Zurich encourages lazy preconceptions—namely that of the impeccably dressed, humorless banker efficiently, and sometimes clandestinely, conducting business. And he certainly exists. As home to both UBS and Credit Suisse, Zurich’s quaint medieval streets contain the innermost circles of international finance. But there’s much more to the place. “No other city punches so far above its weight,” says Tyler Brûlé, a frequent visitor and the founding editor of Wallpaper and Monocle, which rated Zurich the world’s most livable city last year.
It’s easy to see why. Zurich is smart and cultivated, with one of the world’s best transit systems and easy access to all of Europe. Not to mention its two rivers, eponymous lake, and nearby nature trails.
Quickly: The city is divided into 12 districts (kreise in German), but most know only Kreis 1, the Old Town, or Altstadt. A few venture to Kreis 2 to swim in the lake, but Kreise 4 and 5 are home to the galleries, design studios, cinemas, bars, restaurants, and cafés that have opened in recent years. These traditional and trendy sides coexist, but not without tension. Talk of gentrification and encroaching yuppies is as ongoing in Kreise 4 and 5 as it is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or London’s East End. One can enjoy both, however, especially since—this being Zurich—the two are expertly linked by metronomic buses and trams.
When it comes to things culinary, Zurich offers much in the way of forward-looking modern European cuisine—and, of course, chocolates, pastries, and the other heavy hitters of Swiss comfort food.
The most recent culinary sensation in town is Mesa Restaurant (dinner, $145; 75 Weinbergstrasse; 41-43/321-7575; mesa-restaurant.ch), where Austrian superchef Marcus Lindner took over the kitchen in 2006. It now has 18 Gault Millau points (out of a possible 20) and one Michelin star. Bright and spacious, Mesa does one nightly seating for about 35 guests, serving a meal known as the Symphony of Emotions, which runs from $160 to $210. The menu for this four-to-seven-course dinner, which is meant to extend over hours, changes every other month and includes tiny, artful creations, like a lightly fried venison fillet topped with duck liver and served with pumpkin emulsion and sangria jelly, or braised rabbit ragù seasoned with rose pepper and accompanied by fried monkfish and pomegranate sauce. The wine list here is vast, global, and very expensive. (A delicious 2005 Le Grive, a Barbera/Pinot Noir blend from Piedmonte, is, at $77, one of the cheaper selections.) Reservations made two to three weeks in advance are a must.
In a lovely Altstadt courtyard that shares space with Ermenegildo Zegna and Montblanc shops, Restaurant Bärengasse (dinner, $60; 25 Bahnhofstrasse; 41-44/210-0808; restaurant-baerengasse.ch) is a newer spot that’s being lauded for its steak. The restaurant is co-owned by Swiss artist and musician Dieter Meier of Yello, an electronica band that had its heyday in the eighties and nineties. The star attraction here is the beef from Meier’s private farm in Argentina.
The most heralded pick in Zurich, if the most obvious, is the 86-year-old Restaurant Kronenhalle (dinner, $90; 4 Rämistrasse; 41-44/262-9900; kronenhalle.com), in the bustling Altstadt platz of Bellevue. Here the city’s establishment set lunches on French, Bavarian, and Swiss classics, while taking in paintings by Modern masters—Braque, Picasso, Miró—that hang on the walls. It’s still the favorite of architect Santiago Calatrava, a longtime Zurich resident, who designed the wonderful little Stadelhofen train station nearby. Drinks at the intimate mahogany-paneled bar are a must and are best done in the late afternoon.
A 15-minute walk west of Langstrasse, the main drag in Kreise 4 and 5, is LaSalle (dinner, $60; 4 Schiffbaustrasse; 41-44/258-7071; lasalle-restaurant.ch). This friendly and exciting glass-enclosed room is in the landmark Schiffbau, a brick shipbuilding warehouse from the 1880s that today also houses a German-language theater and Moods Im Schiffbau (6 Schiffbaustrasse; 41-44/276-8000; moods.ch), a first-rate jazz and world-music club. LaSalle does Swiss cuisine with a modern, international spin—elegant dishes like thinly sliced veal liver with shallots and herbs, and entrecôte of lamb with red wine and rosemary juice.
