I’ve been in Berlin for the past few weeks, soaking up some art and inspiration in my favourite city. And no visit is complete without soaking up a few of the local spirits, too.
I had a chance to stop by one of my favourite cocktail bars last week. And it just happens to be in the very same neighbourhood as our current short term flat.
It’s called Beckett’s Kopf. There’s no sign to mark the location, just an illuminated photo of the Irish novelist Samuel Beckett in the window, and a doorbell.
The menu is presented inside a volume of Beckett’s plays: a choice of 10 drinks made with seasonal ingredients, and the menu changes each month.
The first drink I settled on was called 20th Century, a forgotten classic created by a certain Mr. C.A. Tuck in 1937. It appears in the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, published by the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild, and it was the signature drink served aboard the Twentieth Century Limited train that ran between Chicago and New York from 1902 to 1967.
At first glance, gin, lemon, vermouth and chocolate liquor would seem a strange pairing, but the sourness of the lemon strikes just the right cocktail note. It’s stimulating without being puckery, and the sweetness of the chocolate perfectly compliments and mellows what would otherwise be overpoweringly citrus.
The 20th Century must be a difficult drink to balance, like standing at the centre of a see saw: the slightest shift in either direction would send it careening into dessert zone. But the bartenders at Beckett’s Kopf always seem to get it right.
I took my time appreciating this drink, imagining myself sipping it while clacking across the Great Plains during the golden age of rail travel. And then I made my second and final selection of the evening. It wasn’t a difficult choice.
I had tried the Forrest last year at Beckett’s Kopf, and I was pleased to see it making a reappearance on this year’s autumn menu.
This is a whiskey-laced, autumnal cocktail with tastes of memory, crisp fall air, and wooded things. I sip it and I’m back in Canada, in the woods behind my grandmother’s house. I can hear brittle leaves crunching under my feet. A twig snaps, and then the treetops sway with cool October air, and my world is filled with orange and russet brown, the distant scent of woodsmoke, and a feeling of being wrapped in warm flannel.
The taste lingers like early memories in the final decade of your life. And those memories stayed with me as I walked the nighttime streets of Prenzlauer Berg, back to my Szredzkistrasse flat.