On our recent visit to Cologne we mostly ignored the Altstadt beer halls in favour of neighbourhood places, and found quite a different vibe.
We’re referring to this post as an expansion pack because it’s an extension of the one we wrote a year ago setting out our thoughts and feelings about Kölsch beer and Cologne drinking culture.
When we wrote that, a lot of people replied: “But you didn’t go to Lommi!”
And we said, relax, this won’t be our last visit to a city with which we’re increasingly enamoured.
Lommi, or Gaststätte Lommerzheim, is an unlikely Cologne landmark. It’s on the wrong side of the river, in Deutz, a few streets back from any main road, surrounded by apartment blocks.
The building is out of step with its neighbours, being older, darker and more decayed. Forbidding signs warn of a broken step and issue instructions about queueing. Signs advertise Dortmunder Aktien Bier (DAB) – which, of course, the pub does not sell.
We’re going to call it a ‘pub’ because that’s what it feels like. We entered nervously, expecting to be directed by a waiter, or barked at, but instead found ourselves in an alleyway full of smokers who wouldn’t look out of place in Bridgwater or Bolton.
Eventually, we drifted towards the bar where nobody stopped us taking stools overlooking the service operation. And it’s what we’d call a machine.
Being a small place, with a small staff, it has to operate efficiently. So, glass washing is a big deal.
Our seats were in the splash zone for a big double sink with constantly trickling warm water (left) and cold water (right).
Dirty 200ml glasses would pile up on one side and every now and then a waiter with a spare moment would start washing them by:
- Grabbing two by their bases.
- Slamming them into the warm, soapy water.
- Working them up and down on two round wire brushes fixed in place.
- Dunking them in cold water.
- Stacking them to dry.
By our reckoning, they were able to wash 50 or so glasses in about a minute and a half. The secret being, perhaps, the knowledge that these apparently dainty, thin-walled glasses can take rougher handling than one might think.
The filling of the clean glasses was also highly efficient: they’re thrown or dropped into a Kranz (a circular tray with holes to hold glasses) which is then held under the tap of the wooden barrel and spun as golden Kölsch gushes in.
They kept bringing us beer and we kept watching the floor show as the pencil marks multiplied on our beer mat bill.
One waiter never smiled. The other never stopped laughing. After a while, we began to wonder if this was a coping mechanism, because he laughed hardest when the customers were being most obstructive and obtuse.
An older man with the air of a cowboy (perhaps a long-distance truck driver) alternated glasses of Kölsch and cigarettes in the courtyard.
Two burly lads ordered a Halve Hahn (cheese and a bread roll) and methodically dissected it so they’d both have a small cheese sandwich.
As the crowd thinned and the conversation became louder, and more sloppy, the laughing waiter passed through the bar with a plate of snacks. “Frikadelchen?” he shouted, waving their aroma over each table with a sheet of A4 paper.