From world-famous ateliers to designer hotspots, Historical Interiors is your weekly column for iconic decor, rare residential imagery, and cultural fashion landmarks.
Nowadays in Berlin, artists flock North and East to low-rent neighborhoods like Wedding or Neukölln. But during the Cold War, when the city was divided in two, there was the Paris Bar—then known as the “living room of bohemian Berlin”—that drew them to the West. The restaurant, which hasn’t moved from its original location in Charlottenburg since it opened in 1962, was a notorious hotspot for celebrities and artists throughout the late ’70s and well into the ’80s and ’90s. And it all started with a little homesickness for classic French cuisine.
As history would have it, a former cook from the French army was missing homemade favorites from his native country. To the relief of Berlin’s French community, he opened Paris Bar with a menu of classics including onion soup, salad niçoise, and foie gras. In 1977, the original owner’s nephew sold it to an Austrian restaurateur duo: Michel Würthle and Reinald Nohal, who managed Kreuzberg’s Exil Bar in the early ’70s. In the years following, they renovated the space while elevating its social status. Würthle still runs the restaurant to this day.
Not long after Paris Bar went under its new management, music journalist Chris Hodenfield conducted his famous interview with Iggy Pop and David Bowie there in 1979. Titled “Bad Boys in Berlin,” the story described Iggy Pop drunkenly rolling around in ice outside, among other anecdotes. “My last night in Berlin I waited for Iggy Pop in Paris Bar, a subdued green room holding a few green souls. They had all stepped right out of Van Gogh’s “The Absinthe Drinker.” It was real art if you could tolerate it.”
Paris Bar remains a cozy, intoxicating environment for savoring French food and admiring art. From the outside, what with its striped awning and neon lights, it doesn’t appear like much has happened here. But step inside and you’ll find diverse works of art covering practically every inch of the nicotine-stained walls. Some pieces dangle from the ceiling, including several works by German artist Martin Kippenberger, who is said to have paid for his steak frites with his art. (Speaking of steak frites, Bowie, who lived in neighboring Schöneberg during the ’70s, claimed Paris Bar had the best in town.) Another notable piece adorning the interior is a larger-than-life signed portrait of Yves Saint Laurent, who visited the dining room.
Due to its close proximity to the Berlin International Film Festival, Paris Bar has seen a revolving door of Hollywood A-listers, including Yoko Ono, Leonardo Dicaprio, Robert De Niro, and Jack Nicholson. Even Madonna has stepped foot there—rumor has it she once walked into the restaurant with no reservation and sat down at a table of her choosing. A waiter confronted her, saying that Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida had already reserved that table. Madge apparently replied, “Who the fuck is Gina Lollobrigida?” and continued her night.
In 2005, Paris Bar’s owners faced financial struggles and declared bankruptcy due to tax problems. In order to keep the restaurant afloat, Würthle sold one of Kippenberger’s paintings for more than million dollars.
Though much has changed over the past few decades, Paris Bar still feels like an art-filled time capsule. “There were lots of wild nights at the Paris Bar,” Würthle recently said. “I am happy that somehow, there was always a special atmosphere.”
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