Five Cologne bars and pubs you won’t want to leave
For a terrific night out, you need the right blend of chilled drinks, decor, music, great guests and superb staff. In this piece, I’ve put together a collection of watering holes in Cologne where you’ll feel right at home. Be warned though – walk through one of these five doors and it might be hours before you come back out!
FRIEDA BAR – Where the heart of punk rock beats
Sitting on the edge of the hip Belgian Quarter, Frieda Bar makes a pleasant change to everything else on offer around Brüsseler Platz. Pure punk, stoner rock and heavy metal fill the airwaves, expertly chosen by the city’s most bewhiskered DJs and usually played at a conversation-friendly volume. Apart from Kölsch, there’s Jever pilsner on tap and a mucho delicioso “Mexikaner” (spicy shot) too. There’s a warm vibe and it feels as if the guests are all old friends. Don a woolly hat and a hoodie and you won’t need any more dressing up than that.
The vintage wooden bar in racing green, which combines with the wooden panelling to give Frieda Bar the flair of a quintessential British pub, is one of the highlights here, as are the frequent and fabulous musically themed nights that go by names such as “The Big Legaufski” or “Beards ‘n’ Beers”.
PEGEL – Where the focus is on communication
It may not be Cologne’s most original pub, but perhaps that’s precisely why Pegel (on the outskirts of the Belgian Quarter) offers the ideal backdrop to a great evening out. There are lots of comfy places to sit down – even in larger groups – and a range of live DJs covering a broad spectrum of musical styles. The music is never too loud and you can actually have a proper conversation! At the long bar with plenty of stools, it’s easy to get chatting to other guests, and the fast and friendly team behind the bar keep you supplied with beer and delicious long drinks. This is a no-nonsense place with tasteful, functional furnishings, lots of space and, in the summer, even tables and chairs on the pavement outside. It’s a concept that attracts a broad mix of friendly, fun people and provides the ideal place for extra-long evenings with good friends and people who may well end up becoming good friends. Pegel is always a choice everyone’s happy with.
LOTTA BAR – An institution in its own right
Lotta Bar, just off Chlodwigplatz in the southern part of Cologne, has been around for over 20 years and hasn’t really changed much in all that time. I mean that in the nicest possible way though! True, the legendary leopard-skin wallpaper behind the bar has been replaced with a stylish sixties pattern but the red star in the logo and the much-loved table football game have remained the trademarks of the Lotta “music pub”. People still come here to watch the 1. FC Köln and FC St. Pauli football clubs’ mixed fortunes play out on screen, and Cologne’s carnival-goers also like to drop by for a party. The rest of the year the customers and staff alike are wonderfully easy-going. It’s simply a nice place to enjoy a fairly priced glass of Kölsch in a laidback atmosphere with a tastefully crafted acoustic backdrop of punk, soul, ska and indie pop classics..
Though the clientele may have aged a little with Lotta, there are always new guests who fall for the almost traditional charm of this pub and its love of football, carnival, Kölsch and good guitar music. Run by a dedicated collective, Lotta is firmly rooted in Cologne’s left-wing alternative scene and continues to take a clear stand against fascism, as can be seen in the “Kein Kölsch für Nazis” campaign – the brainchild of Lotta staff.
HÄNGENDE GÄRTEN VON EHRENFELD – A good old-fashioned local
Die hängenden Gärten von Ehrenfeld (literally, “the hanging gardens of Ehrenfeld”) is without doubt one of the city’s top pubs for a perfect night out. A lively local during the week, at the weekend it often gets really full. But it still feels as if the convivial customers congregated beneath the pub’s famous artificial flowers all know each other – that’s how chilled and cheerful the mood here is. People sing along to Britpop and indie hits and a pleasantly chaotic atmosphere hangs in the air. A well-organised, witty bar team ensures everything runs smoothly and lends the place a great deal of the charm that makes it so special in Cologne.
Be sure to try the “Gärtner” bitters! Apart from being a pub, “Die hängenden Gärten” is also a venue for lots of small concerts, some by international indie artists, which I can really recommend. This pub truly has everything you could wish for. If I could, I’d move in tomorrow!
IM SCHNÖRRES – A fate-defying favourite with the in crowd
Many a tear was shed when this popular pub with its huge golden moustache above the green awning was forced to close on 1 May 2017 due to complaints from local residents. The farewell party lasted a whole week! But the sadness only made the joy all the greater when Schnörres reopened just 150 metres away from its old location, continuing to enrich the pub scene in Cologne’s south. A successful crowdfunding campaign, long lease and additional noise control measures provided a solid basis for the relaunch.
The new premises are larger and the stripped-back walls and wooden bar make for a pleasantly revamped look. Other than that, the Schnörres team haven’t made any changes – the menu still features high-quality drinks (e.g. from Cologne’s “Schnapskartell”) at decent prices, there’s a wide range of DJs (including famous local names) playing a masterful mix of music and the ties with Cologne’s carnival are as close as ever. One change is worth noting – regular wine-tastings have been introduced. And if you get an attack of the night-time nibbles, they also have fine salami and a selection of cheese. The fact that Schnörres has more than 5,300 fans on facebook – an unusually high number for a Cologne pub – says it all. Cologne can’t wait to get more of Schnörres!
If your long evening at the bar or in a cosy corner, enjoying Kölsch or cocktails and good conversation with friends old and new leaves you feeling a little under the weather the next day, I can recommend a hearty breakfast at one of Cologne’s many great breakfast cafés. After all, there’s nothing like fresh coffee, freshly baked rolls and sugary pastries to get you going again after a big night out!