Catching up with Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Charles Schumann
The legendary German barkeep opens up about his storied career and the life lessons he's learned along the way.
Charles Schumann is a man of impeccable taste. Before we sat down for our interview at the Carousel Bar (quiet before the storm on the Friday morning of Tales), he noted our table was smudged. Before I could suggest we move, he asked the bartender for a wet rag and cleaned it himself. Clad in a custom-made brick-red linen suit with slicked-back gray hair, he was the epitome of old-school elegance and cool.
It’s this strive for perfection that has earned Schumann a place among the luminaries of the spirits industry. His early years read like the true polymath he is: traveling Europe in his youth, a stint as a border guard, consular training, and various nightclub management jobs, until opening Schumann’s American Bar in Munich to wide acclaim in 1982. Today, he owns multiple outlets in Germany, including a restaurant bar, coffee shop, and aperitif bar.
Now in his 70s, Schumann still works in his bar seven days a week, including planning his own restaurant’s menu daily. He speaks four languages fluently (English, French, Spanish, and German), learned how to cook Japanese food by simply watching, and has worked with fashion giants Comme des Garçons, Hugo Boss, and Jil Sander, just to name a few. To say he is a renaissance man is an understatement.
Schumann spoke on how the industry has evolved (in both good ways and bad), the importance of style and uniform (his employees wear a fresh white shirt every single day), and the loss of humility in the bartending profession. Below, an excerpt of our interview and his acceptance speech from the 2017 Spirited Awards.
TOTC: So this is your first visit to New Orleans. What is your first impression?
CS: It’s bigger than I thought! Very, very lively.
What was your reaction when you heard you would be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award?
I was very surprised and really honored. I’m very proud.
Tell me about your bars in Munich.
I work seven days a week in my bar. My bar is my home. I live fifteen minutes away. We have a coffee bar, we have our main bar that is open from eight in the morning until four in the morning, every day. It’s a place for neighborhood people. It's the best "normal" restaurant in Germany! We change the menu every day based on what we have, a little bit of the season, and it’s based on how good I’m feeling. Les Fleurs du Mal is our real cocktail bar. It’s a treasure.
An interior shot of Les Fleurs du Mal. Photo courtesy of http://www.schumanns.de/
What kind of bars do you like?
I don’t like loud bars. A good bar has quiet music and you can see that the bartenders like their work. Bartenders should be happy.
In my time, it was very difficult to find a good bar. To learn. Now, they are everywhere.
How has the industry changed since you started?
I think it's very, very strong. Too strong, sometimes!
What is your advice to young bartenders?
Bartenders are not humble enough. They are now stars. The behavior behind the bar is very bad sometimes. No hats, no caps! We are here for hospitality, we are here for people. Not for our ego. I never drink behind the bar.
And take care of the classics. I don’t want vegetables in my drink.
Do you think you’ll ever retire?
At the moment, no.
Watch Charles Schumann's acceptance speech at the 2017 Spirited Awards: