Pursuit (Drinks): Swiss treat

You won't get any Bull at Zurich's Widder Bar.

You might not expect an exclusive bar in a city of just 374,000 people, but this is no ordinary town. This is Zurich. And the Widder Bar, located inside the exclusive Widder Hotel near highbrow retail names such as Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton on the nearby Bahnhofstrasse, is where those with discriminating tastes head.

Push open the red door to step into the bar and the first thing you see is a huge wall of bottles that extends right up to the carved wood ceiling, behind a glossy wood bar. The Widder Bar calls the wall its “library of spirits,” and it contains more than 600 different libations, about 450 of them whiskies.

Even with the impressive collection of single malts — including a $1,560-a-glass Ardbeg 1965 40-year-old — you won’t find any snobbery here. “You shouldn’t tell a customer how to drink a beverage,” says Markus Blattner, manager of the Widder Bar and its spirits library. “If he wants to drink an expensive whiskey on the rocks, whatever makes him comfortable.” If you ask nicely, though, Blattner is always willing to provide some advice.

Blattner got his first bartending job at the Widder Bar in 1995, left in 1997 and returned in 2000 to become the barchef. At the time, the bar already had an impressive 120 whiskies, but Blattner has been growing the collection ever since, adding whiskies as he discovers them. His laid-back but refined sensibility netted him the title of Barchef of the Year by Swiss business magazine Bilanz in 2008. And his personality comes through in the atmosphere at the Widder Bar. It’s a small room, but you feel comfortable here. The cushy red leather chairs, padded leather benches and slick varnished wood tables juxtapose against the timber posts and beams of the original structure.

Even when it’s a full house, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic and the noise isn’t deafening. The crowd is typically a mix of young and old, hipsters and tourists, bohemians and suits, buteveryone seems to be having a good time.

Blattner makes sure everyone is happy and that all the drinks are perfectly made. He works the room, talking to patrons and mixes some of the drinks personally. Customers gravitate to him, too, and many seem to be regulars.

What happens when Blattner is on the other side of the bar? “Beer is like mother’s milk to me,” he says. He always goes back to Swiss beer for everyday quaffing. When not drinking beer though, he likes gin and tonics, maybe some whiskey, or a Manhattan.

His signature drink is not a classic, but something of his own creation called the A&C. His inspiration for the concoction was Armagnac and brandy, but he decided to make an all-French cocktail of Armagnac and Chambord. The mix of oaky Armagnac with the deep raspberry fruit of the Chambord is very comforting and easy to drink.

So in a bar where they have so much selection and so much to offer with an expert mixologist in-house, is there anything they won’t serve? Blattner offers only one straight-faced answer: “You won’t get any Red Bull here.”