It was nearly midnight when we arrived at Hauptbahnhof Station in central Zurich, but the streets were still full of people out enjoying the mild weather. Knowing that The Grand Cafe Odeon was a short distance from the station we headed directly towards our first stop in Zurich, located on the Limmetquai at Ramistrasse. We walked down the Limmet, soaking up the view of The Rathaus and Grossmunster illuminated against the dark sky. There were so many lovely cafes and bars full of patrons along this street. We were immediately charmed by the beauty of Zurich at night, and it was tempting to explore every side street we crossed, but we rushed on to Cafe Odeon. With (very) limited time in Zurich we didn’t want to risk getting there too late to enjoy a drink.
The Grande Cafe Odeon opened in 1911 in Zurich and was modeled after classic Viennese coffee houses. It has been a hot spot of historical activity over the last 100 years, continually used as a meeting place for intellectuals and exiles. Mussolini, Stalin and Trotsky each held court in the cafe, arguing politics and philosophy. James Joyce was also a regular during the 5 years he lived in Zurich, and even Albert Einstein enjoyed discussions with students at the cafe in it’s early years. Although Cabaret Voltaire around the corner claims to be the birthplace of the Dada art movement, Cafe Odeon could perhaps also claim that title. Artist Hans Arp, and writers Tristian Tzara and Hugo Ball actually met at the cafe and developed their avant garde visions even prior to their well known performances at Cabaret Voltaire.
It was busy when we arrived, but not crammed full. I loved the vintage Deco style of the cafe, with its sparkling chandeliers and rich earth tone marble everywhere…including the table tops and full walls. A very pleasant space with its red upholstered seating, candlelight, and buzz of conversations all around. We grabbed a little table in a nook with a great window view and enjoyed the people watching.
Odeon has a full menu, serving food and desserts until late at night. We stuck with drinks only, and enjoyed beer and coffees while soaking in the atmosphere and imagining all the past conversations that happened in the same space. Zurich has such an intense history, and so many of its major characters have spent time in this exact space. Fascinating to think about!
Another interesting historical fact about Cafe Odeon is that it was the first place to serve champagne by the glass, known as Cupli. Once a drink for high society which only the rich could indulge in, Cafe Odeon brought champagne in small portions to the bohemians and artists and allowed them to claim the bourgeois beverage.
The cafe seems to remain an artsy scene for cool people even today. Through the large window I saw several groups of friends sitting outside on the sidewalk bistro section. They were almost all laughing and smoking, drinking wine and enjoying lively debate. Its interesting how some places like this are able to maintain some of their rich characteristics over decades. A warning to the digital nomads roaming through Switzerland, there is no wifi at the Cafe. In true retro style they proudly announce the fact with a sign over the bar along with the suggestion “Talk to Each Other”.