Zurich loves its coffee, and the best cup can be had at Felix Café am Bellevue (5 Bellevueplatz; 41-44/251-8060; felixambellevue.com), an ornate, high-ceilinged joint that debuted 18 months ago. A new venture from the folks who founded Zurich’s Café Schober in 1975, this is the place for schale—Swiss-German for “café au lait”—or a hot chocolate with Amaretto. As Swiss spots go, it’s hectic, even disorganized; one must seat oneself, and competition for a table is fierce. The wait can be interminable, as people tend to linger over the pretty homemade ice cream banana splits, lemon sorbet with Prosecco, and slices of wähe, a flat fresh-fruit cake. Also on hand, in a display at the front counter, are confections from the Zurich-based chocolatier Teuscher, the archrival of the more staid Sprüngli.
The Warm-Up: Haute Cocoa
At Felix Café am Bellevue the hot cocoa is made with the same chocolate used in Teuscher truffles—50 percent cacao in the regular kind, and 66 percent in the “intensive” version—plus fresh milk from the five cows on a small nearby farm.
Arts & Culture
Basel, with its art fair, and Lucerne, with its music festival, may be thought of as Switzerland’s cultural capitals, but Zurich was home to Dada and an exiled Wagner, and an art scene still thrives here. For classical music, opera, and ballet, there are in-house companies and visiting international performers at Tonhalle Zurich (7 Claridenstrasse; 41-44/206-3434; tonhalle-orchester.ch) and the Zurich Opera House (1 Falkenstrasse; 41-44/268-6400; opernhaus.ch). The converted beer brewery Löwenbräu-Areal (270 Limmastrasse), meanwhile, remains the center of the contemporary art scene in Kreise 4 and 5, with two museums—Kunsthalle Zurich (41-44/272-1515; kunsthallezurich.ch) and Migros Museum (41-44/277-2050; migrosmuseum.ch)—as well as a handful of galleries, most notably Hauser & Wirth (41-44/446-8050; hauserwirth.com).
The Museum Rietberg Zurich (15 Gablerstrasse; 41-44/206-3131; rietberg.ch) is often overlooked, but it holds an impressive collection of art from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Oceania. (Through May 2, the Rietberg will feature “Pleasure and Intoxication in Indian Painting.”) Expanded three years ago, the building sits in the picnic-perfect Rieter Park, overlooking the lake, where Wagner wrote Tristan and Isolde.
For movies, there are a couple of smart cinemas with small, independent films from every corner of the world. One is Riffraff ($ 57 Neugasse; 41-44/444-2200; riffraff.ch), and the other, Xenix (52 Kanzleistrasse; 41-43/322-1380; xenix.ch), both of which have great bars where the city’s artists and hipsters congregate. During the summer, the alfresco cinema scene in the city is also quite special. Xenix shows outdoor movies, and, down at the lake, there’s a particular screen—one of several sponsored by the telecom company Orange (orangecinema.ch)—that hovers over the water horizontally before rising to vertical just before the movie begins.
A New View: Window Dressing
Last year the artist Sigmar Polke unveiled 12 new stained-glass and agate windows in the Grossmünster, Altstadt’s twin-spired Romanesque church. They’re in good company, joining the Augusto Giacometti–designed stained glass behind the altar, installed in 1933. Grossmünsterplatz; 41-44/252-5949; grossmuenster.ch.
Zurich hasn’t been immune to the recession; UBS was hit hard financially and PR-wise, and there’s been an uptick in unemployment. Still, the Bahnhofstrasse, the city’s grand shopping avenue, with outposts of all the requisite international luxury brands, hums with shoppers, growing increasingly expensive as it stretches toward the lake from its more affordable start at Zurich Hauptbahnhof, the central train station. The more interesting Altstadt shops, however, lie in the area’s twisting and turning streets.
One worth seeking out is Spiegelgasse, especially for Limited Stock (22 Spiegelgasse; 41-43/268-5620; limited-stock.com), a wonderful design store. It carries mainly home and garden objects, including work by local designers like Brigit Naef, who makes small and magnificent handcrafted boxes from such diverse materials as silk, waxed cotton, goat hide, and snakeskin. At Thema Selection (16 Spiegelgasse; 41-44/261-7842; themaselection.ch), a bright space with tiled floors and frescoed ceilings in a former butcher shop, owner Sissi Zoebeli stocks women’s fashions of her own design as well as under-the-radar European and Swiss labels.
