How to spend 24 hours in Zurich, according to award-winning mixologist Dirk Hany

Tried-and-tested recommendations are the key to making the most of a trip to Switzerland’s lakeside metropolis. TWISPER ambassador and cocktail maker Dirk Hany, owner of cocktail den Bar am Wasser, curates the perfect tour.

Monday, July 13, 2020,
By Twisper
Zurich's mountain-backed metropolis is being invigorated by a flurry of bar openings, and Zurich is widely renowned ...

Zurich's mountain-backed metropolis is being invigorated by a flurry of bar openings, and Zurich is widely renowned as Switzerland's most international city.

Photograph by Getty

With its gilded banks and formal dining halls, a certain conservatism long defined Switzerland’s largest city. But with an influx of talented young creatives, Switzerland’s mountain-backed, lakefront metropolis is being invigorated by innovative restaurant menus and indulgent bar concepts. Zurich has always been a place for the finer things in life. “I grew up in South Africa, but my dad is Swiss, and was adamant that it’s the best place to learn about fine dining,” says Dirk Hany, owner of Zurich’s Bar am Wasser.

Dirk’s professional life encompasses accolades from the prestigious Spirited Awards, and Mixology Awards, a long stint as ambassador for drinks brand Pernod Ricard which took him around the world, and jobs fronting such stellar Zurich drinking dens as Widder Bar and Hirschli. Bars are clearly in Dirk’s DNA, but he originally wanted to be a chef. “I wanted to manage a grand Zurich culinary hotel. But I soon realised the potential of cocktails as a liquid kitchen, and bar work puts me front of house where I can be my sociable self.”

Menus at Bar Am Wasser, a unique, full-service sit-down bar offering everything from amuse bouche-style aperitifs to dessert drinks, are works of art, not just for the cocktails within but the items themselves. Each season’s menu is themed to suit specific local flavours, creatively interpreted and designed by local artists. “People beg, borrow and steal them,” laughs Dirk. With the city’s bars newly re-opened, ‘back to the roots’ is this summer’s theme. “It seemed time to revisit classic cocktails,” says Dirk. “With a twist, of course. And time to revisit much-missed Zurich bars and restaurants.”

Dirk Hany owns one of Zurich’s most popular watering holes, Bar am Wasser.

Photograph by Henrik Nielsen

Morning

Caffe Schnapps is a simple little coffee shop, where you order from the counter, take a number and wait for tattooed, moustachioed wait staff to bring food to your table – including nice outdoors seating in summer. A butcher’s in a previous incarnation, the place has tiles everywhere, and old wooden chairs. And the vibe is local: the coffee comes from a city roastery, milk from nearby dairy, fruit and veggies from the local outdoor market.

Brunch is a big thing in Zurich. I to ROSI for “frühschoppen”, a Bavarian brunch-like tradition, usually an after-church event but done here on Saturdays and Sundays. Expect lots of breads and traditional pancakes, with home-made preserves, local sausage and beers.

Afternoon

Baurs, at the Bar au Lac hotel, is a brasserie-style restaurant that opened last year. Luxe but not overpriced, it has a beautiful bar section. Sit at the counter and watch chefs slice pata negra, and select something from the backdrop wall of wines. The dining menu serves French brasserie classics – beef filet and tartare, heavy but delicious desserts and, as it's annexed to a five-star hotel, service is phenomenal.

For a quick bite, I often go to Pump Station, set in a former lakeside pumping station. Run by a local character called Baba (who has his own Facebook fan page), the alpine-grill-style menu includes potato salad, kebab and grilled sausage. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it with amazing lake-and-mountain views and Baba performing his job with shouts and jokes.

Pump Station is set in a former lakeside pumping station and run by a local character called Baba who has his own Facebook fan page.

Photograph by Getty

Dinner

Zurich has a super-diverse international dining scene but when it comes to Swiss food – fondue, raclette and the like – you need to head into the mountains. However, Kronen Halle is a great spot for traditional schnitzel and rösti (veal cutlet in a creamy mushroom sauce, with a gratin potato pancake). It’s where I take out-of-town visitors, who love to see regular patrons dressed in blazers and ties, waiters in black and white and, as it’s a wealthy old guild house, paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, Rembrandt on the walls. 

Bü’s is another personal favourite, named after the owner who wears a different shirt every day; Hawaiian, colourful, never the same. I love great hosts, and Bü is that, arriving tableside with a click of his heels. The place has a vast wine collection, so ask for the full menu, not the daily print out, and get Bü to pair it with something cooked by the kitchen’s fabulous cordon bleu chef: one of Zurich’s best.

After hours

Zurich’s attracts a young club crowd. So, when I go out, it’s to places like Club Bellevue, which has a slighter older clientele, a modest capacity of 250 people, and classic house music. Klaus is another favourite: officially a member’s club, it allows entry at the bouncer’s picky discretion. If you make it inside, it’s a crazy world of dance and burlesque.

I also like Tales Bar, hidden down an alley serving cocktails to a maximum of 36 people including lots of hospitality workers, as it has both food and drinks menus until late.   

Langstrasse is Zurich’s main late-night drinking artery – not that civilised in the early hours. Head instead to the other side of the river, to a dive called Gräbli Bar where you’ll find all walks of life: the drunk guy asleep on the table, and newlyweds having their last glass of champagne before bed. It’s the only place open around the clock and given that, the waiters are astoundingly patient and friendly.

Dirk realised early on the potential of cocktails as a liquid kitchen, and bar work puts him front of house which he loves. 

Photograph by Steven Kohl

Cocktail recipe


Try your hand at making Bar am Wasser’s best-selling Mexican-inspired cocktail, el burro de los muertos.

Ingredients:
4cl mezcal
2cl fresh lime juice
1cl agave nectar
2cl passionfruit juice
Ginger beer

Method:
Shake ingredients (without ginger beer), strain into a highball glass filled with ice, and top up with ginger beer.

For more cocktail inspiration visit TWISPER's blog, where Dirk shares the recipe for a Hanky Panky featuring gin, sweet vermouth and a spoonful of Fernet Branca. 

More information

TWISPER is a social travel app that allows networks of friends to share and discover the best places to eat, drink and sleep around the world as well as follow travel and lifestyle influencers and magazines for recommendations. 

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