10 Best places to be sleepless in Berlin

Flashback to Berlin in the 1920s: cabaret, dada, dance, dens of iniquity inhabited by a sinful demi-monde that included Marlene Dietrich and Christopher Isherwood. The latter famously immortalized the age in his bio-based novel Goodbye to Berlin that later spawned the Broadway musical and movie Cabaret.

The fun stopped when the Nazis came to power but since the fall of the Wall in 1989, Berlin has rediscovered full throttle its Weimar roots. This is once again Europe’s party city par excellence, a place where nights become days and sometimes don’t stop for 48 hours or longer. It’s a place where tolerance is not a buzzword but a lifestyle. Personal expression is paramount and everyone from tee-totaling tango dancers to hopped-up techno junkies and flamboyant transvestites can find the perfect place to let their hair down.

When hitting the town, it’s important to remember that each of Berlin’s districts has a different party flavor. Currently the most dynamic hipster hoods are Kreuzberg and in Friedrichshain, on opposite sides of the Spree River. Both are rather gritty areas dominated by students, artists and immigrants. By contrast, dapper drinking has long been fashionable at such venerable haunts as the Green Door in the western districts of Schöneberg, which is also Berlin's historic hub of the gay scene. Berlin’s most cosmopolitan district - called Mitte - sports nightlife venues that channel the Golden Twenties, such as Clärchens Ballhaus and Chamäleon Variete and also has plenty of handsome bars that are the darlings of the creative in-crowd. 


Cabaret may have been born in Paris in the late 1800s but it didn't really come of age until the Golden Twenties in Berlin. This intimate venue brings the raucous Weimar era back to life with innovative and artistic variety acts that prove that the genre is still relevant a century later. Hang onto your champagne flute while marveling at mesmerizing and modern spins on acrobatics, dance, theater, magic and music. Performances take place in a former Art Nouveau ballroom with the audience seated at small bistro tables orbiting the stage. It's this alchemy of setting and show that makes Chamäleon Varieté so special.

Photo courtesy of Prinzipal Bar

The sexy glamour of the Golden Twenties gets a classy reboot at this jewel-box-sized burlesque bar tucked between doner kebab shops and dive bars on funky-punky Oranienstrasse. Once buzzed past the anonymous steel door, patrons plunge into a cheeky parallel world plucked straight from the movie Moulin Rouge. Decked out with plenty of eye-candy detail, the apothecary-style bar is stocked with the gamut of premium liquor that was very much verboten in the Prohibition era. Charming servers sport custom-designed corsets and glamorous make-up in the tradition of Betty Boop and Dita von Teese. The 10 signature cocktails too are named for famous burlesque dancers (Monroe's Kiss, Bloody Betty) and were all designed by bartender queen Julia Comu from Canada and owner Ferhat Akbiyik. A perennial bestseller is Date with Dita, a refreshing blend of bourbon, grapefruit, lemon, dates and homemade bitters.

G&T Bar
Photo courtesy of Stjepan Sedlar

"The proper union of gin and tonic of the happiest marriages on earth, and one of the shortest lived," writes historian Bernard DeVoto in The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto. Berlin bar maven Mario Grünfelder would likely agree. His latest venture is tucked into the back of typical Berlin courtyard and the first thirst parlor in Germany entirely dedicated to gin and tonic, invented by British officers in colonial India to take advantage of the anti-malarial properties of the quinine contained in tonic water. At G&T, the classic long drink is elevated to complex cocktail concoction by infusing it with various aromas - dried fruit, spices, tea � delivered via a tea bag. The menu (which changes seasonally) also features gin-based drinks, like a refreshing Tom Tonic Collins or a potent US Prime Martini.


Compared to the many flea-market-chic student pubs surrounding it, Tier (German for 'animal') is quite literally a different creature in the sizzling hot Neukölln district. Sure, you can come for just a beer but you'd be missing out on the barstaff's clever home-spun concoctions and classic cocktails with unexpected twists. Not sure what to order? Tell them what kind of spirit you like and they'll whip up what may well become your next favorite drink. Finely crafted libations range from an Old Fashioned and a Blood and Sand to the delightfully wicked absinthe-based Schierlingsbecher (Hemlock Cup). Despite such fancy drinks, this is a pretense-free zone set up amid eclectic, comfy seating and conversation-friendly sounds.

