From dusk till dawn… Five clubs that stand out
To me, going out is like creating a work of art: if you apply yourself, the result is an obscenely beautiful flower. Care to sniff it? Don’t look so disgusted – of course it was going to smell of beer and cigarettes!
Here are five Cologne clubs that my night-time alter ego couldn’t live without. Enjoy!
Sonic Ballroom – The rock’n’roller
Fancy feeling like one of the Ramones for a night (plus a hangover)? This way please.
One of Cologne’s most exciting clubs is tucked away in what I would call a “non-place” in the district Ehrenfeld. Non-Ehrenfeldians have to cover what seems like a journey to the end of the earth that takes one way beyond the popular concert venues such as Live Music Hall and Underground. But the long trek on foot is well worth it, as you will appreciate once you’ve passed through the anteroom and its foosbal table to admire an oversized silhouette of the Ramones painted on the wall. The whole place screams rock’n’roll. The staff have their own brand of gruff friendliness, which for non-regulars may be upgraded provided they order the special house beverage, a sticky concoction known as Kettenfett (chain grease). Downside: you also need to drink it. There’s no more authentic and charming way to pass the night than in Sonic Ballroom, blasted by loud music. Not to mention its regular programme of hot and sweaty concerts plus a beer garden in the summer. What are you waiting for?
Sixpack – The legend
A legendary venue in unassuming street clothing – but once it spreads its wings, you’ll see its real colours.
At first glance, one is underwhelmed or rather, overpowered by the floorboards which seem to emit the smoke of the millions of cigarettes that were once smoked here, as well as by the decibels that reverberate around the two interconnected spaces. If you had anything important to discuss with your friends, make sure you get that done before you get here, because it’s seriously loud.
And why not? After all, this is where Cologne’s night-time rush hour takes place, a natural magnet for the city’s party people. It’s easy to meet new people here, if only because you’re pushed up right against each other. This classic club venue attracts local celebrities as well as artists who are just passing through. Techno DJs rub up against rock enthusiasts; writers and musicians Heinz Strunk, Thees Uhlmann and Jürgen Vogel have been spotted propping up the bar. And the counter has been known to double up as a dancefloor. I saw it with my very own eyes – and had a great view from up there…
Subway – The down-below
Subway is one of those clubs that defies space and time: a bit of magic and lots of adrenalin in the Belgian Quarter.
The main instrument this subterranean place uses to disrupt the space-time continuum is probably its mirrored dance floor, which takes you straight back to your first school exchange in the south of France, yearning for your first kiss and slow dance.
However, that’s where the similarities with romantic French teenage movies end. Located on one of the arterial roads leading out of town, Subway’s charm unfolds inside, not necessarily out, with lots of highly danceable music and places to skulk somewhere in a dark corner. But why skulk at all? It’s too busy and loud to sit and talk anyway, plus the real action takes place in the large bar area near the entrance or on the adjacent dancefloor. Subway has a regular programme of DJ nights, recurrent themed parties and live gigs. This is hardly the place for a quiet chat over cocktails, but if it’s nightlife action you’re looking for, you should definitely head down to Subway.
Arkadia – The escape
An 80s disco backroom plus comfy chill-out furniture. If my apartment looked like Arkadia, I’d have fewer problems, more fun and probably a steady stream of overnight guests.
If you’ve ever hit the ring road around the city centre round about Friesenplatz, you’ll know it’s not the quietest corner of the city – and also not exactly the preferred hangout of people on their very best behaviour. But when you’re out and about in Cologne enjoying the street carnival that is nightlife here, you need a certain measure of tolerance, especially for the countless stag parties in search of physical contact or schnapps or both. Some light relief is available further up Friesenstrasse; just beyond the hustle and bustle, on the left, is Arkadia.
A laid-back space that’s just been refurbished so as to be positively horizontal, with a small retro dancefloor at the back and a collection of squashy velvet seats at the front. The audience is a mixed bag of well-dressed couples, very mature students, wannabe writers and a few random but entertaining walk-ins; the backdrop is a hand-picked selection of electronic music. Arkadia is the place for a highly relaxed club night out, comfy seating included.
Stereo Wonderland – The mate
A club that’s like a good mate: accessible day and night for a chat or, where necessary, six to eight beers.
I’m serious: Stereo Wonderland is really like a reliable friend, easy to find even in the dark thanks to the gaudy paintjob that adorns the entrance of this club near Südbahnhof station. No special knowledge of this area is necessary, this being the third corner of this clubland triangle after Blue Shell and Luxor.
Two steps in and you’re at the bar, where drinks are mostly produced in record time and a bar stool is usually available. This is a great place for a relaxed, stress-free night out, with occasional live performances from yet-to-be-discovered artists on the miniature stage – perfect for newcomers or musicians whose time has come and long gone. On most nights, however, it’s the DJs–cum-bar staff who make the music happen, with a bias towards indie rock.