It’s not often a dimly-lit bar can also become super-popular for weekend brunches too, but that’s exactly what Geist Im Glas have achieved – with a cult following swarming on them to devour the huevos rancheros and the fluffiest pancakes in town, all washed down with Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s and other morning drinks. We popped a few questions to British owner Aishah Bennett to learn about how she managed to pull off this winning combo.
When did you move to Berlin and what were you doing before that?
I’m originally from Eastbourne, and have been in Berlin for about 11 years now. My previous life in was Marketing & Sales.
So, what made you want to open a bar?
I come from a family full of gluttons and well… I started a supper club as I got bored with office life at the age of 26.
The supper club got busy, so I needed more space. I was at the Kreuzberg bar called Hotel and a guy there told me about this space on Lenaustrasse, where we’re now based. I originally rented it with the intention of having food every day, but bar life was much more fun 🙂
We heard you then had a pretty horrific fire inside. What happened there and how hard was it to get the place back up and running?
I still don’t know what caused it, but yeah, the fire was totally devastating. It took a while to even find the courage to go back into the building.
I still had my whole team with work contracts/insurances I needed to pay. I started bar catering and we worked on that through the summer. I rebuilt the bar from September and had my first parties in November 2016, then reopened properly around January 2017 after NYE
You’re quite into your food. Was there always the idea to have weekend brunches at the bar, or did that stem from demand from your customers?
The third year that Geist was running, I decided to work in a couple of kitchens around town (The Bird is where this all began).
I wanted to make something at the bar that was a small menu of repeat items that fit well together, so you can order the whole menu.
I knew it had to be fun, colourful and totally indulgent. And… it was essential that it was easy to make in the bar corridor that I call my kitchen.
I was missing the classic English fry-up of a warm, heavy breakfast, so decided to make a Brunch with this in mind.
I’d been working for Chef Memo for the Papi Crunch Brunch pop-up at Parker Bowles and I had created these tasty pancakes for them. Memo is Mexican and he reminded me how wonderful Dulce de leche is, so that combined with the pancakes I made for him, our popular ‘Pancakes Plate’ was born.
I’d also been to this place in Queens NYC and had killer Biscuits & Gravy so wanted to have those on the menu too.
I make my mum’s cheddar scone recipe with English mustard powder and pimped with jalapeños. The Huevos Rancheros were created to bring a fresh, raw touch to the menu but I didn’t want to make the bar smelly with a broiler to melt and toast tortillas to order, so I decided to make them chilaquiles style and soak our home made tortillas in a chipotle black bean sauce, sharp cheddar on top, melting under two sunny-side up eggs.
How involved are you with the food & what is your creation process like?
I’m heavily involved, creating all the recipes for both my bar and catering businesses. Some recipes are from my family, some inspiration comes from eating out. The process usually starts with developing recipes at home, and then testing them on staff to gather feedback. The drinks side of things are much more of a team effort with all the bar staff heavily involved.
You’ve also recently became a mother – how has this affected your working life in Berlin compared to what you might expect in other cities?
I fell pregnant in February just as I re-opened the bar after the fire. In all honesty, I was nervous, stressed and totally unaware of what was about to happen to my mind and body. Like with the fire, hindsight shows you that the moments in which you’re forced to slow down or change direction, somehow always seem to work out for the best 🙂
I have built an amazing team of all women at Geist im Glas, some of whom have been working for me for over 5/6 years and there are also some newbies. We are truly a family. With their support they made it possible for me to enjoy my first year as a new mother, and the bar has continued to grow and develop and I’m proud of them all.
As for comparing this experience to other cities, Berlin is such a social state. It’s common to be able to take a whole year off as “Elternzeit” either just the mother or shared between parents. There’s a lot of easily accessible playgroups, playgrounds and a ton of other new parents in town, so parent life is pretty easy here!
How do you feel the current influx of expats & immigrants are influencing Berlin as a whole?
We all bring with us the things we miss and this enriches our new place of residence with those things. Its age-old and ace.
I don’t see any negatives in migration, anywhere.
Berlin was swinging in the 20’s, but in all honesty a bit shit when I arrived, there was nothing here (but I loved it!). People are so afraid of change, but change is good. It’s what’s helping to make Berlin better and better.
If you could change one thing about the entire Berlin bar scene to improve it, what would it be?
Ban street drinking! Haha
But seriously, I’m not sure there would be much I would change. I genuinely think there’s a really interesting range of bars everywhere here at the moment, from Eckkneipes where you can chill in at all hours to Soho House to sip morning cocktails. We’re living in a 24-hour drinking city, and that means it’s accessible for everyone.
Having such a culture with bars being accessed at all times in my opinion actually helps the crime rate stay lower, compared to say in the UK where most people go to the pub straight after work and it gets rowdy until 11pm when the law forces most places close, so all the drunks exit at the same time. Berlin is more unpredictable in its rushes of people, and that makes it better in this respect.
What’s been the steepest learning curve in owning a bar?
Uff! I guess, you never know where life will take you so make sure all your ducks are in a row. Be sure that contracts are ended/signed and your money is saved. Tie up loose ends as you go.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of setting up a bar in Neukölln or Kreuzberg?
Do it! It’s great fun!
When I started out, I sat down with Ramses (of Industry Standard, Wild Things, Wagner), who explained to me how it’s pretty fucking simple to open a bar, and to just do it.
All of my advice would be emotional. Everyone goes on their own journey, and makes their own mistakes – just remember it’s your own journey and it’s totally normal to make mistakes.
I’d also recommend keeping in mind that self-preservation is key, so don’t get carried away with drinking just because you have a bar; take care of yourself.
Tell us your favourite dish on the popular weekend brunch menu and why?
Haha, well I love the WHOLE menu! I’d maybe take the mixed plate! I’d also eat a million Chicken IN waffles, as I love the Sriracha batter and the toasted chili maple syrup.
The thing about our food is it’s not meant to be healthy food, it’s supposed to be indulgent. That’s why it’s enjoyable.
So where do you like to eat, drink and relax in Berlin, when not working?
Like one of us, you’re an immigrant/expat. Do you ever think about how long you’ll decide to live in Berlin… Or what would make you move elsewhere?
I’m an immigrant with leaving on my mind WHILST I apply for a German passport! Haha!
I entertain leaving sometimes. Berlin can feel so transitory…. but I’m still here, and happy to be too.
Complete the following sentence, “For me, Berlin is….
Berlin for me feels very free. You have the freedom to do what you like, and not piss everyone off whilst you do it. When a situation arises when the police are required, they’ll be alerted, rather than being harassed before anything has been done wrong.