Surprisingly Lively Swiss City Appeals To This Party Veteran
After I returned from Switzerland in the late Spring/early Summer of 2012, I was asked what surprised me the most about the trip.
My response was as precise as a Swiss watch: Basel.
Basel is a happening little place, as lively and bouncy as a college coed. But it doesn’t exactly come to mind when discussing a list of Top European Party Cities. Were it a person, it would be the quiet guy in the corner of the room with the quick wit. And the one who eventually has all the girls around him.
I was immediately struck by how youthful many of the people I saw were; most of them walking around seemed to be in their mid-20s. This was a clear indication there was some pretty good nightlife to be found. And that indeed turned out to be the case.
I knew little – if anything – about this city along the Rhine on the Swiss/French/German border, but was taken by it immediately. I had arrived late in the afternoon and a friend and I hit the streets to see what fun bars we could find. The Swiss – and indeed most Europeans – don’t have Happy Hours like we do in the States, so we went “Euro style,” looking for a good outdoor cafe for cocktails and conversations.
Basel has plenty of choices; we settled into what was the largest and most lively, Kuchlin Bistro.
Kuchlin Bistro is what I call a “position bar.” That is to say, it’s a place where you must sit at a table. There’s no standing area, no bar to lean against and no chance to move to a more desirable location if you spy a person you want to meet. Your socializing opportunities are determined solely by the location of your table, and you had better be “positioned” next to someone you want to talk to, or you’ll be the like the guy the manager taps on the shoulder just as you’re getting up to bat in the crucial moment of the game: “Not today, son. Go hit the showers.”
That’s why I immediately bolted for an open table next to a tall, thin and young blonde, one of those natural Swiss beauties that seem so prevalent in this country. The bistro is one of several along a small street with no cars, and I nearly knocked a guy off his bicycle in my rush to secure the spot.
It took a while to break the ice with the blonde – her and her friend were having long conversations – but our waitress kept us smiling and we ordered beer after beer. The weather was nice, there was a constant stream of people walking by and the light and tasty Warteck Swiss lager (yes, the Swiss have their own beer, brewed from regional breweries) was hitting the sweet spot as they say in tennis, even after a 12-hour plane ride from Los Angeles and an additional two hours on the train.
Turns out the blonde was recently an exchange student in the States. In a farm town in the middle of Indiana. Not too culturally exciting, but certainly a slice of true Americana. And while we didn’t position ourselves back at her Swiss pad, she did enlighten us as to a couple of bars to hit later in the evening. Our position at the “position bar” provided us with what turned out to be a prime party destination in Basel.
That would be a place called Paddy Reilly’s. And if you are thinking what the heck is an Irish bar doing in Switzerland, you may be correct. But no matter; this place has party written all over it.
It was a Wednesday night and Basel is pretty much a weekend party town. But here’s a party tip for ya: If you find a fun bar you want to visit, go in on a slow night. You’ll meet the bartenders, waitress, perhaps even the manager and owner. Be friendly, get to know them, and they will remember you when they are crushed, which is exactly what happened with us at Paddy Reilly’s. The head bartender is a guy named Kevin, a true Irishman with red hair and a firey and fun personalty.
Kevin said they were really busy on weekends, and he wasn’t kidding. We had to check it out in its prime and showed up around midnight on Friday; there were twice as many people outside as there were inside on our visits the previous two nights. We had to squeeze our way inside – Kevin was quick with the beers, a benefit of us having been there on the slower nights – and did a big “Wow!” The crowd – all mid-20’s to mid-30s and every single one of them drinking beer – was in one of those laughing, smiling moods that made me want to jump right in as if I were front row at Jimmy Buffett.
Paddy Reilly’s is like a car approaching in a rear-view mirror: It’s larger than it appears. It has three levels, and all were full.
Downstairs is a rocking dance floor with DJ and upstairs a quiet sit-down area for those who want to escape the frenzy happening beneath them. We settled into about the only clear space we could find on the main level, wound up having beers with Germans celebrating a Euro 2012 soccer win and had an absolute blast. Who knew such fun existed in Basel!? I didn’t, that’s for sure. Good thing our hotel, the Radisson Blu, was located practically right next door to Paddy’s!
There’s another really, really cool bar in Basel. It’s about a two minute walk from Paddy Reilly’s and is called City Beach. Yes, a beach bar in a city about a thousand miles from the nearest ocean. There’s no beach, but it does have a swimming pool in the middle of a large outdoor patio, a smothering bar inside that’s got fun written all over it and even a small separate building that’s a dance floor with a DJ. In the winter, the patio is turned into a ski haus by Zermatt Tourism.
I was told this is a prime pick-up spot, that newly-met couples often go out behind the trees to partake in a little Swiss saliva exchange. I did not experience this first hand, though I did meet a couple of very nice and nice-looking locals, and they gave good conversation.
So, party people, put Basel, Switzerland on your travel map. The party is waiting for you.