In Zurich, Alex Flach is essentially Mr. Nightlife. He has a weekly nightlife column in Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger newspaper and for many years he’s worked as a promoter for half a dozen of the city’s clubs. In our interview he explains what he loves and hates about Zurich, which clubs and bars you shouldn’t miss and why Zurich is still no Berlin.
Alex, you’re essentially Zurich’s Mr. Nightlife. Is Zurich’s nightlife scene really as good as most locals think it is?
Ha, well, Zurich is no metropolis and therefore its nightlife isn’t as varied or significant as say Berlin’s. But yes, Zurich has a really high density of clubs and there’s something for every taste. There are hip hop parties, house clubs, techno clubs, rock DJing and tons of really good concerts. And the quality of the DJ line-ups in the clubs is probably better than many other cities. You’ll often find some of the world’s most sought-after DJs here in different local clubs on the same night. Zurich’s scene differs from Berlin’s in that there are only one or two clubs that cater to a certain taste here, while Germany’s capital has closer to 15.
Do you also like other things about Zurich, apart from its nightlife? Oh yes, I do! Zurich is my home and I love it. I mean, the natural setting is just phenomenal. The lake, its two rivers, the Uetliberg mountain… if you don’t fall in love with Zurich while taking a walk on the shore from the Rote Fabrik alternative culture centre toward Bürkliplatz, then you simply have no heart. The panorama is so awesome, it’s pure kitsch!
So what are your favourite places in town? Rieterpark or Villa Patumbah are great parks which I love. The Letten area in summer is great and every visitor I bring there loves it. And I adore Langstrasse, my favourite street in Zurich for nightlife.
You told us what you like about Zurich. Is there anything that annoys you?
Oh yes, actually, a lot. Mostly the peculiarities of the locals. Zurich people are reserved and aren’t open to new things or new people. And there’s a culture of envy. This is certainly connected to money. There’s loads of money in the city, but this also means that money becomes really important. If you have a lot of money, Zurich can be the greatest city in the world, but if you don’t have money, Zurich can be a really tough place to be… and the housing market is a catastrophe. Young families have to move out of the city because they can’t find affordable flats… but, of course, in Zurich whining is a part of everyday life.
You talked about the Langstrasse district. Do you think it’s changed for the worse over the years? Hasn’t it lost some of its wickedness?
Yes, a little maybe. What is happening now is gentrification. Two decades ago the nightlife subculture moved into the district and suppressed the red light milieu more and more. Now some of the hipper restaurants like Hiltl or the 25hours hotel are moving here, suppressing some of that subculture. The ones complaining about this development are obviously always the ones being suppressed. But it’s kind of a natural cycle… for the next couple of years though I’m sure that Langstrasse will still be the place for nightlife. And then it will simply move somewhere else.
So you’re not concerned that this nightlife will die out?
Haha, no, not at all. It will move somewhere else. Maybe Wipkingen, maybe Altstetten, who knows? As long as people want to go out and have fun, there will be nightlife, that’s for sure.
How has nightlife in Zurich changed over the last 20 years?
Well, it’s hard to imagine nowadays, but at the end of the 1990s nightlife was almost non-existent or mostly at illegal bars and parties. Only when the law was liberalised in 1998 did it become much easier to get permits for clubs and bars. Since then nightlife has boomed and over the years it got much more professional. In general, not much has changed in the last decade. Many clubs and bars came and went but the number of clubs was stable. Today, nightlife is a tough business and there’s no such thing as an ‘easy buck.’ Every niche has already been covered by a few players, so only quality establishments succeed.
Alex, can you reveal to us some of your favourite places in Zurich? After a hard day’s work, where do you go for a beer with friends? Sure, I totally like Vagabundo close to Kalkbreite. It’s an easy-going place, ideal for a beer or two. It’s usually busy and there’s always something going on. Or try Fat Tony. I like the relaxed vibe there.
And what bars do you recommend for some more sophisticated mixology? For traditional cocktails, Kronenhalle is still the place to be... the new chef de bar Christian Heiss does a great job. And where else can you enjoy a cocktail beneath original Picassos? For more wild and daring mixes I recommend Raygrodski. The crowd is really young there, but the cocktails are great. And Montblack is a small, lovely bar with just a handful of extraordinary cocktails, which I like a lot.
And what about clubbing hotspots?
The cutting-edge for demanding electronic music is still Zukunft, no doubt. For a younger crowd with some more ‘circus,’ as I call the trappings of a party, I recommend Hive. And something in between those two is Friedas Büxe, where you’ll find an older crowd than at Hive and an emphasis on the line-up. And since this autumn, there’s finally a cool club for rock music lovers, the Minirock. For urban sounds and hip hop with tons of live acts, Exil is the place to go. Gonzo is also a safe bet for non-electronic sounds and it’s the only place in Zurich that is packed even on a Wednesday. For some more mainstream music with the occasional hit playing, try Plaza.