The Berlin speakeasy tries to accommodate the few-too-many who are in on the secret.
BY GISELA WILLIAMS
When Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro opened the hidden one-room Buck and Breck, named after a historic champagne cocktail, in 2010, demand was so great for the 14 seats that he often had to send people away. But even the glowing neon “closed” sign couldn’t keep away the stylish regulars and privy visitors who know that when the sign is on, the speakeasy-style bar in Mitte is open. So he did what any noble barkeep would do: up the capacity. Most of the original black-walled space is taken up by an oversize table with a faux alligator linoleum surface. The bar counter is L-shaped and embedded with stealthy receptacles for liquor bottles, a mini sink, and a cooler storing chilled glasses. Hanging above are several elongated hanging lampshades that recall the bottom barrels of a rocket booster. When lit at night, exterior shells blend into the darkness and emit mysterious golden, circular lights that appear to be two-dimensional.
Customers were so attached to the design and feel of the interior that when de Sousa Monteiro decided to add an extra room, he turned to local architects Hidden Fortress, whose Ingo Strobel was commissioned for the original. The firm took the closed-off storage area in the back, which had been accessed by a hallway, and reinvented it as an intimate lounge with raised, upholstered sofas. The original bar table top was reproduced and placed against a wall, making it look like a sleek midcentury luxury airline. A luminescent sculpture, dubbed Eclipse by the artist Tilen Sepič, makes a subtle reference to the overhead lights in the main area. But according to both de Sousa Monteiro and Stroble, the key to the new addition’s success was to construct open entrances on both sides, so that views of the original space are available from any seat.
“The aim was to create one space as a whole, but with two alternative atmospheres,” says de Sousa Monteiro. For him, it’s a matter of the psychological effect. “Instead of feeling trapped in one room or left out in another, guests can chose either the communal table or the more quiet lounge.” Even though Buck and Breck now has 17 more places to sit, de Sousa Monteiro still has to turn patrons away. “I only allow as many people in here as I have seats,” he says. “But, if they put down their number, I always call them when someone leaves.” “After all,” he adds, “a good bar is a democratic place.”
Cocktail by Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro
INSPIRED BY BUCK AND BRECK
Different than in Surface’s previous issues, where the bar’s design inspires a cocktail recipe, my bar was actually inspired by a drink. Named after the impotent, pre-Civil War president James Buchanan and his vice president John C. Breckinridge, the Buck and Breck cocktail was once lost to history, until author and mixologist David Wondrich brought it back to life for his 2007 book, “Imbibe.” The drink contains brandy, absinthe, aromatic bitters and champagne (basically a Sazerac Royale). With much sympathy to the libertine aspects of Buchanan and Breckinridge, the bar is rugged and elegant at the same time. The drink is a twist on the classic Champagne cocktail: Sparkling wine is fortified with Brandy and scented with a hint of sweetness and some aromatic bitters. These add-ons should be measured gently, to simply underline the structure of the champagne without overpowering it. It’s finally pimped to completion by adding absinthe.
25 ml cognac
Dash gomme syrup
Dash Angostura bitters
Spray of absinthe
Built on the rocks in a silver cup. Stirred gently. Lemon twist. Absinthe spray.
Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro is the head bartender at Buck and Breck.