On a short visit to Zürich we return to the Hotel Florhof, long a Gemütlichkeit favorite, find interesting shopping on both sides of the Limmat and have a good meal at a Zürich institution.
Zürich, we have concluded, is an under-rated town. Its reputation is as a cold-hearted banker's town catering only to the rich who come to deposit or withdraw large sums from numbered bank accounts and parade down Bahnhofstrasse in full-length fur coats.
In Gemütlichkeit's three countries the major cities most visited by our readers seem to be Munich, Vienna and Berlin.
Perhaps those three would be our favorites, too (though not in that order), but a brief Zürich stopover earlier this month reinforced a notion that's been slowly gnawing its way into consciousness for the past couple of years: Zürich is a town worth a lot more attention than we've been giving it.
It offers some excellent city walking, window shopping and people watching on both sides of the river. If Zürich is your final stop before returning to the U. S. it's also a good place to make last minute gift purchases.
Here, beginning with the Florhof, is an accounting of our brief visit.
This year we returned to the Hotel Florhof, on the left bank of the Limmat, which, based on a visit in 1988, we included in our "50 Best" hotels book.
The linchpin of this quiet and genteel house positioned just above Zürich's old town in the city's cultural heart, is Herr Hans Schilter, for more than 30 years its manager. He now welcomes the children and grandchildren of his early guests.
This kind and courtly man is the very essence of European hospitality, calm, friendly, capable and most of all, genuine. Quite obviously he immensely enjoys both his business and his customers.
Gemütlichkeit recently published a letter from a subscriber who had a disappointing stay at the Florhof. We are acquainted with the reader well enough to know she didn't imagine her bad experience. It was one of the reasons we decided to return.
But our visit turned up nothing but roses. Herr Schilter seemed to be constantly in the reception area bestowing his largesse on all who passed through. The bearish night manager was a lot more teddy than grizzly and the servers at breakfast were also most pleasant. No doubt our subscriber ran afoul of someone at the Florhof that we didn't encounter.
Physically, the Florhof falls short of luxury. Comfortable and quiet it is, but nothing more. The breakfast buffet, though hardly sumptuous, was adequate.
Guest rooms are sufficient in size for a city hotel where guests are away from their rooms during the day. They are clean, have well-lit bathrooms, good reading lights, comfortable beds, good linen and are equipped with mini-bars and remotely controlled color TVs with the usual cable channels including CNN. Strangely, there were no washcloths in our bathroom. The room, however, (Number 22) is the only one in the house that retains the original plaster detailing on its ceiling. (The building has a history that can be traced back to 1576.)
Parking is difficult at the Florhof. At Herr Schilter's direction we parked our car in the hotel's driveway and left the keys with the porter who moved it as needed. The cost for this service was a modest 5 Sfr. ($3.50) per day.
Ultimately after it fulfills some basic requirements, which the Florhof certainly does a hotel comes down to its employees and how they relate to their guests. In that respect the Florhof gets very high marks. For those who want a quiet, well-located Zürich headquarters at a fair price, we don't know of a better place than the Florhof. It is easy to see why many of you return year after year.
• Hotel Florhof, Florhofgasse 4, 8001 Zürich, telephone 01/261 44 70, fax 01/261 46 11. Singles 150 Sfr. to 190 Sfr. ($103-$131), doubles 210 Sfr. to 280 Sfr. ($145-$193). Major cards.
Hotel Florhof: III G
Out for a Stroll in Zürich
After settling in at the Florhof we set out to find lunch and perhaps do a bit of shopping. The hotel is close to Niederdorf-Strasse and its various offshoots, a network of winding, narrow streets of antique stores, small galleries and cafés.
A Cheap Lunch in Zürich
In this district is a somewhat disreputable looking little bistro that serves good food and beer at low (for Zürich) prices. The tables at Rheinfelder Bierhalle, 19 Marktgasse (not the larger establishment of the same name on Niederdorf-Strasse), are occupied by local characters full of good cheer. On a recent Saturday afternoon the stammtisch was rollicking. A short-haired, ruddy-faced woman in a leather jacket opened fire with a water pistol at a man in his mid-70s wearing a rumpled wheat-colored suit and a bizarre necktie. Blearily looking on from an adjacent table was a well-oiled biker-type sporting a black shirt with the phrase "Easy Riders Chopper Club" over a Hell's Angel's style logo. In one corner, oblivious to these shenanigans, a young couple with a pre-school child lunched on the special of the day, Calamari with tartar sauce (13.50 SFR./$9.30). In another corner, also ignoring the stammtisch antics was a small group of smartly dressed women.
