Nowadays, when it’s so easy to meet people via dating apps is there still a need for gay bars? Absolutely, says Dušan Savic, manager of the Cranberry Bar. But the original plan for the bar in Niederdorf was quite different. It was supposed to have an American feel with cigars and – yes – cranberries.
In the autumn of 2018, the Cranberry Bar hit the headlines all over Switzerland: ‘Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin Seen Smooching in Zurich’ and ‘Romantic Date in Gay Bar’. The pop star and the top model – in a Zurich gay bar? ‘Yes, they really were here,’ recalls manager Dušan Savic. ‘It took me a minute to work out where I’d seen the guy before.’ It’s somewhat ironic that the bar in Zurich’s Niederdorf should end up in the tabloids thanks to two heteros.
The pop star and the top model – in a Zurich gay bar?
It’s an equally huge coincidence that Dušan now runs the two-storey bar. Originally from Winterthur, he used to frequent the bar until he started helping out the service team and later took over as manager. Today, he makes sure everyone feels welcome, including new faces, as the Cranberry is popular with tourists and people who have recently moved to Zurich: ‘Some evenings, the staff barely speak a word of Swiss German,’ he says with a smile.
The Cranberry Bar opened in 1997 – but not as a gay bar. The original owners wanted to open an American cocktail bar with a rum and cigar lounge. One of them, Jvan Paszti, had recently visited some cranberry farms in the eastern USA: ‘In the early nineties, the Cosmopolitan emerged as one of the last great cocktail classics,’ says Dušan, whose enthusiasm for cocktails bubbles over when he talks about them. ‘You need cranberry juice to make a Cosmopolitan – but it was difficult to get hold of it in Zurich. So Jvan began importing cranberry juice.’ Half-jokingly, the co-owner told his US suppliers that he would call his new bar Cranberry if they paid for the neon sign. The Americans laughed it off, but when the bar next to the town hall actually opened under this name, they forked out for the sign.
The bar wasn’t originally gay, but its owners were.
The bar wasn’t originally gay, but its owners were. They were already familiar faces on the Zurich bar and restaurant scene, and their regulars followed them to their new bar. This is how it turned into a gay cocktail bar, helped by the fact that it was just around the corner from the popular gay club Heaven. But why does an open-minded, modern city like Zurich still need gay bars at all? Dušan explains: ‘Because places like Cranberry are where you meet people. Gay bars aren’t just important for people who are new to the city, but also for people who are new to the gay scene. In a gay bar, you can be whoever you want to be. That’s important.’
Fortunately, the Cranberry has never been subjected to homophobic attacks or hostility, says Dušan, knocking on the wooden bar top. Sometimes a stag party comes through the door. ‘Of course, that’s fine. But if it’s just a dare and the lads start jokingly protecting their backsides when they come in, that’s not on.’ In this case, Dušan approaches them in his quiet way and says: ‘This isn’t a zoo. If you want the zoo, hop on the number 6 tram.’
‘In a gay bar, you can be whoever you want to be. That’s important.’
Quite a few of Zurich’s gay bars have closed down in recent years. ‘Dating apps make it easier to meet like-minded people,’ says Dušan. But, ‘unlike dating apps, the people you meet in places like bars are more authentic. It’s harder to pretend to be something you’re not. And, personally, I think it’s much nicer when someone comes up to you in a bar rather than just getting messages on your phone.’
The manager of the Cranberry Bar is convinced that there’s still a need for gay bars. And cocktails. Gays, lesbians, their friends, cocktail-lovers – everyone is welcome here. Even Justin Bieber.