We’ve been to all kinds of bars, from lounges that serve 20-year-old port in crystal stemware to dives that serve flat beer in plastic cups. With experience comes opinion, and in ours, English pubs are the friendliest (maybe because of the familiar-sounding language they speak), but German beer halls offer the best brew in the world. American bars run the gamut, but our preferred haunts favor the exotic tastes of microbrews over the usual blandness of multinational corporate offerings. Otter Creek’s Copper Ale? Yes please.
Assuming cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, however, the most “heavenly” bars belong to the Swiss. Without a doubt, the Swiss have the cleanest bars in the world. This should come as no surprise, since the Swiss are known for their meticulous nature. The trains run on schedule. The buildings look freshly scrubbed. The citizens are fit, fashionable, and refined. Even their soccer teams never play dirty.
When we visited Zurich, we felt an initial twinge of envy for the way the city sparkled, but the feeling didn’t last. After a multi-day hitchhike, we looked as well kempt as Albert Einstein on a bad hair day. Even the Swiss punks—sporting precise green mohawks and glinting metal studs—gave us the cold shoulder.
We were visiting a friend, and luckily, he didn’t live far from city center. But a few minutes as the crow flies became a painful half hour as the way rose gradually steeper and steeper until we were literally crawling hand over foot up the last stone steps to his abode. Later, after a power-nap and a shower, we decided to “paint the town red,” a quaint expression that has more to do with changing our own complexion than the town’s. Tom, our local host, led us downhill, using the funiculars to speed our trip. We made it in about five minutes.
Tom thought an American-friendly bar would impress us. It didn’t. We’d come to Europe to escape the smug American psyche. Although the place was as spotless as a shaven Bernese Mountain Dog, too many customers looked like transplanted Yuppies. Overheard conversations revolved around baseball, politics, and worst of all: discount shopping. We left immediately.
The next stop, a dark but tidy nightclub, pounded its patrons into submission with loud, electronic dance music. Tom bought the first round, and we settled into a corner booth. Lithe, young Swiss girls danced all around us, attracting our attention and then dismissing it. One round led to another, and soon we were dancing all around the lithe, young Swiss girls—who deflected our attempts to engage them in a subtle European way: French-kissing their girlfriends.
By the time we dragged ourselves away, dazed and sweaty, we found that balancing on two feet was more a function of momentum than conscious will. With Tom in the lead, we set out for a clean, well-lighted place. One last drink before the long uphill trek to bed. At a promising tavern, Tom pulled open a heavy wooden door to find a Swiss gentleman of imposing proportions. The man took one look at us and—before Tom could open his mouth—shook his head and pointed us away.
We waved Swiss francs at him, to prove we could pay for our drinks. He shook his head again and blocked the doorway with his girth. We’d never been refused entry to a bar before. Never. Not in Turkey, not in Paris, not even in Trenton, New Jersey. So why now, and why in Zurich?
The bouncer’s explanation, in heavily accented English, was short and sweet: “You are too dirty,” he said.
Lessons Learned: Switzerland is a beautiful country surrounded by rugged mountains. Situated right in the middle of Western Europe, the country offers many treats of its own, plus it’s a great jumping-off point for a longer European vacation. You’re bound to have fun there, as long as you keep your nose as clean as the Swiss keep their bars.
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 4
Customer Dis-service: 4
Discomfort Level: 2
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 3
Fun Fraction: 3/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Zurich Airport
Native Population: 372,000
Normal Attractions: Lindenhof (a medieval castle), the Bahnhofstrasse shopping district, museums, churches, gardens, and of course, the Alps.
Final Point of Interest: Every spring, the Zurich Swiss hold a parade and then burn an effigy of Winter called a Böögg. What a college town!