have such a sophisticated cocktail scene. I was even more amazed to find a Tagesbar—or “day bar”—version in a fancy mall.

The day bar concept proved to be as splendid as it sounded. My companion and I were promptly ushered to a table with menus simultaneously dropped before us. We were surrounded by men clad in well-fitting Hugo Boss blazers, and the coat-racks were covered in puffy down jackets. The staff were flitting around in the bar’s trademark white coats. The outfit made them look like a mixture of butcher, doctor, and barber.

I ordered an Americano cocktail. Schumann’s has always been mad about Campari, and a classic aperitivo seemed appropriate. My companion ordered the Negroni sbagliato. They were delivered promptly, with some olives and no fuss or superfluous words in accompaniment. Both were perfectly made.

I sipped hurriedly, enjoying the bitterness of the Campari mix with the bubbles of the soda water.

The bar was full, the orders were pouring in, the conversations were loudly bouncing off marble-tiled walls and yet neither the waiting staff nor the bar staff seemed remotely flustered. Gracefully flapping their white coats around the bar, they reminded me of Sufi dervishes. And observing them made me feel moderately on edge.

I got to the bottom of my drink much sooner than I intended. I thought to myself that Munich does things with purpose, and Schumann’s Tagesbar has twin purposes: conviviality and commerce. The cocktails may have been Italian, the calendar may have screamed “holidays,” but the attitude wasn’t relaxed. If die Münchner want to rest, they go to the countryside. This was a pit stop.

In that dreamy time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when many of us barely know what day of the week it is, Munich was still full-speed ahead. Perhaps a good alternative to looking for the meaning of this holiday period is not stopping to do so.

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