he “Cordobar” has not even opened and yet I can scent wine in the air. The delicate necks of the glasses are lined up in a row in the dim light. The wood-dominated interior exudes a pleasant, dimly lit atmosphere. Instantly, I feel at ease. Here, I can guzzle my way through a list of top-quality German and Austrian wines as thick as a book, no holds barred, and beforehand line my stomach with treats like brill pasta or pointed cabbage risotto. Yet, the “Cordobar” is anything but snobbish. This is confirmed by Willi as well, as he casually walks through the door in tracksuit bottoms and very cordially greets his staff in his Austrian accent.
In Berlin, everybody can live their lives relying on guesswork and luck and at their own pace.
But let’s start at the beginning: how does a young person become a wine connoisseur? Willi knows how it happened: “My culinary awakening took place at the School of Tourism in Bad Gleichenberg. There I shared a room with the son of a wine bar proprietor.” He often brought a drop of the good stuff with him, and they did their
wine-tasting in rather amateurish fashion using tooth-
brush beakers. Lucky Austria: once the teachers got wind of that, they quickly launched a course for young sommeliers. “That’s when I started concentrating on the subject of wine.”
It was more of a coincidence that Willi teamed up with Gerhard Retter, Jan-Ole Gerster as well as with Christoph and Gudrun Ellinghaus – what they have in common is their passion for wine. The five of them came up with the idea of setting up their own business in Berlin one evening, naturally over a glass of great wine. “At first, it was more of pipe dream rather than a serious undertaking. But at some point we decided to take the plunge.”
The biggest stress factors? “Definitely dealing with the authorities and trying to find a common denominator with so many people involved”, says Willi laughing. The four of them quickly abandoned the original concept of just serving sandwiches with wine. “The kitchen had already been installed and star-rated chef Lukas Mraz was available at that moment. His cuisine then helped us reach the top.”
That’s how the “Cordobar” became a “wine bar serving food” – is how Willi describes the culinary concept. In answer to the question what the “Cordobar” is really good at, he responds with “oblivion” like a shot. The particular thing about this bar is how heterogeneous its clientele is. At six o’clock, you can take the parents-in-law out for a civilized dinner here, then send them off home and afterwards drink your way to ecstasy until the crack of dawn. Willi admits: “I am only really satisfied when both guests and staff leave the joint happy.” And that is what everybody is every night.
Why Berlin and not Austria, where after all two of the founders come from? That has something to do with the German capital’s youthful, outgoing wine culture and with very personal issues. “Keeping up with today’s tempo is one of the biggest challenges in the restaurateur profession“, he explains. “In Berlin, everybody can live their lives relying on guesswork and luck and at their own pace.” Furthermore the “Cordobar” would hardly be the “Cordobar” if it were not defined by that motley clientele that frequents Berlin-Mitte. “We get them all, from wine experts to businesspeople and families to Austrian tourists, who want to celebrate victory against Germany retrospectively”, says Willi. “Cordoba(r)” is namely the place where Austria’s footballers beat Germany during the 1978 World Cup.
Finally, I venture to ask a naïve question: What happens if you walk into the “Cordobar” as an absolute amateur? Here, too, Willi has to laugh heartily. “To start with, I would offer an aperitif and water. Then we would start chatting and drinking.” That sounds like a very good introduction to a very long night.