One bar, one man, one brand – Schumann’s



Charles Schumann has been running and putting his mark on Schumann’s for nearly thirty years now – every single day of every single year since 1982. And therein lies its indisputable success: Schumann can always to be found in Schumann’s, be it in the kitchen, behind the bar, or talking to his guests, many of whom belong to Munich’s high society. His distinctive face seems familiar, probably due to Schumann’s moonlighting as a model, and he and his cocktails have attained worldwide brand status thanks to the bar’s reputation as “the best bar in all of Germany.” A particularly in-demand drink is Schumann’s colada cocktail “Swimming Pool,” and the recipe can be found along with numerous reflections on what constitutes a good barkeeper in Schumann’s favorite book “American Bar” (publisher Rolf Heyne.)

An interior bordering on the austere, dimmed lights, a prominent international clientele seated around small tables, and black-and-white clad waiters serving food or mixing drinks; in the background, almost drowned out by the clattering of cutlery and animated chit-chat, strains of jazz can be heard. In the middle of all this: Charles Schumann, a tall, lean man with sky-blue eyes and slicked back pewter-colored hair. Once in a while, he pats a passerby on the back and calls out something in what sounds like Italian across the room. If someone greets him, or points him out, he reacts immediately, all the while planning to be off again the next second. Although outfitted identically to the waiters, and not above clearing the tables personally, it is instantly clear that this is the person who lent the premises his name.

I always have a clear concept of how something should look, and I’m never entirely satisfied by how other people do things.

And so, day in, day out he demonstrates how he wants things to be handled. Considerately, unobtrusively, attentively, and, at all times, respectfully. Schumann’s movements between the set tables are quick and agile, he is everywhere and nowhere. A restless person, not easy to pin down. By his own admission he has always struggled with the same problem: that of learning to work with other people. As a single father Schumann knows all too well how much you can accomplish on your own, and this does not make working in a team any more attractive to him.

From classical bar to restaurant bar

Karl Georg Schumann, a moniker that has not been in use since a sojourn to France in younger years, has always been a champion of the traditional American bar: no frills, classical drinks, and a regular clientele of artists and intellectuals. At least, that is how it should be. But times have changed, and with them a different clientele with divergent expectations of the Schumann’s service brand has emerged.

They’ve disappeared, those men that would sit at the bar night after night and slowly get drunk. And the intellectuals alone won’t keep a bar afloat either.

Schumann is still not entirely happy with his concept change that dates back several years now from a classical American bar into a bar that serves food as well. To our question on what the ideal definition of Schumann’s would be to him, his unbending response is: “Schumann’s in three words? B.A.R.” Even so, it had become necessary to take a deliberate step away from a traditional bar in order to keep up with the times. “The classical bar is small and only stocks beverages. Schumann’s is too big for that,” Schumann himself says. “People want to eat, too.” And people drink less nowadays. They tend to eat healthier and rarely start drinking at noon. “A bar should be a place where people feel at ease and enjoy coming to.” If people’s expectations change, then the experience they desire to encounter has to be taken into account.

Some would like this place to be cozier. But there’s a limit to the changes I’m willing to make. I prefer things without frills.

Schumann did not find it easy to change his concept, but by widening his services to now include warm meals, he has hit upon a compromise that he can live with. His clientele in any case reacted enthusiastically to the changes, and the turnover most likely also responded in kind.

Sports car or sports grounds

Schumann sips his espresso and ruminates about time in general. During our conversation he vacillates between wishful thinking (he would like to be a caretaker at a sports complex) and more concrete thoughts that are mostly imparted in fragments. He is prone to interrupting himself and loudly greets staff and guests: “Eh, toi! Qu’est-ce que tu fais ici, à cette heure-là, hein?” Then with a laugh, he turns back to repeat the same question he asked five minutes earlier: “What were we talking about? Ah, brands, that’s right.”

Once you reach a certain age, you don’t need prestigious status symbols anymore. I don’t need a fantastic car, I don’t need a stunning woman – well maybe once in a while.

Schumann is not that easily impressed by what life has to offer anymore and his general motto is: “The simpler the better.” Still, not a single day passes that he does not enjoy working in his bar. “But there are also days on which I’d prefer not to come back at all.” He would read more, do more sports (he runs a few times a week and enjoys surfing) and play more music. Not just from time to time, as he does now, playing on the bar’s piano late at night when nearly all the guests have left, living up to the image of the piano-playing barkeep. But that day may still be a long way off, because Schumann will not be leaving his post until he has found a satisfactory successor – which may take some time. Although not, Schumann hastens to add, because he has exaggerated expectations.

Nobody can really be expected to do my job.

Schumann would be pleased to find someone to take on the enterprise with fresh vigor. Of course, it would have to be someone who satisfies all the Schumannian requirements. A professional qualification is an absolute must, and by this Schumann is not referring to a university degree. “Just holding a university title would be useless here. Studying is about gaining knowledge, but it is not a practical education.” Schumann knows what he is talking about. He studied philosophy himself, as did his son after him, as well as journalism, and then taught himself how to run a bar. After 30 years he knows the ropes, but nevertheless believes there is much more expert knowledge out there that Schumann’s could benefit from. Another person scurries by the table. Schumann stretches out a hand and calls: «Che ora è? Cinco minutos? Ti vale?» He nods. “Fine, I’ll be there in a minute.” Clearing his throat he chuckles; if time were a brand it would certainly be Schumann’s favorite possession. What were we talking about? – Oh, we’re finished, that’s right.

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Comments (2)

Bobs | 24.04.2011

you've covered all the bases with this answer!

Jörg Steiner | 14.04.2011

Grossartig getextet.


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