It Did Not Take Long For This American To Warm to the Swiss City’s Nightlife And Want To Go Back Again
The Swiss Air plane was coming in for a landing and with it, all the excitement that always arrives with arriving in a new city started rising to the surface.
It was wheels down in Zurich, Switzerland. Yeah, Zurich. I’ve always thought the name was so cool; sounds like a very James Bond-ish kind of place.
I was on a Tourism Switzerland press trip and was due to met other journalists the next afternoon on a four-day tour of two ski resorts in the Swiss Alps. PubClub.com was invited by Maja Gartmann of the Tourism Switzerland office in the U.S.
I had met her at a media travel show. She saw my card with the cocktail glass logo and said, “Everyone writes about all the skiing and hiking in Switzerland but nobody writes about the bars. We have many fun bars in Switzerland. If I send you there, will you write about the bars?”
Well, I had to restrain myself from leaping over the table and hugging her. Of COURSE I would write about the bars!
And so, a few months later, I was beginning my James Bond adventure.
I was traveling solo that first day, but was set up at a hotel in the Old Town. A friendly local – I soon learned this was as much a part of the Swiss culture as cheese – from my flight not only pointed me to the correct train but walked me to it to make sure I did it properly and didn’t wind up in, say, Berlin. Us Americans, you see, are not too swift when it comes to public transportation.
It was late morning when I stepped out of the train station and into Old Town. The sun was out and the temperature was pleasant enough for early March. I had no idea where my hotel was located, though the local tourist office did point me toward the general area. Being a man, I prefer to “hunt” for such things, rather than having precise directions.
I was told to cross the Limmet River which provides much of Old Town’s scenic spots (I later learned it’s so clean you can swim in it and in the summertime it’s lined with people mingling and having cocktails at the bathhouses) and as I did, I encountered people sitting outside of several cafes having coffee. That’s just so European, so cool. I walked for about 20 minutes soaking in the scene – a friend had fortunately loaned me her bag with wheels, otherwise I would be unpleasantly dragging an oversize duffle bag with the PubClub logo – and figured it was time to find the hotel.
Eventually I did and soon was back out exploring Zurich. I wandered the streets, many of which were cobblestone, and tried to get to know Zurich. After a few hours, I was thirsty and went in search of a bar.
I knew that a part of Old Town was lined with bar after bar, but those were mostly shuttered in the late afternoon. Plus, I wanted to see if the Swiss did Happy Hour. I was walking through what appeared to be a residential area when I came upon a cozy-looking place with big windows, an area of couches for reading, a few tables and, more importantly, a seat at the bar.
The place is called Corazon, and it’s a bit like a bookstore, but is definitely a bar. It’s not a whoop-it-up joint, but I noticed it had Havana Club rum and soon settled into a couple of soothing drinks. I liked that place.
I liked it so much, I stayed until it was time for dinner. I wanted a true Swiss meal, though I confess I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. There was a fondue place next to the hotel, so I went in there and had, well, fondue. I thought I had ordered it with ham, but all I noticed was melted cheese and bread.
When the bill came I wasn’t sure whether or not to tip, so I asked the four guys at the table next to me (yes, by the way). We started talking, I told them of my mission to visit Swiss bars, and suddenly I found myself in a Zurich dance club with them. They then wanted to take me to some other part of town quite a distance away, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to find my way back own my own. Plus, the bars of Old Town awaited!
There are indeed a lot of them, but most were quiet on this night (it was a weeknight). I popped into one place that seemed intriguing but instead was strange. I had to open up curtains to go inside. There was one guy by the door and a half-dozen scantily-glad girls sitting at a table. They were not dancing or anything but just sitting there. They looked at me and I looked at them. Not sure into what I had wandered, and not too anxious to find out, I stepped backward through the curtain like a cartoon character.
And that is how I came to be at the Splendid Bar.
It’s a comfortable place, the Splendid Bar, an old-fashioned piano bar in a small hotel. It’s not the boring type of piano bar with a guy in a tuxedo softly playing songs to aging men in suits sipping brandy or a fine scotch but a rocking spot with that dueling-piano bar type of energy. The artist on the keyboards was doing Billy Joel, the acceptable Barry Manilow songs and many other fun tunes. I eventually struck up a conversation with him and found out he’s an American that plays here every few months. His name is Mark Rosier.
I later learned that this bar, under a different name, was a favorite of U.S. GIs after the war. I just loved the place (though the price of 10 CHF for a beer was a little less than splendid).
I wound up closing the Splendid Bar that night and of course returned to it immediately when I was back in town at the conclusion of the trip. I also tripped into an Oktoberfest German beer hall with people dancing on the tables called Bierhall Wolfe. For a look at all the fun Zurich bars discovered on this trip, click here.
I want to go back. I want to stand on the edge of the river with a drink in the summer. I want to see the crazy scene at the Zurich Street parade, an annual techno party in August that is so huge it’s broadcast live throughout the entire country.
I want to go to back to Corazon, Bierhall Wolfe and especially the splendid Splendid Bar. Because there is lot that is indeed splendid about Zurich.
I think James Bond would agree.