Tempelhof - SchÖneberg

The Green Door has welcomed libation lovers to its tube-shaped shrine to spirits since 1995, long before Berlin's cocktail culture boom. Walls sheathed in checks and waves decorate this lounge bar presided over by top-flight publicans whose repertory includes as many as 500 different drinks, including distinctive house creations. The ambience is quiet, grown-up and sophisticated, which is why large groups are not welcome. There's no name to indicate the premises, just the namesake green door and a bell that hopeful patrons must ring to gain entry. The name itself, by the way, harkens back to the Prohibition era when green doors pointed to speakeasies, where alcohol was poured illegally.

Club der Visionäre
Photo courtesy of vike on flickr

This essential summertime party venue occupies a ramshackle old boat house on a side canal of the Spree River. The idyllic setting alone is something to write home about: wooden decks right above the waterline and fringed by weeping willows, plus various conversation zones that twinkle in a rainbow of lights at night. The vibe changes from chill to charged, especially when DJ royalty like Ricardo Villalobos helms the decks. On blue-sky weekends, the party never stops, with Sundays being especially busy. Weekdays are quieter and great for tanning on the planks, cold beer in hand.

Charlottenburg - Wilmersdorf
Monkey Bar
Photo courtesy of Andrea Schulte-Peevers

Perfect for sundowners, this 10th-floor 'urban jungle' hotspot comes with both sweeping views of city landmarks and the monkey enclosure of the Berlin Zoo, in summer from a sweeping terrace. It's part of the hip new 25 Hours Hotel Bikini Berlin, which sits adjacent to the glamorous Bikini Haus concept mall. Lights with glass bottles for shades are suspended from a steel mesh frame hanging above the bar, creating a warm, exotic ambience. Drinks-wise, the list gives prominent nods to tiki concoctions and gin-based cocktail sorcery. The Tiki Reviver, made with apricot brandy and homemade nutmeg syrup, is a signature drink. Delicious modern-Israeli bar bites can be ordered from the adjacent Neni restaurant. The hummus trio (classic, with beetroot and with curry-mango) is the perfect nibbling dish.

Beavis Bar
Photo courtesy of Andrea Schulte-Peevers

The craze for craft continues with the opening of Beavis, a stylish saloon in central Berlin that's entirely dedicated to artisanal spirits. Owners Jon Cooper and Rik Lusing have roamed the earth to put together an intoxicating selection of handcrafted libations, mostly from small producers and including many rare and unusual gems. Studiousness is an asset when perusing the menu that's as long and complex as a Dostoyevski novel. Around 500 bottles are artfully displayed in a wall of illuminated shelves - a library of spirits of sorts - complete with sliding ladder to access the upper reaches. It's a great place to expand your sipping horizon and discover unexpected new favorites. Ease into the night with a flight of three related spirits before perhaps moving on to a Z&T, an intriguing gin tonic featuring plum gin, tonic syrup and fizzy mineral water. And in case you're wondering: the bar's name was inspired by the owners' beloved cat, not the 1990s animated sitcom Beavis and Butt-Head.

Crowned 'Best Hotel Bar of 2013' by Mixology Magazine, the Amano Bar in the eponymous budget-hip hotel in Berlin's old Jewish quarter is the place to come for original libations that verge on cocktail alchemy. Grab a seat at the stylish marble bar or settle into a coffee-colored banquette to peruse the extensive menu for your favorite. Bestsellers include the Yoshitaka Amano, a harmonious blend of gin, sake, lime and ginger, and the bourbon-based Fat Julep, ingeniously infused with mint butter. In summer, the bar expands to the rooftop terrace where you can enjoy sweeping views over historic Berlin.

One would perhaps not expect the haunt of Germany's best bartender of 2013 to be a dimly lit, living-room-style thirst parlor in Berlin's gritty-chic Kreuzberg district. But once you've tried one of Atalay Atlas' inventive cocktails, you'll have no problem agreeing with the judges' choice. Since there is no menu, drinks are customized for each patron using only premium spirits, bottomless imagination, expertise and a dash of psychology. This translates into such concoctions as the refreshing Lemongrass Basil Gimlet or the mysterious rum-based Dark Whisperings made with date syrup, the walnut-based Walnussgeist and bitters. With its warm lighting, floral wallpaper and (empty) birdcages, it's the kind of place that invites lingering, especially if you can snag one of the comfy couches in the back room.


Meet Andrea Schulte-Peevers

Andrea has made a living as a travel writer and photographer for over 20 years, visiting some 70 countries in the process and authoring a similar number of guidebooks, mostly for Lonely...  More About Andrea