In der Freitagsnacht Langstrasse
Speaking German is not something I can do. Thank goodness the Swiss are the most omnilingual people on earth. If you don’t understand German, maybe you can try French, Italian, English? Arabic? You will hear it all, often in the context of a single conversation.
Zürich is a dreamy city, and also the most expensive place I have ever been. It made me long for the $8 beers in New York City. Not unlike New York City you situate yourself in Zurich in relation to two rivers that border the city center on the East (Limmat) and the West (Sihl). The transit system however, puts NYC to shame, and includes luxurious feeling river ferries that stop at various points along the east and west banks of the Limmat.
Across the Sihl, above the train tracks, is the neighborhood known as West Zurich. After growing tired of the flashy boulevard lined with Loius Vuitton and Burberry facades, I wandered that way along the river bank. After crossing the river, I first went the “wrong way”. This means you walk along a simple, quiet street that could be anywhere New Jersey. The antiquitous daunting stone gives way to simple wood frame apartment buildings, gas stations, and empty lots. I stopped to watch a young man spray painting “Über Gang Club – Coming Soon” in neon orange on the side of a wall. I asked him where I could sit and have a beer, and he said, confusingly, that he didn’t know. With that, I turned around and hopped a ubiquitous tram heading the other way.
Great luck and destiny brought me to a street corner that looked a lot more Williamsburg, and a lot less Newark, where I was drawn by nostalgia and already emerging lust for Americana to a purple neon-lit bar called “Chicago-Bar”. As I approached the doorway, I was discouraged by the lone, lonely looking man sitting at the bar and instead ducked into the tiny room behind it.
Chrigi’s Bar to save the day.
The bartender/owner/host, Chrigi is a charmingly charismatic man with mischievous eyes. I joined the only other patron on the stools, pointed to the tap, and asked what it was. “Beer,” he said with a grin. Fair enough. I had a few “small” ones, as well as a couple delightful “house shots” that Chrigi served with great flair and hospitality. His drink menu is organized by human capacity, from the first page “drink this and drive home”, to the middle, “drink this and call a cab”, to the last page with a sentiment something like “drink this and you will die”.
Chrigi opened his bar 10 years ago, as commemorated by the assortment of international $10 notes taped to his ceiling, signed by adoring patrons. His family owns the bar, as well as the Chicago-Bar I narrowly missed and the 22 apartment units above. The rent in those apartments averages about 1000FR/ month, which I’m told is a very low rate for Zurich.
“It’s not a great area,” the Swiss gentlemen Matthias & Jan who sat beside me said. “Here, in Switzerland we would say these people are very low, very poor…Still,” Matthias qualified, “it is not like the US. Maybe there, you would not say that they are poor. But to us, yes.”
A handful of men and women came in and out of the bar, and Chrigi greeted each of them as friends. A woman left her drink at the bar, and Chrigi put it in the fridge for her inevitable return. Some sat alone, others with friends, but everyone, truly everyone, came to talk to Chrigi. He laughed, made shots, told jokes, and kept the music going on his electronic jukebox. I was at home almost instantly.
I asked Matthias to help me ask Chrigi a few questions about the place. He agreed, but when I asked the first question, “What is your favorite thing about the neighborhood?,” Matthias paused. “That is a very difficult question you are asking,” he said with narrowed eyes. “I don’t know what he can say. Here, people mostly stay where they are from. You don’t often get away from where you live. But I’ll try…” he said, and waved down Chrigi to translate my ignorant question into something that might make sense. Chrigi’s response?
“The chief surgeon, he is always coming here. He keeps coming back”.
I think this answers the question I meant to ask. If I make it back to Zürich one day, I will certainly go back to Chrigi’s Bar for the trademark hospitality, good feelings, and good friends that make this place feel like the place to be.