Two weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to spend the weekend in Basel. I lived there for a year between 2008-2009 and had fond memories of the city. Back then I was impressed with Basel’s nightlife, finding it had incredible venues and a solid liquid offer (yes, I couldn’t resist the wordplay). What I got to see at Werk8 in terms of venue and drinks comforted my 10 year old opinion.
Werk8 stands in place of what was my favourite bar when I lived in Basel, Eo Ipso. The bar is really special and impressive for many reasons; the first one being its premises. Werk8 stands in a former machine building facility built in 1894. Imagine an enormous surface with high ceiling, large windows and metallic supporting beams; a mix of leather couches, metallic bar stools and trees scattered here and there; and, finally, a bar station standing majestically across the entrance with a “rusty” metallic back pane and countertop. That’s Werk8. For its sheer size and decor, it is truly a sight to behold.
The venue’s surface is actually so large that Werk8 also houses a restaurant under the same roof. Both the bar and the restaurant are large with plenty of space between tables so people don’t have to shout to talk to each other. It is thus not loud, even with the music playing.
There is more to Werk8 than its interior design. The cocktails are obviously well worth a visit (otherwise I wouldn’t write an article about the bar). A word about the menu first though. In keeping with the industrial decor, the menu’s cover is made of the same metal as the bar station and back pane and the bitters and garnishes are nicely organized in toolboxes. Talk about strong identity!
The menu lists about 16 creation cocktails with some twists on classic recipes, such as the Piña go free yourself, a variation of the Piña Colada with rum and champagne (this seems to be a trend as I saw something similar at Coupette in London over Christmas). For each cocktail, there is an accompanying tagline or a quote. For example: “I never go jogging it makes me spill my Martini” by George Bruns for the Wisley Martini (Gin, Urban Gardening vermouth) or “A gentleman is someone who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally” by Oscar Wilde for the Gentleman’s Colada (rum, coconut, pineapple. sherry).
I arrived at Werk8 after dinner and enjoyed three cocktails there. First I had a Season of the witch (mezcal, Nocino, vermouth reduction, lemon, Islay whisky and orange blossom bitters. Strong, smokey and nutty, it was all I love in a cocktail. I followed it with an Apfel vs Birne (Apple vs Pear). It is made of Apple infused mezcal, Williamine, agave, lime, Apple mousse and topped with a cranberry chai foam. When I read the ingredients on the menu, I thought of Apple pie with a hint of smoke. I wasn’t too far off. The first sip, when you catch a little of the foam on top, is indeed reminiscent of the dessert. It was sweet on the palate and the duality of liquid and foam was quite pleasant. The Apfel vs Birne wasn’t very smokey so, even if smokey drinks are usually not your thing, I’d suggest you give it a try. Finally, I had a Brick Top, an amazing, perfect combination of rum, Nocino, vermouth and walnut bitters.
Sitting at the bar gave me the opportunity to ask bartenders questions about their menu- which changes every two months – and some of the ingredients they use. I was intrigued by how they made their Apple mezcal for example. The answer is so simple that I somehow feel embarrassed for not thinking of it immediately! Cut some apple into chunks after making sure its skin is wax free and let it infuse in mezcal for 24 hours, filter and voilà! Why is it we all always think of the most difficult solution instead of the easiest? In the same line of thinking: it’s so easy to travel to Basel from Geneva that I think I’ll go back regularly now… and visit Werk8 again of course!