Berlin’s Best Straßenecke For Whiskey Lovers
I’d started the day with the best intentions: Find a job.
It didn’t have to be anything spectacular, merely something to sustain me until I could find something more ‘permanent’ (I’ll concede that perhaps I’m in the wrong city…)
My girlfriend and I had been in Berlin for just three weeks. We’d never lived together before and I was already beginning to notice a shift in the dynamics of our relationship. First of all, she’d asked me to shave my beard (I reluctantly obliged.) The following day, she signed a contract to be a full-time nanny, thus becoming the sole breadwinner of our (sub-rented) household. The last straw came when she bought a spanner and some WD40 to fix her bike.
‘Right, I’m off out to find a job’ I announced as she savagely tore the seat from the frame.
I harboured the compulsion to satisfy some vague, Victorianesque quest: a quest to reclaim my position as ‘Man of The House.’ Where I was going to find this job was of course an entirely different question, and so I settled upon the idea of pondering it over a whiskey or five. Whiskey was the one element that had sustained me through twelve months of working a soul-murdering job for Lloyds Bank and the notion of an existence without it simply appalled me. I pedaled towards Kreuzberg like a mother searching for her lost child.
My motherly instincts guided me first of all to the ‘Tabak & Whiskey Center’, which I suppose is the equivalent of a lost child wandering the streets in a t-shirt with ‘MUM, I’M FUCKING HERE!’ scrawled across the front of it.
Sitting on the northern-most end of Ohlauer Strasse, it’s interior harks back to a by-gone era that was quite suited to my Victorianesque compulsions. Bourbon and Rye sit proudly in sultry glass cabinets and the floorboards creak as you stroll around in silent admiration. The selection of Scotch on offer is exemplary, as is the owners’ knowledge of the stuff. The gentleman was a delightful chap with a genuine love for all things whiskey-related and we spoke for some time about his many visits to Scottish distilleries and his many, many recommendations.
There’s a strange bond that develops between two strangers discussing whiskey; it’s something similar to discovering that you and the guy you never speak to at work both wile-away the hours daydreaming about the same girl from HR, albeit more cultured. Once I was satisfied that our newly formed brotherhood had been recognised by both parties, I decided to drop the question:
‘So… are you looking for any staff here?’
No English-like apology, no commiserating tone, just a very stiff, German ‘No’.
‘OK, I’ll just take a bottle of Lagavulin 16’.
60€ down… bollocks to the job-hunt. Next question:
‘Do you know of any good whiskey bars in Berlin?
‘I can recommend one that you can be sat in within twenty seconds.’
Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce the ‘Madonna Bar.’ It literally sits around the corner from ‘Tabak & Whiskey Center’. And yes, I was sat there within twenty seconds. I sat gazing into the selection the way you gaze into the crowd on your first night at the Berghain.
‘Take a look at this…’ The bartender handed me the menu. It was as thick as the Bible. ‘It’s my favourite book,’ he said.
I briefly pondered how many times he’d used that line but decided it was justified either way... The selection is, for lack of a better expression, fucking phenomenal. Undoubtedly, they’re keen on their Single Malts, but whether it be Laphroaig or Hibiki, High West or Weller, Blantons or Bushmills (Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, Irish, Japanese or Blended) that you’re looking for, pretty much any whiskey you can name is on that shelf. I also learned that every Sunday, the Madonna Bar offers a discount on a pre-selected list of five whiskeys, said list being amended each week. Yet another reason to skip church... Their most expensive offering is a Laphroaig bottled in 1991 which costs a princely 32€ a shot. I noticed it before I knew the price tag.
‘You have the taste, but you don’t have the money,’ the bartender sniggered.
I experienced a peculiar blend of pride and inadequacy. I ordered a ‘Wild Turkey Rye’ and left it at that.
The hours poured by as I sat beneath the dozen or so Lady Madonna effigies that watch over you. Candles sit cemented in old whiskey bottles by years of used wax, the whole scene slotting somewhere between a Catholic church and a still from Nosferatu. I ‘decided’ to leave a few hours later when the bartender discovered me crawling up the cellar stairs. Apparently I’d never found my way back from the gents. ‘May as well ask now,’ I thought…
‘Entschuldigung, brauchen Sie… any staff?’
I eventually found my bicycle and pedaled off silently, only glancing back to take note of the street sign.
And so I propose to the Berlin authorities that the intersection formerly known as Ohlauer Straße and Wiener Straße be renamed Whiskey Corner.
I reached home. Defeated, but drunk and thus temporarily contented. When I staggered into the apartment, the bike lay on its side, the seat and the chain dangling from the frame like the innards hanging out of some wounded gazelle.
‘I couldn’t get the seat back in,’ my girlfriend sighed.
I rubbed my chin and felt the beginnings of fresh stubble victoriously springing from my face.
‘It’s OK,’ My grin stretched my mouth to its limits as I cradled the Lagavulin, ‘Hand me the spanner.’
By Reiss Madden