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Berlin nightlife gets an old-fashioned dose of glamour.
Berlin hipsters are laying off the electronica and puttin’ on the ritz at a series of parties around the city held in the hippest clubs and most historic hot spots.
This story first appeared in the January 15, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Making it past the velvet rope at the roving Bohème Sauvage party is not about who’s who, but what you wear. The dress code is dapper, dandy, diva or flapper. This swanky mode is quite a contrast to Berlin’s normally laid-back street look. Fedoras take the place of hoodies, hair is finger-waved instead of flat-ironed and makeup runs to the smoky eye paired with carefully painted Cupid’s bow lips in blood red.
Hostess Inga Jacob started the party as a salon for 40 people in her Berlin group house, and it quickly grew to a monthly must-do for 300 to 400 people (with countless numbers turned away at the door of the venue du jour). She’s inspired not just by the styles of the Roaring Twenties, but also the philosophy. “It was an excessive time, but it was also a time when everything was new,” she says.
These days, everything’s old, and good vintage can be hard to track down. Musician Dominik Bretsch scoured eBay for his dashing top hat, pairing it with a black suit, bow tie and one perfect red rose. The spitting image of Louise Brooks, with a sweet pink bow tied around her brunette bob, writer Geneviève Schetagne laughingly says of her white drop-waist shift: “It’s actually my wedding dress!” Almost anything goes (but jeans and sneakers are verboten), and there’s room for modern mixing—think flapper grunge, or Bonnie and Clyde in HotPants.
Bohème Sauvage guests can partake of absinthe, lose their (fake) reichsmarks at the small casino, watch a burlesque show and cut a rug to hot jazz, swing, Balkan, tango or klezmer after a complimentary Charleston lesson. A cigarette girl not only has tobacco and chocolate treats on offer, but also sells oversize fabric flowers, long strings of beads and men’s suspenders for those guests who feel under-accessorized.
Elsewhere in Berlin, Forties fans hot to fox-trot hit the jackpot with Swing Royal at the newly renovated Admiralspalast Theater. The event serves up big bands, jive and glamour girls, and a minishop with vintage fashion and accessories The 100-year-old venue once counted an ice skating rink and a bowling alley among its public pleasures, and now shines with a retro flair on these evenings that pop up about every three months. Berlin’s army of swing aficionados come out in full force—after all, they’ve been taking lessons all over the city to prepare.
For those who need a regular fix saloon-style, each Sunday brings Coconut Grove to the restaurant-bar White Trash Fast Food, a kitschy Chinese restaurant–turned-club with design elements from tiki to biker. It’s practically a hipster Disneyland. “Make sure you wear an evening dress,” growls the tattooed man at the bar when asked for a table reservation. Patrons happily knock back cocktails such as Moscow Baby Mules and Pisco Sours, and recent acts include Pinkspots, a cute Andrews Sisters–type trio who harmonize Thirties-style with originals and swinging versions of old songs such as “Chim Chim Cher-ee” in German.
With Germany now officially in a recession, these parties also offer good value, even sometimes including a welcoming drink in the entry price. Cover charges run from about 3 euros, or $4.30 at current exchange, to 20 euros, or $28.70. Yet one more reason to party like it’s 1929.