It was about a year ago when my good friend Armin who opened the Kinly at that time told me to visit another bar in Frankfurt that has just opened. So I made my way over to the Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup at Mainkai 4 and entered that little gem of a bar. It was an extraordinary evening that put a whole new meaning to Classic twists. Sven, the owner was taking care of us the whole night and we discussed drinks on his menu but he also offered his expertise in mixing something out of the ordinary. It became a memorable encounter. Sven, an epitome of an excellent host, is a person that you never quite grasp fully. He reflects, pauses, contemplates, jokes and then he gets serious again and that all in a very short amount of time. It makes you curious about him; slightly mysterious. A very clever fellow. Warm at heart but you don’t want to cross him. The right mix of host and owner, friend and bartender, connoisseur and booze buddy. He seems to always find the right path. So a year later I returned to Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup which just won best new bar to meet Sven Riebel the mastermind behind this tiny heaven.
The first time Sven came in contact with working in a bar was during his time as a student in Berlin in 2001 where he worked part time in a place. It wasn’t anything about cocktails back then. After he finished his business studies in 2006, as so many, he needed some time away and moved to Sydney for 9 months. Besides improving his English, Sven worked in two bars during this short stay in down under. After returning to Berlin, he visited Victoria bar one evening. As fate wanted it, it was the 6th year anniversary of Victoria so everybody was there that night. A friend Gonzalo but also the owners Stefan Weber and Beate Hindermann. Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro approached the freshly returned Sven and asked him if he needs a job. They went the whole hog that night and before Sven knew it, he started working there. “It all went pretty fast”, he concludes.
He stayed from 2007 – 2009 and learned all there is to know about the basics of cocktails from his mentors. After almost two years it was time to move on for him and Sven went to Lebensstern for 9 months. In November 2010 an offer from Gekkos in Frankfurt found its way to him and he took that challenge on and worked his way up to assistant bar manager in the 2 ½ years he stayed at this place. Sven’s business background and creativity subconsciously started a fire for an entrepreneurial step to opening his own bar. Before he was able to do that though he had to experience what it means to put his health in front of everything else. Due to a sport injury he was forced take a year off as he had 3 knee operations. He did jobs here and there but his health came first. He had time to think about his concept and when things started to improve he began in Summer 2014 with concrete plans and in March 2015 he opened his own bar. Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup was born!
Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup
The bar is in the same building as Seven Swans, a fine dining restaurant. Before, it was just used to welcome guests and serve an aperitif. Sven put a lot of thought in that tiny little place as he thinks a lot about drinks and people that visit a place. The most important part for him is the communication in a bar; it is the essence. Not only communication between a bartender and the guests but also bilaterally between guests. Since the bar is only 17m2 people might think it was an easy task to facilitate communication but a lot of thought went into the space concept. There shall be no border between guests and bartenders. The challenge was to make the place look bigger and let it as open as possible. Unmistakably Sven’s bar has elements of a typical Japanese watering hole. Space has been used very wisely! Sven runs his place with only 3 people and it is a bar that Frankfurt has not seen so far. It shall be cosy therefore he stops when 16 guests enjoy their drinks. The concept shall go hand in hand with the restaurant upstairs, everything else would not work. The creations on the menu are a team effort. The focus in on Classics with a twist. “As space is limited, one cannot do everything”, Sven explains.
As mentioned, the core are classical twists. Besides visiting other bars and being well connected in the bartender community, Sven uses techniques such as sous-vide to develop his creations. Every menu at Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup has a different theme and changes bi-annually. Another source that Sven uses frequently are old forgotten classics.
Variants of Old Fashioned. One can taste the spirit; it is clearly distinguishable. This cocktail needs few other things to be fantastic in itself and the focus lies definitely with the spirit that is used. “And good Gin & Tonic goes down well any time of the day”, Sven adds.
Sven is well travelled in Germany but otherwise has not seen as much of the international bar world as he would like to so he focuses on the Germany market. One of his favourite bars is Buck & Breck in Berlin. They mix similarly to Sven’s team. They don’t really care about new bar trends and do their thing. They don’t really communicate too much to the world and don’t do any advertisement. One can basically say, they have been discovered. Another bar or barkeeper that Sven wants to mention is Lukas Motejzik from Zephyr in Munich. He is a co-owner in this cocktail kingdom. Sven admires Lukas for his creativity with only few financial means plus he is genuinely a nice guy. Sven calls him the most creative and most pleasant bartender of Germany.
Advice for opening a bar
The first bar is the most difficult one to open even though Sven didn’t have to take too many hurdles to realise the project but you learn a lot. “You get to know yourself much better!” Sven was very calm but nervous on the inside at the same time but he never felt anxious. You have to remain calm. There will always be ups and downs. It took 14 years from starting in the bar business to opening his own place. Experience is the most important thing. There are too many young guns who want to get to their goal and opening their own place too fast. The Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup project took 2 ½ years to open. “As a young entrepreneur you cannot force such a project to happen, things evolve over time”.
The city is small and compact. The bar scene is very productive and healthy and the good thing is that it is like a big family. The bartenders are rather friends that competitors. They all have a very good network. He feels very welcome in this city as other barkeepers are happy for the success of their friends in other bars.
If guests think they can achieve everything with money but do not have the understanding and respect for the bartending profession. Unfortunately, this still happens from time to time.
Best decision in life
In 1986 to move with mum and his second dad to Berlin. It helped enormously in his development process and he evolved in that city. Berlin really shaped him. As a child it was a nightmare when the decision was taken to move there but in the retrospective it was the best decision ever.
Images: DADO Photography