One of the greatest thrills of the on-line global village is the opportunity to communicate - casually and effortlessly - with people all over the world. But that thrill is chicken-feed compared with the pleasure from meeting the person behind an e-mail-voice. I had corresponded with Knut Hoffmeister a number of times before meeting him in Berlin. Our on-line chatter didn't prepare me for liking him so much. That our meeting took place at a great bar turned the thrill into joy - even if joy was followed the next day by a vague sense of cranial implosion.
The cranial crisis was fitting: Knut Hoffmeister is the creator and proprietor of Hangoverguide.com, a site devoted to worldwide bar culture. As Knut and I sipped our Martinis, he explained how it had come into being. "It was what Germans call a 'Schnapps idea'," he said - the kind that pops up when you're having a drink. The site began in 1997 as a forum for discussing hangover cures; and there's still plenty of sound advice, of which my favourites are Turkish tripe soup with garlic vinegar and Iraqi goat's-head soup.
That "business concept" (Knut uses the term with a twinkle in his eye) took time to develop into today's version, which is a well-presented, abundantly linked collection of news, views and listings of good watering holes all over the globe. It includes entries from the cities you'd expect and a number from cities that you wouldn't: Baghdad, Vilnius, Dubrovnik. And the sourcing of good drinks does not hog the whole limelight. Knut is both a true cosmopolitan and a true Berliner, even though he was born in Hanover. He is also an artist, a self-taught filmmaker who projected one of his films on to the Berlin Wall in 1981. And he is deeply concerned with politics, so Hangoverguide. com devotes almost as much link-space to social and political issues as it does to the sybaritic pursuit of alcoholic perfection.
I made my acquaintance with Knut at the Victoria Bar (102 Potsdamer Strasse, Berlin), an attractive space with subdued lighting and some good paintings on the walls. But the cocktail is the point of the place, and they don't put a foot wrong when they're mixing and shaking. The Pisco Sours are the best I've ever tasted, whipped up in a blender and then carefully poured into tumblers to give a thick cap of ice-flecked froth over the liquid phase. After pouring, the froth is levelled and the drink garnished with a maraschino cherry and a lime-wedge speared on a toothpick. Everything about this drink represents simplicity, classicism and attention to detail.
Attention to detail is even more admirably apparent in the glass of mineral water they place before you when you sit down. It is never a good idea to drink a cocktail without something else, either water or a nibble. There are nibbles here too, but the water was the truly brilliant touch. It's as if they were saying to their customers, "Remember that your body has its limits, and you ought to respect them." Every bar should do the same; but I've never been to another that does.
Cocktail drinking is not an ancient part of Berlin culture - "If you want to get drunk there are cheaper ways to go about it." Cocktail bars are "an intellectual thing - people get together and talk over cocktails". And Knut is proud to be part of that crew. "We won't get rich from the Hangoverguide, even though it gets 2,000 visits a day." But he also proudly says: "We're the last of the Bohemians. We're independent, we've done it all from scratch, and we're growing slowly." I'll vouch for his success. And I'll look forward to renewing our acquaintance, even if it doesn't take place over a perfect Pisco Sour. *
Top Corks: Three for Easter lamb
Altozano Tempranillo Merlot 2000 £3.99 from £4.99 until 27 April, Somerfield A gluggable blend from La Mancha, clean, soft, and ready to take on a roast leg of lamb.
Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2001 £6.99, Asda, Tesco, Majestic A terrific low-priced example of California's star grape variety. Big and chewy, but it won't bite your head off.
Château Bouisset La Clape, Cuvée Eugénie 2001 £5.99, Safeway A Syrah-dominated blend from the Côteaux du Languedoc, rich and smoky with impressive ripe berry fruit. Excellent value.Reuse content