Bartenders Portraits

Pascal Kählin – Bar 63

Pascal Kählin - Bar 63 found at The Pouring Tales 3


Pascal is now 42 years old and unlike Alastair from Happiness Forgets it was not clear for Pascal that he would end up in the gastronomy world of Zurich. After school he decided to do an apprenticeship as photolithographer which lasted 4 years and he finished it in 1993. Back then a lot was going on in that industry and it was in a change. Apple Computer was moving into that world and according to Pascal his work would have become too doll in the long run. The new technology would consolidate many job fields. “I would have probably ended up being a web designer”, he added, but the work would not have been the same anymore. So after 10 months he decided to quit. The question was what to do in life? The gastronomy sector is not an easy, but certainly a fascinating and social one that teaches you a lot in life and brings you together with interesting personalities. It’s a team oriented line of work. To become a restaurant or bar owner in those times you needed a certificate, so it wasn’t that simple as today. Since Pascal was politically rather left oriented he was a regular visitor at Café Zähringer, which was practically the collective hippie place of the 80’s in Zurich. It felt right for him and he applied for a six months’ internship to get some practise and find out if that is really something for him. In the end he stayed on for 5 years and learned everything there is to know about running a restaurant or bar. With the young age of 20 he was in charge of the garde-manger but also not a too small pile of debt the place was having. It was never going too well for Zähringer but it was famous nonetheless. He built himself a solid network of friends during these five years. Mono, Jonas and a third friend he knew who were active in the squatters scene, had the idea to open a café close to Langstrasse and when they did, they operated illegally since the group did not have the money to renovate the place. With all money they earned, they basically bought paint to renovate the place called Total Bar. Two years later it was done and in 1999 it opened legally. Back then, cocktails were nowhere to be found in this area of the city and in general you could only get it in 5 star hotel bars or the Kronenhalle bar. Even though Total Bar would not win a design price, the owners had something that is even more important – Taste! They started early with different Rums but also Amaros, Pastis and of course beer and the place did well. It was right there when Langstrasse area began to flourish as a party neighbourhood where everybody would hang out during the weekend.

Exterior Bar 63 in ZurichBar 63

10 years after opening Total Bar an opportunity arose when the famous Bar 63 was up for takeover. The original Bar 63 opened in 1963 as the name suggests. When the bar was on the market, it seemed a good match for the team and they decided to give it a shot and with that move, Pascal, Mono and Jonas, for the first time, were recognised as serious bar operators. During the 10 years at Total Bar, Pascal’s love for Rum grew deeper. He had relatives in the Caribbean which certainly played his part in that. So when opening Bar 63 he got the top shelf for himself and he was able to place around 70 bottles there and he pretty much still keeps the top shelf besides a lot more. It was around at that time when he started to write his first book which was basically a book about the Rums you can consume at Bar 63. You might think how somebody can just write a book like this but Pascal was not just running Total Bar the last 10 years. He was doing other things beside. He was working for Humbel, a famous Swiss distiller; he even became a distiller himself. The love for the produce itself was intensifying more and more. Today Bar 63 is a friendly neighbourhood bar that offers everything from good wine, to artisanal beers a solid coffee or an excellent tea but they are also serious about cocktails. It shall be a place for everybody, Pascal tells me, and you can really feel that when you walk into this cosy, laid back place. The importance of cocktails grew deeper over the last years but funny enough, Bar 63’s signature drink was invented right for the opening night years back, when the group found old Tiki mugs and literally by playing around they created the Bar 63 Punch. Practically no guests had seen a Tiki Mug before but the people liked it. It was different. Invented more as a joke, it became their best selling drink and it still is with around 200 per week. This drink you will always find when you walk into Bar 63 but the menu changes 4 times a year which is very ambitious but gives that little extra that makes you want to come back even more.

JB Labat in ZurichJB Labat

2012 an opportunity arose to take over a room close by to Bar 63 and Pascal and his team moved from being just bar operators to owning a shop that sells spirits and other fine liquids. It started of being foremost an office for the small team but at the same time being able to distribute the alcohol easier. After three years the place runs successfully, featuring all kind of spirits and speciality on beautifully, antique apothecary furniture. Their majority clients are private ones but they deliver to a few bars as well. Also during this time, the proximity to the produce itself grew deeper as Pascal started to buy a barrel of Rum, did his own filling and aging. In the meantime, he even consults for Humbel. You can feel the passion when Pascal talks about the produce and he told me a little wish when growing older. With 70 he would be very happy to have his own distillery.

Favourite Drink

Pascal likes his Ti-Punch which is basically Rum, Sugar and Lime. Very straight forward. He also likes other classics such as a Manhattan. Preferably he enjoys that with Rum – what else!

Check out Pascal’s recipes: Rum Manhattan and Punch 63.

Favourite Bar

When I asked Pascal for his favourite bar, he had to think for a while and then named the Rum Trader in Berlin. When he goes to a bar, he is not always on the way with his professional mind and if a place like Rum Trader can let him forget where he is, they won. He wasn’t there often but every time he had a great experience. “It is putting on a show and when you enter Rum Trader you enter a place from 30 years ago”, he explained. It’s diving into another world, like a theatre. Yes, the quality has to be right, that goes without saying but at one point he was sitting there at 5 am eating a Pizza and drinking Bollinger champagne. “A very hospitable place and good memories”, Pascal added.

Pascal Kählin at Bar 63 in ZurichThe future of the bar world

Since his place is down to earth and never did crazy things, he is not into big experiments and he thinks all the fancy, molecular drinks won’t stay a trend. For him it’s unnecessary since he loves the produce so much. He thinks it’s good though that other bars around the world are doing it as it breeds creativity, pushes the world of cocktails and raises awareness. He thinks it is going to be more about the guest again. Focus on the guest rather than on the barkeeper. He is not too fond of the rockstars that the barworld has created. The client should be in the focus. That shall be the future. The products that a bar serves are another thing that should be more in the focus. Again I grasped Pascal’s love for the produce itself and the hospitality that is so important to him. It is a people’s business in the end and social skills and knowledge are very important.

Advice for opening a bar

If you have an idea and you think about seriously doing it, do it, but be realistic about it. It is a lot of work. It is hard work. A lot of the work you do is not fun and even boring at times. It is repetitive too at times. It is not something one shall do beside other things. It’s full on or nothing. Last but not least, one shall really think if this place has a right to exist. Is it really needed in this area or city?

Pascal Kählin in the cellar of JB Labat in ZurichCraziest customer experience

At the time when he was working at Café Zähringer, there was at a random day somebody walking into the bar who was wearing some kind of felt frock and looked a little bit like a monk or magician from a fantasy movie. He had long hair and a beard and was having a hood over his head. He sat down and ordered a coffee but was not really speaking. When it was time to collect and Pascal told him it is CHF 3.80, the man looked at him puzzled. He repeated again how much it is and the guy started to rummage around in the pocket of his frock. After a while he took out five hazelnuts and put it on the table. Pascal was baffled but the guy did not seem to understand. He said again that he needs to pay with money and the other guy insisted on giving him the hazelnuts. This went on for a little while until Pascal gave up and took the nuts and later the guy left. It was such a surreal but still authentic scene. Pascal said that either this guy really never has seen money or he was playing the thing so damn well that he bought the story.

Images: Anni Katrin Elmer

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