Why, oh why, did the gastropub never catch on in Berlin?
Berliners like beer. Berliners like food. Sometimes, they like both together, as seen in the handful of traditional Gaststätten and Wirtshäuser that remain in this city. But the idea of a place where both are good – where the beer is made by small, local brewers and the food is prepared with expertise and care – is weirdly a bridge too far.
Germans’ steadfast, possibly self-hating belief that nice food can only be consumed with wine: anything beyond bratwurst and Buletten, and the pilsner goes out the window
For a few glorious years, there were two exceptions, Anglophone hangouts that put a modern, international spin on the rich pub culture of the British Isles. Prenzlauer Berg’s Salt ‘n’ Bone, opened in 2015 by Irish couple Andy Costello and Rebecca Lynch, offered a tightly curated tap list alongside upmarket yet unpretentious bar bites, from dry-aged burgers and fish and chips to fusion tacos and five spice-glazed pork belly. Up in Wedding, Emma Dutton and Fraser McCabe of Hirsch & Hase catered to fellow Scots with haggis (served as deep-fried “bonbons” on the bar menu and in its gutsy glory at their annual Burns Night bash) and to everyone else with plates like Laphroaig-cured salmon, mushroom tartare and a much-beloved Sunday roast, washed down with brews from nearby Eschenbräu.
Alas, within the space of a single month, we lost both. Hirsch & Hase quietly shuttered at the beginning of August: no social media hoopla, just an email sent out to regulars and a low-key closing party. Salt ‘n’ Bone, conversely, has been hosting an “Irish wake” since its mid-month closure announcement, welcoming friends and strangers alike to raise one last pint before its final fete this Saturday.
They leave behind few successors. St. Bart has terrific gastropubby plates, but the beer list is lacking – it’s more of a wine joint – and the weekend-only opening hours make reservations a bitch. Brlo’s Gleisdreieck restaurant pairs hoppy house brews with a very decent menu of veggie dishes and smoked meats, but it’s too huge and loud to be considered a pub. Brewdog? Eh, if you’re desperate enough for an IPA and an Indian-spiced lamb burger that you’ll support a company that treats its employees like shit.
Manifest Taproom, with over 20 beers on tap accompanied by US-style sandwiches and snacks, might come closest. But for the most part, the spot that gastropubs would occupy in Berlin’s dining scene has been filled by wine bars: St. Bart, but also Konträr, Bar Normal and Freundschaft, to name a few places that combine expertly selected tipples with refined but approachable small plates.
This is partly a zeitgeist thing, of course. Natural wine long ago supplanted craft beer as the hipster drink of choice, just as exposed brick gave way to smooth white walls and the word “hipster” became cheugy. It may also have to do with Germans’ steadfast, possibly self-hating belief that nice food can only be consumed with wine: anything beyond bratwurst and Buletten, and the pilsner goes out the window. And because “wine food” is perceived as inherently higher-value than “beer food”, wine bars can more easily complete the price hikes necessary to withstand the perfect storm of staffing shortages and rising costs that’s been slamming the gastro industry all year.
In any case, you’ve still got through Saturday to go pour one out for Salt ‘n’ Bone and all that it represents. After that, you’d better start training your palate to like low-intervention Lambruscos.
- Salt ‘n’ Bone, Schliemannstr. 31, Prenzlauer Berg, Tue-Sat 18-24