In summary: good food, authentic atmosphere, friendly people.
• Rheinfelder Bierhalle, 19 Marktgasse, Inexpensive. u
Gift Shopping in Zürich
As you might suspect, Zürich is a shopper's Valhalla. But while our cursory strolls uncovered a number of unusual stores and much attractive merchandise, we saw no bargains.
At 61 Niederdorf-Strasse is messer Dolmetsch, a sort of Swiss-style Sharper Image. A set of five Henckel's knives in a drawer that pulls out of a wooden cutting board is 389 Sfr. ($268). Neat Swiss Railway watches start at 100 Sfr. ($69).
• messer Dolmetsch, 61 Niederdorfstr. 61, 8001 Zürich, telephone 01 811 23 00, fax 01/811 23 11.
Just on the other side of the Limmat, at the end of the Rudolf Brun-Bücke, is one of several Schweizer Heimatwerk stores which sell Swiss handcrafts and souvenirs. There are thousands of high quality but pricey items. We saw beautiful scarves for about 250 Sfr. ($172) and hand-painted ceramic tiles for 67 Sfr. ($46).
• Schweizer Heimatwerk, Rudolf Brun-Brücke, 8023 Zürich, telephone 01/211 57 80.
A block off Bahnhof-Strasse, at Uraniastrasse 7 is the fascinating and chic Caviar House. The specialities here are Iranian Caviar and Balik Salmon. A little less than nine ounces of Beluga is 725 Sfr. ($500). Tastings were not offered. An attractive Bodum chromium and glass hors d'oeuvres server is 129 Sfr. ($89) and a silver caviar server with six vodka glasses goes for 715 Sfr. ($493).
• Caviar House, Uraniastrasse 7, 8001 Zürich, telephone 01/211 49 77, fax 01/212 13 83.
With the Florhof's restaurant closed we opted for Kronenhalle, for decades a Zürich institution and place to be seen. Over the years it has been a hangout for the likes of Yves St. Laurent, Igor Stravinsky and James Joyce. Kronenhalle is where the beautiful people go after a fund-raising gala, a sort of Zürich version of Elaine's in New York, Spago in Beverly Hills and Stars in San Francisco. But stuffy it is not.
In fact Kronenhalle turned out to be great fun. On the ground floor are two rooms, the high-ceilinged brasserie and the somewhat more formal Chagall room. The walls of both rooms - as well as the cozy, wood paneled bar which shouldn't be missed - are hung with some very major-league art. It was exciting to sit amidst the work of masters. At one end of the Chagall room is his big blue painting entitled "Gladiolas." On the wall above our table in that room was a little Monet landscape. When we showed an interest in the pictures, our waitress urged us to walk around the restaurant and ogle to our heart's content. We had gone only a few feet before a waiter-turned-docent took us under his wing. He pointed out Miros, a Picasso self-portrait, a sketch by Toulouse Latrec, and works by Matisse, Braque, Klee, Cezanne and other magical names.
We showed up at 8:45 on a Saturday evening without reservations and were met by a woman who said she couldn't seat us before 10 p.m. We later learned that this is the daughter of the restaurant's original owner, Hulda Zumsteg. Credit her with a sense of humor. In the midst of giving us the bad news about a table, an ancient patron crept by us on her way from the ladies room. Our greeter rolled her eyes at the old woman's back and, in a stage whisper said, "some people have been here since six o'clock and we could use the tables."
The food, which we might characterize as upscale/traditional, was very good, but plays second fiddle to the "scene" the people, the rooms and the art.
When its your last night in Europe you don't fool around. We started with smoked salmon and caviar over blini (45 Sfr./$31). Superb. Carpaccio (36 Sfr./$25) paper thin raw beef drizzled with olive oil and topped with shaved dry cheese fell a little short of expectations. Both main courses came with rösti as good as we've ever had. Veal "Kronenhalle" (46 Sfr./$32) was thinly sliced and served in a light brown sauce. The better of the two entrées, calves liver (46 Sfr./$32) also thinly sliced, was perfection. Portions were plentiful, Kronenhalle does two servings.
Dinner for two without beverages was 192 Sfr. ($132).
We dressed casually and no one batted an eye but dresses, coats and ties are the uniform of the day.
• Restaurant Kronenhalle, Rämistrasse 4, 8001 Zürich, telephone 01/251 02 56 or 01/251 66 69. Expensive. Major cards.
Restaurant Kronenhalle: P G