Many of my friends know that I like music. I play a bit of music too and have a Roland keyboard at home. There were days when I used to play a 12-stringer mandolin. I like all kinds of music but when it comes to the western music, I love Jazz.
Each time I visit a new city, I look for a place to listen to live jazz music. Its not just the music, but the ambience, food that is served, the mix of smoke and the perfumes, people you see and meet, simply charm me. I feel that I understand the city differently when I am in a Jazz bar.
One of the famous Jazz bars in Berlin is the Hats bar. This bar is an old-school jazz place located in the heart of West Berlin under a railway bridge. The Hat is not a jazz-club, but it’s a bar in the first place! No wonder the bye line of the bar is Let’s drink some jazz!
Hat’s speciality are self-prepared, bottle-aged cocktails, with ingredients married together in a glass bowl for a different experience. Indeed, the bartender matters for such a magic. Hat boasts of the best jazz musicians from Berlin and around the world. There are no entrance fees and no advance reservations.
I visited Hats bar several years ago while I was attending a meeting in Berlin. A friend dropped me outside the bar. I told him that I will use train to reach back to the hotel. “Don’t get too late” my friend warned. He explained how to return, but honestly his instructions didn’t register in my mind. I had address of the hotel and a map and I thought that I will easily find my way back. But those were not the days of Google maps and Uber!
When I got in, the bar was full. I managed to get a seat next to the counter after standing for a while. The bar counter at the Hats is unusually long and faces a relatively narrow stage where the artists perform. I noticed the upright piano with dull teak polish, a large size contrabass and set of shining drums and three performing artists.
By that time, I got the seat, the pianist with blond hair was already playing crazy with mind boggling notes. The thin guy on the drums was right on the top not missing the oscillating beats. The contrabass player was six foot plus tall with a huge belly and was tweaking the strings with eyes closed. The trio was electrifying.
I turned to the bartender to order something special and unusual to match this music. The girl at the counter was almost expecting me to turn around and place the order. While there wasn’t enough light, I noticed that the girl had a lovely face. She was wearing a red scarf so that one could easily spot her. She seemed to be all alone handling the entire counter – may be her colleague had taken an off.
I looked at the signboard above that listed so many options to drink. Seeing me lost in making a selection, the girl gave an understanding smile. “Hey, don’t worry. Leave to me to decide for you. I know what goes well with Frank’s music”. Frank was the name of the pianist.
I couldn’t refuse. I barely said yess – and the girl moved swiftly and started mixing liquors to make a special cocktail for me. All was done in grace. For a moment, she stopped and came back to me and asked, “any problem of acidity?”. I said no. I saw her increasing the portion of vodka in the bowl.
The drink was great, and I enjoyed Frank’s music as it started getting more intricate and softer. It was nearly 11 pm. By that time, I had asked the girl at the bar for two more repeats. Her concoction was intoxicating.
I remembered that my friend had warned me to head back to the hotel early. So, in the break, I pulled out the map, placed on the counter and started locating my hotel to find the shortest train route.
The girl at the bar was busy serving drinks, printing invoices and collecting cash or processing credit cards from the customers. She was working tirelessly with all smiles ensuring bye line of the bar – Let’s drink some jazz! I couldn’t figure out what was the real pull factor – was it Frank? or the magical cocktails? or simply her?
When she saw me looking into the Berlin map in the dim light, she stopped and asked, “New to Berlin?”. I said Yess and explained to her that I was looking for the right train route to reach my hotel in the shortest time.
“So, are you planning to leave now?” She almost screamed.
She then took a couple of minutes to explain.
Apparently, Frank played great music generally after 1130 pm. And this was the best time to listen. Leaving at 11 didn’t make any sense accordingly her.
“Where is your hotel?” she asked. When I said Alexanderplatz, she exclaimed. “Well then, no problem. I live right there. So, stay on here and listen to Frank’s amazing music with no worries. I will take you to your hotel by the shortest route. My name is Tish” I couldn’t refuse Tish’s offer. I introduced myself as Prasad. “Aha, Praasaad” Tish said trying her best to pronounce my name.
I ordered one more round of that magical cocktail.
At 12 30 pm, Frank and the trio closed the session. The last hour as Tish said was truly exceptional. The contrabass guy played some soothing notes on bass and Frank was gentle on the piano while the thin guy in the drums took pauses. Tish was absolutely right – it made a great sense to wait.
The trio left and so the audience. Tish asked me to wait as she had several chores to do. She organized the glasses and bottles, cleaned up the bar counter, locked the cash box. Since the lights were brighter now, I could see her clearly. Tish was indeed a charming and attractive woman.
We were almost ready to go. Tish was putting the velvet cover on the keyboard of the upright piano. She suddenly stopped and looked at me a bit hesitantly. She appeared undecided.
“Praasaad, can you please wait for another 5 minutes. I must play the last piece Frank did before getting home. That piece was haunting, and I cannot resist playing”
And without waiting for my response, Tish removed that red scarf, sat down and started playing the piano and she almost reproduced what Frank had played. Her eyes were closed, and fingers were moving softly playing a complex combination of notes. Oh, this bartender was a great pianist then!
When I got up and stood next to her, I saw that her eyes were moist. Was it an expression of pain or happiness? I couldn’t understand. May be Tish had the ability to play music at the Hats but was compromised to be a bartender. That could well be the case. I thought.
When we left Hats bar, it was nearly 1 am. We started walking towards the train station. There was moonlight.
Tish was holding my hand and softly humming some of Frank’s songs. I was walking with this pretty girl with a great talent that I had just discovered.
When we reached the station, Tish started looking for the shortest route to reach Alexanderplatz at that late night-time.
I thought for a while, held her hand and said “Tish, is there the longest route? I am in no hurry”.
This encounter with Tish at the Hats bar was several years ago. In August this year I visited Hats bar once again with friends. But this time there was no Tish at the counter.
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Lovely piece thank you Prasad Modak. I’m your fan. Umesh Anand
Thanks Umesh. Happy that you liked this post
Excellent piece of writing with your usual lucid language.Thanks for sharing your experience.
Thanks Mr Mallik for your kind words
Great story. I remember listening to music with you in H7. And those musical nights on the rooftop. Pure heaven.