I wouldn’t tell you the name of the world’s best bar even if I knew it. But those in the know simply refer to it as the Horse Bar, and it's tucked beneath a quiet residential street within walking distance of the Messe, an airport-like convention center where last week thousands of publishing professionals convened for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair.
While in Frankfurt, I had two occasions to drink at the Horse Bar. (The nickname is not particularly clever: there are horse-related books on the shelves, equestrian-themed postcards from all over the world, barn-like exposed beams, old barrels used as tables ... oh, and a taxidermy horse that greets you at the door with a canned neigh.) On my first night in town, I met an old friend and we sat at the bar; it was quiet except for the choppy jangle of sleigh bells set off by our movement as we dangled from swing seats hung from the ceiling by sturdy black chains. The owner poured beers slowly, working up foam that clung to my nose like whipped egg whites. Day turned to night and more people arrived, announced every time by the stuffed horse.
At one point, a stranger tapped my shoulder and apologized as soon as I turned. “Sorry, I thought you were another intern.”
“You must be in publishing,” I said.
“Long flight, sorry. I meant to say 'American.' I heard your voice and thought you were who I’m meeting.”
“No worries. We’re in the euro zone now, we’re all interns.”
My second Horse Bar outing happened with Black Balloon author Robert Perisic, his agent Ivan Srsen, and BBP’s ace publicist Jennifer Kovitz Abel. I had met both Ivan and Jennifer several years ago in Frankfurt, but this was the first time they’d been to the Horse Bar. And what better occasion than the forthcomingcoming US publication of Robert’s novel, Our Man In Iraq?
Once we got the official business out of the way, it was time to squeeze in behind a barrel with some locals and a smattering of other publishing folks. The conversation, which ranged from Checkpoint Alpha to the American take on the euro zone crisis, was amply fueled with beer, homemade pear schnapps, and peanut butter snacks that looked like cheese puffs. Even Robert, a stoic looking man and a celebrated cultural critic in Zagreb, couldn’t help but be excited about the place — so much so that we didn’t leave until 3:30am. Walking back to my hotel, the smell of cigarettes following me like a feral wet dog, my head already hurt thinking about the next morning. Still, I wondered at the true magic of this drinking establishment and understood why it stands apart from the countless others I’ve visited around the world.
You know how Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs proved that, when a horse trots, there is a brief moment when all four hooves are off the ground, the horse gliding through the air on its own momentum? Perhaps this was the origin of the bar’s theme: the rest of the world ceases to exist, as if for as long as you are in the Horse Bar your feet are not touching the ground.
Go ahead and check it out for yourself, if you can find it.