The iconic film ‘Cabaret’ was released in 1972, two years before I first set foot in Berlin. I watched it over and over again, completely mesmerised by its seductive picture of bohemian life in 1930s Berlin. Sally Bowles, the film’s heroine, was a fictional character in Christopher Isherwood’s (semi-autobiographical) novel, ‘Gooobye to Berlin’ on which the film is based. She sings in the ‘Kit Kat Club’ a burlesque revue bar.
Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles in ‘Cabaret’
In 1994 a rather more hard-core club with the same name was opened by an Austrian pornographic film maker and his partner. But this is definitely not the place to go to indulge in nostalgia for pre-war Berlin. Instead, head for the wonderfully atmospheric Sally Bowles Café in Schöneberg, the gay neighbourhood where Christopher Isherwood actually lived.
Sally Bowles Café – 2, Eisenacher Straße
Nollendorfstraße 17, where Isherwood lived in Berlin
During the day the ‘Sally Bowles’ is an unassuming café serving German snacks, light meals, coffee and cake. At night it turns into a bar with live music and evokes the style and charm of a lost era. The owner and his partner are both locals and have entirely refurbished the interior of this former sex club. There are wooden tables and chairs, a comfortable sofa, red velvet curtains and an old piano. The traditional bar is lit by candelbras and a chandelier. Everything perfectly catches the Weimar Berlin feeling.
Elegant interior of Sally Bowles Café
Owners, Nadine Griezke and Sebastian Ungruhe
The friendly staff, often wearing ‘Cabaret’ style bowler hats, braces and suspenders, welcome their guests with genuine warmth.
Willkommen, Welcome, Bienvenue…
We went along on a Saturday night and had booked tickets for an Edith Piaf evening (you can easily book by sending an email in English). Both the singer and the accordionist were excellent. Next time I hope to catch “A Cabaret Story 1981-1933’ which is staged two or three times a month. Live music is performed in the small salon at the back of the café and you can take drinks in with you. Forthcoming events are listed on the Café’s website at www.sallybowles.de
At the Edith Piaf event
Of course, there’s no need to book a live show. You can just drop by any time and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Swing and jazz music emanate from the bar and in summer there are tables outside on the pavement. The food is authentic proletarian Berlin fare and the drinks are reasonably priced too. The bar’s creative cocktails apparently enjoy a city-wide reputation. Mojitos and Moscow Mules come highly recommended, but I tried the house cocktail, a Sally Bowles. Its heady mixture of Lillet blanc and wild berry put me in mind of a line from ‘Willkommen’ in Cabaret: ‘Leave your troubles outside. So life is disappointing? Forget it!’
Crowds outside the café on a summer evening
Eisenacher Straße 2
Tel: +49 30 922 777 35
4pm until 1am