Welcome to Versus, where Londonist takes like for like and decides which one is more likeable.
As anyone who has already visited the Cologne Christmas market on the Southbank can attest, the annual German invasion is now well under way. (One can only assume they've come to ensure that we celebrate Christmas in an orderly manner.) What might not be as obvious, however, is that there are several permanent German venues along the same stretch of river that offer the traditional beer and food of der vaterland all year round. For the last couple of years the Zeitgeist has been the chosen destination for thirsty expats and locals, but now a new venue is trying to steal its crown as the wurst place on the Southbank. Never needing an excuse to mock johnny foreigner, Londonist went along to
laugh adjudicate the bratwurst blitzkrieg.
The newly-opened Katzenjammers, which translates as something like 'deep regret' or 'hangover', is a spartan cellar near London Bridge modelled on a traditional Bavarian beer hall. With its tiled floor, whitewashed walls and long wooden beer benches, it offers a no-nonsense approach to drinking which works really well, as long as you're not looking for anything intimate. We were less impressed by their beer wenches dressed in traditional costume, however: they looked more like recalcitrant children forced to participate in a school nativity play than comely German maidens. The Zeitgeist, on the other hand, is a typical pub that they've somewhat bravely decorated in the colours of their national flag: the black walls and red ceiling can be either striking or depressing, depending on your mood. It's furnished with a mixture of high and low tables, accompanied by fairly cosy leather banquettes and also has outside spaces in which you can smoke your pipe and stroke your moustache in relative comfort. What really detracts from the Zeitgeist's atmosphere and ensures we give the first point to Katzenjammers, however, is the two large TV screens which can make life seriously unpleasant if you're not a football fan.
In terms of beer, which, let's face it, is the most important thing (well, we wouldn't go there for the humour, would we?) both pubs offer a generous selection of German lager, wheat and dark beer on tap and in the bottle. Whilst Katzenjammers is the only venue in which you can order a stein rather than just a pint, the slightly frightening price of these (nearly £9 for the top range beers) coupled with the fact that its rival has double the amount of choice on tap, makes us think that the Zeitgeist might have the edge on this one. Factoring in their wider and more interesting choice of wines and other drinks, we'll score this round 2-1 to the Zeitgeist, as you'll be well watered at either venue but you're far more likely to discover something interesting at the latter.
It is in the kitchen, however, where the Zeitgeist truly steals a march on the competition. From their truly epic Zeitgeist schnitzel (breaded pork escalope, potatoes, fried onions, bacon, fried egg and a shot of Jaegermeister) to lighter dishes such as creamy reibekuchen with smoked salmon, they truly warrant the term 'gastro pub'. Nothing positive can be said about the food at Katenjammers, however, whose limp, badly microwaved sauerkraut, poor quality sausages and exorbitantly priced slices of defrosted gateaux made us keenly appreciate the reason why Bavarians actually classify beer as food. Two points to the Zeitgeist, a resounding nul points to Katzenjammers.
Thus we arrive at a final score of 4-2 (which sounds oddly familiar for some reason..) to the Zeitgeist, and conclude that its position as the uber-pub on the Southbank is safe for now.