Basel blooms in summer. The somewhat staid city on the Rhine perched astride the German and French borders comes to life when the temperature rises. A rash of tables and chairs breaks out on pavements downtown, people break into smiles more readily and dress more loosely – a familiar sight is of scantily clad people wandering through the streets fresh from a Rhine swim, clutching their clothes in a waterproof bag and heading for home. There are jazz festivals, open-air concerts and the famous Basel Tattoo, often with top billing from the town’s stunning home-grown Top Secret drummers.
If you’re staying in town this summer (or visiting from elsewhere) and getting thirsty, here’s a selection of my favourite watering holes in the city (first published for Art Basel week in FT Weekend ). One word of advice, just in case you were tempted: give the bar at the Trois Rois on the Rhine a wide birth. It offers surly service, insufficient seating and silly prices.
Classy wine bar/deli belonging to (and across the street from) the Hotel Krafft in a quiet street near the Rhine with sleek, dark wooden counters, stools and tables and pavement space for balmy Basel evenings. Wines for aficionados (think Ziereisen, Kesselring, Cascina Fontana, Alvaro Palacios, Quinta do Crasto) with a decent number offered by the glass and bar snacks showcasing Swiss raw-milk cheeses (Willi Schmid’s Jersey Blue, Glarus alp cheese) plus topnotch salumi and pata negra. Fetching floor tiles, whose motif is reproduced on the cover of the menu (above).
Rheingasse 19, Kleinbasel, Tel. +41 61 690 91 30
Behind the solid bourgeois walls of this Basler institution (built 1925) lurks a slinky black bar and brasserie (with more original tiles…a recurring theme in my pics), reborn last year courtesy of local heroes Herzog & De Meuron. Cool vibe, great music (including a jazz brunch the last Saturday of the month), decent wines by the glass (Swiss, French, Spanish), Ueli Bier from the nearby microbrewery, “newbie” cocktails like Hang Hang Tang (gin and passionfruit) and tapas-type nibbles for a bobo crowd. Rebgasse 12-14, Kleinbasel, Tel. +41 671 690 93 10
Brand-new kid on the block just across from the Messe with sparkly retro chandeliers, a little smoke (the bar belongs to the association Fümoar, the Basel-Dütsch rendering of fumoir, in whose establishments smoking is permitted) and lots of mirrors. Fourteen different vodkas and serried ranks of single malts for sampling on plump leather stools at the bar, or on the pavement with front-row-of-the-stalls views of the (also brand-new) rippling Messe rooftop.
Riehenring 79, Kleinbasel, Tel. + 41 61 692 20 00
Dive down the steps beside Donati and turn right into this funky, young pub-bar that fronts onto the river, practically underneath the arches of the Johanniterbrücke. On the blackboard are lurid spraycan art-style illustrations of the Drink of the Day (no spirit combination that’s too weird to work), Wine of the Week (Defesa rosé et al) and upcoming live music, plus alternative art exhibits on the walls.
Cargo Bar, St Johanns-Rheinweg 46, Grossbasel, Tel. +41 61 321 00 72
Cool white wood panelling, marble tables and always a gentle buzz in this civilised wine bar of renowned art-hotel Teufelhof in Basel’s perfectly preserved old town. Swiss cheese from Rolf Beeler, French from Bernard Antony, Italian salumi, European wine selection and a blinding Picasso cocktail featuring absinthe, Cointreau, cassis and Prosecco in honour of the city’s favourite artist (see a dazzling selection of his works at the Kunstmuseum and Fondation Beyeler)
Teufelhof Bar, Leonhardsgraben 49, Grossbasel, Tel. +41 61 261 10 10