The Rhineland enjoys a great reputation: Warm-hearted and hospitable are just a few of the positive attributes that apply to the lovely people in this Western German close to the Netherlands and Belgium. Getting to know the locals with their zest for life is especially easy in bars and pubs – or "Kneipen" as they are called in German. Here are a few pointers to current favourites in Cologne.
A Cologne pub crawl starts here: at one of the many Kölsch breweries
"Kölsch" is the local beer of Köln – and it is just as typically Cologne as the world-famous Cathedral, river Rhine or Carnival. Try a fresh Kölsch at one of the quaint, original pubs – where it is always on tap. A "Brauhaus" – German for 'brewery' – is a true melting pot: Here, white-collar office executives meet construction workers, tourists meet locals, youngsters and more seasoned people get together. A variety of different brew houses are right in Cologne’s Old Town. These pubs serve delicious local pub grub: hearty snacks that are enhanced by a pint or two of the local beers!
Two special recommendations: 'Früh Brauhaus' and 'Gaffel Brauhaus am Dom'
Just around the corner from Cologne's Roncalliplatz, you find 'Früh Brauhaus', one of the oldest and most tradition-steeped breweries in the city. In this beautiful old building, you are looked after on multiple levels. During summer, why not sit outside? As the main shopping boulevard – "Hohe Straße" ('High Street') – is close-by, this pub is perfectly located for people-watching and a drink after shopping.
On the other side of the Cathedral and right by the main train station, you have another sweet spot to enjoy a Kölsch: the most modern of Cologne's breweries, 'Gaffel Brauhaus am Dom'. This is another cosy brewery, especially on the inside! What makes Gaffel a special place to be is its unique entertainment program with a strong local touch: For great atmosphere and fun times, come and see local bands and comedians on stage – not just during the famous Cologne Carnival but year-round!
Dine like Bill Clinton – in Cologne's 'Malzmühle'
Another favourite is a brewery around Cologne's Heumarkt, 'Brauhaus am Malzmarkt'! For more than 150 years, MühlenKölsch has been brewed and served here. Compared to some other breweries, the smaller and more intimate feel is quite unique. This is what makes 'Malzmühle' – as the brew house is also known – popular with locals and visitors alike! One of the most famous guests to enjoy a marinated pot roast called "Sauerbraten" and a "Kölsch" was then-President Bill Clinton in 1999. Ever since then, visitors from all over the world have been coming here for the popular 'Clinton Menu'!
Some hints for your explorations of Cologne's breweries
On the first encounter, people from Cologne might seem a bit gritty. Please don't take it personally; it is just part of their ways – and charm. It can be seen as an invitation to playfully counter with strong words, too, without anyone feeling offended – and might even bring a little grin to their faces!
No reason for serious concern though: Service staff has gotten used to milder manners and generally, people are happy to explain what to expect when ordering local specialties such as "Halve Hahn" or "Himmel Äd". And please know: It’s part of the local custom to keep beers coming if there's an empty glass in front of you. So make sure to inform the waiting staff early once you've had enough or would like to call it a night. Otherwise, any night in Cologne might turn into a long and very merry one...
Hot spots for the in-crowd: 'Metzgerei Schmitz'
Besides brewery culture, there are plenty of other options to have a great night: at the bars of Cologne! Other than the Old Town, the Belgian Quarter is another bar hub for you to check out. To both sides of Aachener Strasse, you will find lots of trendy places, cocktail and sports bars, for example. Looking for more unusual places? How about exploring a former butcher shop or community flat, both of which have been turned into popular watering holes?
"Metzgerei" means 'butcher shop' in German – and 'Metzgerei Schmitz' really used to be one. Now, the Schmitz empire stretches out over several houses on Aachener Strasse: 'Salon Schmitz', 'Coco Schmitz' and 'Bar Schmitz' will keep you entertained day and night. There's a charming atmosphere around these locations that is simply irresistible. What adds to the charm is that Schmitz has also started a micro-brewery – bringing a delicious Kölsch of their own to guests. Cheers!
The best of Cologne's bars: 'Die Wohngemeinschaft' and 'Hallmackenreuther' at Brüsseler Platz
A bit bizarre and quirky but definitely worth experiencing is 'Die Wohngemeinschaft' – do not fear, it has nothing to do with dying but translates to 'the shared flat' in English. Located in the Belgian Quarter, it's a great place to enjoy their house brew "WG Bräu" or a Kölsch on draught, a fine choice of bottled beers or sophisticated cocktails against several unique backdrops: Favourite hangouts here include the ping pong table and the original old camper van.
Another classic among Cologne's bars is 'Hallmackenreuther', named after a character in a skit by well-loved German comedian Loriot. As soon as you step over the threshold, you are time-travelling back to the 1950s. From the inviting bar to quirky furniture and lamps, the owner has collected and combined unusual original pieces from the "Wirtschaftswunder" era – the post-WWII period of tremendous economic growth. While the feel might be that of a museum in action, 'Hallmackenreuther' is up-to-date when it comes to music: Electronica and sought-after DJs are part of the establishment – especially at the downstairs club that is part of this Cologne gem.
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