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March 2005

A Taste of Home

In Search of the Perfect Pub

It’s an expat thing. Spend a while in a foreign country, and you’ll soon form a mental list of which aspects of life are better, and which are worse than at home. For me, one of the greatest things Munich has going for it is its wide selection of bars and restaurants. For while I do my best to defend the UK against attack by cliché-fueled Germans, when it comes to rallying for British food and drink, it has to be said, I’m on thin ice—there really isn’t a lot to defend. Except, that is, for the English pub—somewhere where young meets old, where image is irrelevant and where you feel as comfortable as in your own living room, hence the name, public house. But is there an equivalent here? (And by that I don’t mean the themed Irish pubs with overpriced Guinness) I mean, Germans do everything better, so surely they’ve mastered the simple concept of pubs? Time, and some very pleasurable research, would tell …

First stop, close to home. After all, the pub isn’t known to us Brits as “the local” for nothing. The ideal place would be within ten minutes’ walk, enabling me to make regular, effortless appearances and establish a certain rapport with the barman, who would know by the look on my face what I was in the mood for drinking. Problem number one: Munich has so many students desperate for bar work that it’s rare to be served by the same person two weeks running. But back to business—and to Sappralott in Neuhausen (Donnersbergerstrasse 37, Tel. 16 47 25). First impressions are encouraging. The customers are a mixed bunch—a group of old men, a middle-aged couple and two young girls—all at ease in each other’s company, which is somewhat rare in Munich. As for the décor, it’s appropriately simple and unpretentious—you don’t go to a pub to admire the smoke-stained wallpaper, after all. The food, too, should be a sideline. Nothing too fancy, nothing too expensive, just a good mix of basic dishes, served in satisfying, but not breathtaking portions. In fact, nothing should detract from the company, or, of course, the beer. So how does Sappralott fare?

Food-wise, it’s right on track. The menu includes daily specials, such as goulash with Spätzle or fried fish with potato salad, as well as its standard range of burgers, salads, baked potatoes and basic meat dishes, with prices averaging around the € 7–€ 10 mark. It’s not gourmet by any means, but it’s hot, tasty, comforting and you get the impression that, despite the fact the dishes are so basic, the chef is nevertheless putting a certain amount of care into preparing them.

There’s a similar philosophy at Tattenbach in Lehel (Tattenbachstrasse 6, Tel. 22 52 68). It’s not somewhere you’d go purely for the food, and I have had dishes served less than hot there, but whether you opt for the Fleischpflanzerl with potato salad, a dish of pasta or a baked potato, all of which cost € 6.50 or less, while they may not set your taste buds on fire, they will satisfy most appetites. As for that essential pub feeling, this place has a lot going for it. As well as an eclectic clientele, Tattenbach has a dark, smoky backroom, which would be at home in any British boozer. Unlike many German bars, it also has a visible landlord—a recognizable face behind the bar, who may be young and yet to develop a landlord’s paunch, but who’s always present, acknowledging customers and making them feel welcome in his “home.”

Another place that is big on atmosphere is Faun, in the Glockenbachviertel (Hans-Sachs-Strasse 17, Tel. 26 37 98). This time, though, it’s the customers, rather than the staff, who give it its buzz. Be it opera-goers, groups of students, local couples (in the various male/female combinations you tend to find in the area), there’s always a lively mix of people happy to share a table and a few words. On the food front, Faun seems to be moving away from pub favorites towards the current fusion food trend, although if you get there in good time on a Sunday, the Schweinsbraten with Knödel and Krautis a tempting offer at around the € 5 mark. The quality of the meals, however, does seem to fluctuate. While I enjoyed a perfectly good schnitzel with Bratkartoffeln (admittedly this came at a price—€ 12.50), some of the Asian dishes have left my husband asking for a bottle of Tabasco to give them more bite.

So, what’s the verdict? While you may not quite find the equivalent of the Rose & Crown, pub culture does somehow exist here, too—which could well be down to a question of beer. It is no coincidence that those establishments in Munich that come closest to the homely pub all serve what many consider to be the city’s best brew—Augustiner. And whether it’s a real ale, or a draft Helles if you’ve got decent beer, people from all walks of life will come together to enjoy it. No pretensions necessary, just a simple bar, a few friendly souls and a beer—which is pretty much what makes a perfect pub. An open fire and a carpet wouldn’t go amiss, but I guess that’s probably asking too much from a country devoted to clean energy and clean floors!

Wassermann (Elvirastrasse 19, Tel. 123 23 61 and Herzog-strasse 82, Tel. 32 38 80 20)—both outlets of this popular bar/restaurant are worth a visit for a good atmosphere, good food and good music. They both have a big screen to show major sporting events and both play a big role in the local community, participating in their respective street festivals. Again, Augustiner is the beer of choice, and there is also a good selection of wine, whisky and cocktails. The clientele is mixed and there is a general, unpretentious, laid-back feel about the place.

Wirtshaus im Fraunhofer (Fraunhoferstrasse 9, Tel. 26 64 60)—the only problem with this historic place is finding a table. Yes, it’s popular, whether you’re after a quiet drink alone, or a rowdy evening with friends. Customers are equally diverse—from students from every corner of the globe to old Bavarians—all after some decent food and a bit of a buzz. Cultural buffs are in for a particular treat—the pub is linked to a theater that features a range of eclectic performances, from Volksmusik to improvisation nights.

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