Zurich : cafés and café-bars
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There’s an enormous variety of both cafés and café-bars in Zürich and, as ever, the difference between them, and between a café and a restaurant, is blurred. The most characterful places tend to be crowded on the alleys of Niederdorf, but the shopping streets around Bahnhofstrasse also shelter a handful of quality watering-holes. Exclusively gay bars, and Zürich’s sole women-only bar, are listed here.


Altstadt, Kirchgasse 4. Cool jazzy bar, open from breakfast time onwards, that’s gaining a reputation as an old-town meeting point away from the sleaze.

Babalu, Schmidgasse 6. Tiny postmodern-style bar, its chic denizens quaffing bottled beers and cocktails amidst an onslaught of jungle beats.

Cranberry, Metzgergasse 3. Strange combination of a cosy bar – predominantly gay – and what the management call a “smoking lounge” for dispersing cigar smoke and other fragrant aromas into the night air.

Nachtcafé, Münstergasse 26. An upstairs members-only restaurant, bar and dancefloor (no aftershave, no entry) with a chic basement bar open to all. Handy for late-night liquor, but still so hip it hurts. Closed Sun.

Odeon, Limmatquai 2. Compact café-bar on Bellevue, where Lenin once sat and watched the world go by. There’s little sign of revolutionary activity these days – although the bar prices would spark a popular uprising in any city other than Zürich.

Oepfelchammer, Rindermarkt 12. A 200-year-old building, all creaking timbers and lop-sided ceilings, famous for its association with the city’s literary son, Gottfried Keller. The reason to visit is for beer in the tiny low-beamed upper front room, consistently packed. Legend has it that if you can swing up and wriggle your way through the gap between beam and ceiling, your beers are on the house: Keller may have done it, but few have braved the waiters since. Closed Sun & Mon.

Pigalle, Marktgasse 14. Legendary little bar filled with the elegantly wasted, or at least those who are aspiring.

Rheinfelder Bierhalle, Niederdorfstrasse 76. Best of the many Central-end beerhalls. With wooden benches, zero decoration and bright lights, this is a place to get shamelessly, sociably drunk, laugh loudly and clap strangers on the back. The food is cheap and hearty: daily specials for around Fr.13 are padded out by their infamous “Jumbo Jumbo Cordon Bleu”, at Fr.22 – a slab of deep-fried cheese-slathered meat so big it dangles off the plate on both sides. Closed Sun.

Schlauch, Münstergasse 20 (upstairs). Quiet, friendly and relaxed diner-bar, perfect to catch your breath from the Niederdorf scrum. Sizeable plates of health-conscious food (veggie and not), and a snooker hall adjacent attract a young, vaguely alternative crowd. Closed Mon & Tues.

Schober, Napfgasse 4. A memorable old confectioner’s and café that’s straight out of Mary Poppins – a riot of frothy white lace, flowers and choice treats – but head through to the capacious interior for quite simply the best mug of hot chocolate (with whipped cream) you will ever have tasted. It’s even a shame to spoil it with a slice of home-made apple strudel … but then again.

Wüste, Oberdorfstrasse 7. Mellow, comfortable café-bar below the Otter hotel, decorated in ethnic style and dotted with candles.

Zähringer, Spitalgasse at Zähringerplatz. Long-standing co-operative-run bastion of Zürcher counterculture, attracting an alternative clientele for snacks, herbal teas and beer. Dawn opening on the weekends makes it a mecca for clubbed-out sleepyheads. Mon 6pm–midnight, Tues–Fri 8am–midnight, Sat & Sun 5am–midnight.

Around Bahnhofstrasse

Amsterdam, Schwanengasse 4. Tiny, dark old town café for fresh juices and healthy snacks.

Helvetia, Stauffacherquai 1. Loud and jovial locals’ haunt just across the Sihl – the only bar in town where you can get full table service after midnight (closes 1am weekdays, 2am weekends). A little pricey for everyday consumption, but very civilized for a nightcap or three.

James Joyce, Pelikanstrasse 8. The ultimate memorial to one of Zürich’s best-known visitors. The pub comprises the original nineteenth-century interior of the Jury Hotel’s “Antique Bar”, saved from the developers in the 1970s, transported piece by piece from Dame Street, Dublin, and reassembled here to stand as a relic of a bygone age. Closed from 7pm on Sat, and all day Sun.

Kaufleuten, Pelikanstrasse 18. Modish venue for mixing with Zürich’s burgeoning “in” scene. Designers, musicians, bankers and the idle rich flock here, and to the club next door (see below) – a pricey stange is worth it for the buzz.

Mövenpick, Paradeplatz. Perfect people-watching café, with a great selection of teas and coffees from around the world, plus snacks and full meals all day long.

Nelson, Beatengasse 11. Massive, noisy pub seconds from the station, crammed on weekend nights with Zürich’s sizeable contingent of teenage au pairs and exchange students on the pull. Cheap beer, late opening, live music, DJs, and TV sport make for a heady, if predictable, brew.

Noble Dubliner, Talstrasse 82. Good beer and a talkative atmosphere make this cosy, comfy pub hugely popular with locals and expats alike.

Sprüngli, Bahnhofstrasse 21. Main branch of the world-famous confectioner’s, displaying cabinets full of the most exquisite chocolates and cakes imaginable, plus their own speciality, Luxemburgli, cream-filled bites that you’d have to be made of stone not to drool over. Enjoy it all in the upstairs café-patisserie overlooking Paradeplatz. A free choc with every espresso.

West and south

Xenix, Kanzleistrasse 56 at Helvetiaplatz. Wooden shack-bar just off Langstrasse, part of the city’s leading art-house cinema and crammed most nights with a fascinating bunch of artists, filmmakers and wannabes lubricating their vocal chords at each other. On Thursdays, Xenix becomes Xenia, the bar and cinema both strictly women-only.

Ziegel oh Lac, at the Rote Fabrik arts centre, Seestrasse 395. One of the most appealing bar/restaurant-spaces in the city, with a light, open interior and waterside seating in summer but way south of the city, far from the crush. Signs declare “Smoking Cannabis is Illegal”, but to little effect. The food is quality, balanced stuff (Fr.12–22). Closed Mon.

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