In Germany, the word bar is often associated with some dark and gloomy wine cellar or cavernous beer hall filled with huge-bellied burghers swilling Pilsener by the quart. My favorite German bar, Schumann's in Munich, is not one of those. It is a simple, unadorned and lively hangout for the schickeria, Bavaria's fast-moving crowd in the fields of film, fashion and the arts.
Through Schumann's glass-and-wood doors step some of the most fashionable people in Munich, which is to say, in Europe, and for the price of a beer you can have a vantage point that is a fascinating cross between Rome's Via Veneto and London's Annabel's.
The place gets awfully crowded, perhaps too crowded, some would say. But that's the way the Germans like it. How else do you know a joint is popular unless you can barely move inside?
The bar is centrally situated on the most fashionable street in one of the more visually appealing cities in Europe. Proprietor Charles Schumann serves every drink known to his civilized habitues. But there's wonderful beer too, and pretzels. Prices are about the same as one could expect to pay at a first-class bar in Los Angeles.
The trick is to get there early--or very late--and find a stool at the long bar or a seat at one of the two dozen tables in the front room or in the back room. Many of the steady customers come in at what the Germans call "the blue hour," at dusk, when the place opens, for a martini or manhattan before the arrival of the schickeria.
In winter, the bar is jammed in the shank of the evening, but in summer, the crowd spreads out onto the small Platz in front, where tables are set up and the people-watching is as pleasant as it is anywhere I know. Schumann opened the place four years ago, having run bars in the south of France and in Spain before settling in Munich. He can be found behind the bar, in a white apron, during virtually all its open hours. That's why the bar is closed on Saturdays.
"I believe in supervising the place personally," he said recently. "I need one night off a week and, since a lot of my regulars are professional people who work around here, I chose Saturday night to take off."
The styling of Schumann's is a subdued beige and black. Like Arrigo Cipriani of Harry's Bar in Venice, Schumann believes that a bar's background should be unobtrusive: His clientele is the best decor. For my money, he's right.
Schumann's, 36 Maximillianstrasse, Munich. Open 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.. Closed Saturdays.