On the Scent
There’s no excuse for boredom in Berlin. Glamorous and gritty, delighting in sensual overload, Germany’s capital surprises even the most jaded visitor. Case in point: At an inky-dark bar called Fragrances, just off the lobby of The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin, every drink on the menu is inspired by a perfume, such as Guerlain’s Shalimar and Jo Malone’s Pomegranate Noir. We asked the bar’s award-winning mastermind, German mixologist Arnd Heissen, about how the concept came to be — and why it’s no gimmick.
Why did you become interested in scent?
A peripatetic childhood prompted Heissen’s adventurous attitude and obsession with fragrance. Lilac reminds him of his time in Frankfurt. The scent of orange flower water whisks him back to his boyhood in Ohio. “In the 1980s, orange flower water was the scent used in most American laundry detergents,” he says. “Whenever I smell it, it reminds me of putting on pajamas fresh from the dryer.”
How did you make the leap from cocktails to fragrances?
Heissen loves to surprise his customers, and after seven years of bartending, he was tired of playing with the usual syrups and herbs. Looking for fresh inspiration, he started reading about fragrances. “As it turns out, many of the ingredients in the world’s best fragrances can be translated to drinks that not only taste delicious, but can immerse you in a whole other world,” he says. When he turned Guerlain’s iconic perfume Jicky into a cocktail — by infusing gin with Earl Grey tea, then mixing it with fresh lemon juice, rosemary, and homemade lavender and vanilla syrups — the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. “I knew there was something there.”
Each cocktail at Fragrances has its own dedicated glassware. How did that start, and what is one of your favorites?
The concept began purely by circumstance, when Heissen ran out of glasses one night and resorted to a jumble of vessels in the hotel’s storage room. But he’s since elevated the idea to an art form. Take the bar’s best-seller, the Vaara cocktail: Made with pear puree, saffron-infused Zacapa 23, Bulleit bourbon, rose water and a vanilla/honey/tonka-bean syrup, the drink comes in a highball glass that has been placed in its own miniature Swedish wooden house, complete with smoking chimney and candlelit windows. “Many of our guests are travelers,” says Heissen. “So the house re-creates the cozy feeling of being at home in front of a fireplace.”
Why doesn’t the bar offer Wi-Fi?
Heissen believes in savoring drinks without distractions; he also keeps the background music hushed so guests can engage in conversation. “The drinks provoke memories and create new ones, and it naturally leads people to talk,” he says. “It’s not the setting for checking emails!”
Fragrances is the first bar dedicated to the art of cocktails in combination with the world of perfume and aromas. Hand-picked fragrances of renowned brands by Giorgio Armani, Bulgari and Guerlain are the inspiration for the unique drinks created by bar manager Arnd Heissen.