Vestibule (13 Spiegelgasse; 41-44/260-1331; vestibule.ch) is also good for hip women’s clothes and accessories from international designers. A five-minute walk away is the two-year-old men’s shop On y Va (15 Zähringerplatz; 41-43/343-9121; onyva.ch), whose owner, HP Endras, describes the Breton shirts, Swedish jeans, duffle coats, leather shoes, and Japanese bags sold here as “young urban classics.”
Another small street with great shopping finds, this one a bit more envelope-pushing, is Josefstrasse, which begins at Hafnerstrasse, just behind the main station in Kreis 5. In quick succession are Melvins ($ 8 Josefstrasse; 41-44/440-1144; melvins.ch), with on-trend men’s and women’s wear from Swedish and Danish designers; Beige (10 Josefstrasse; 41-44/272-7422; beige.ch), a local label of the same name that creates knitwear and accessories, as well as knitted items for the home; Swallow-D (12 Josefstrasse; 41-44/272-8550; swallow-d.com), where Tamara Rist offers her distinctive, brightly colored handbags, some made out of vinyl; Einzigart (36 Josefstrasse; 41-44/440-4600; einzigart.ch), a delightfully amorphous shop that has funky (and pricey) household items and bric-a-brac by local designers; and Buchhandlung Sec 52 ($ 52 Josefstrasse; 41-44/271-1818; sec52.ch), a terrific independent bookshop.
Luxury hotels that give a taste of old-world Zurich abound, from the sumptuous Baur au Lac (from $600; 1 Talstrasse; 41-44/220-5020; bauraulac.ch), beside the lake, whose terrace Brûlé recommends for an early-evening summertime cocktail, to the recent Norman Foster renovation of the epic Dolder Grand (from $840; 65 Kurhausstrasse; 41-44/456-6000; thedoldergrand.com), which overlooks the city and the lake.
But for those on their first trip to the city, the Widder Hotel (7 Rennweg; 41-44/224-2526; widderhotel.ch) is the place to stay. Located in the charming Altstadt, it’s only blocks away from the Marc Chagall stained-glass windows at the iconic Fraumünster church. Its 49 rooms and suites—some with preserved wood beams and stone from the Middle Ages, others containing pieces by Mies van der Rohe and Jean Tinguely—are spread across nine small, interconnected buildings that were originally medieval guild houses. Swiss architect Tilla Theus converted and restored them over a ten-year period, and they opened as a hotel in 1995. Its coziness does cost, however: An adorable Biedermeier-style single room is $540 a night, a double, $720. The menu at the hotel’s nouveau-continental restaurant—bouillabaisse with fresh fish from Lake Zurich; duo of veal in lemon oil with artichoke ravioli—changes weekly, while the Widder Bar features jazz most nights, with occasional Tuesday-night performances by international headliners like Terence Blanchard and Freddy Cole.
A smart and more gently priced Altstadt option on the other side of the Limmat River is the simply styled Hotel Rössli (7 Rössligasse; 41-44/256-7050; hotelroessli.ch), which Brûlé likes for being “cheap and cheerful”—doubles start at $280. Its 27 rooms are steps from the renowned art-nouveau Café/Bar Odeon (2 Limmatquai; 41-44/251-1650; odeon.ch), where Einstein would go when cutting class and Lenin pored over newspapers while in exile.
For something beyond the Altstadt, there’s the seven-year-old boutique Greulich Hotel (56 Herman-Greulich-Strasse; 41-43/243-4243; greulich.ch), on a quiet Kreis 4 street just eight minutes on the No. 8 tram from Paradeplatz, where UBS, Credit Suisse, and the original Sprüngli chocolate shop are located. The Greulich has so many things going for it—an intimate size (only 18 all-white, minimalist rooms), a relatively low cost (doubles go from $295), a birch tree courtyard, and a groovy lobby bar and cigar lounge—that it’s easy to forget about its restaurant, a Slow Food nouveau-Catalan spot that rates 16 points in the Gault Millau guide.
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