Cover photo: Founder Bill Deck and his son David © PUSSER’S New York Bar.

Beneath Munich’s quaint exterior, peppered with Bavarian palaces and world-class galleries, is a nightlife that thrums with character. From jazzy dive bars in the charming Old City to cavernous beer halls along the River Isar, it’s as eclectic as it is exciting. Standing proudly among the nightclubs and warehouses is Pusser’s – American bar culture’s original outpost in this German city.

Pusser’s New York Bar has been a staple of Munich’s nightlife for more than 40 years. Its charismatic founder, Bill Deck, has attained legendary status for bringing a New York style-bar – along with complementary American drinking customs – to Germany. We caught up with Deck to find out how this establishment and its Caribbean naval theme ended up in downtown Munich.

Naval memorabilia lines the walls in the cosy bar room. © PUSSER’S New York Bar.

Where it all began

In 1974, Bill Deck boldly brought his vision of the all-American bar to Falkenturmstrasse 9 in Munich. What was the inspiration behind it?

Having had the opportunity to live in Munich for many years, both as an U.S. Air Force employee’ and private citizen, I noticed that there was something missing,” Deck explains. Something that one can truly say is as American as apple pie: American bar culture and the classic American cocktail bar. I had the need to prove to the city and country that we Americans do have something worth having.”

Getting the bar off the ground proved to be a challenge for Deck, who met with some serious opposition along the way. It was difficult in the beginning to explain my idea,” he continues. So I had to just do it myself, not letting anything or anyone change my concept.”

But just three years after opening, the German Chancellor, Helmuth Schmidt, asked Deck to bring the concept to his yearly Chancellor Fest in Bonn. His reason? Schmidt said to me, The politicians and guests need to communicate. The best way to make this happen is to create a classic cocktail bar atmosphere.’ I returned with my idea to Chancellor Fest for two years with great success. This proved beyond doubt that the classic cocktail bar is a cultural necessity. Over 150 couples have met in my bar and, now, a lot of their children are now my guests!”

The Caribbean-inspired Painkiller is the bar’s signature cocktail. © PUSSER’S New York Bar.

A distinguished clientele

Over the past 40 years, Pusser’s has been the haunt of curious locals and homesick celebrities alike, earning a mention in such high-profile papers as The New York Times and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

When pressed to single out any one defining moment in the bar’s history, Deck comes up short: It’s not easy to describe when there are so many,” says Deck. Chancellor Fest would be one. The many famous people who were and still are our guests – from Andy Warhol and Arnold Schwarzenegger to King Carl Gustaf of Sweden and Boris Becker (who met his first wife in my bar) – all of these people, plus the many regulars who make up the silent majority, have been part of plenty of defining moments of our classic bar culture.”

Now, Pusser’s is pulling in more punters than ever. With social media, it’s easier to find us now than it was 30 or 40 years ago,” says Deck. Back then it was word of mouth’; now it’s that and more. Our list of regular customers continues to grow and include locals as well as international frequent travellers.”

What’s on tap

As Munich’s go-to U.S. outpost, Pusser’s almost single-handedly made American-style beers popular in Munich, though it wasn’t without some lucky breaks.

Several years after opening in Munich, a gentleman came in and placed several bottles of his beer on the table,” recounts Deck. He said: this is the only American beer that can be sold in Munich as it’s made according to the Purity Act of 1516.’ It was James Koch, who founded Boston Beer Company. His boldness impressed me, so I said I would offer the beer to my customers. It was a good move, as Time magazine came in and took a photo of me at the bar with a bottle of his beer. The caption read, Samuel Adams, the only American beer that can be sold in Munich.’ It was good advertising for his beer and my bar.”

When it comes to the drinks, Pusser’s stays true to its origins. Since 1993 we’ve been serving Aying Beer from a small but world-famous private brewery located just south of Munich and, of course, since opening in 1974, we’ve served Guinness from the barrel,” says Deck. I was the first one in Munich to offer it from the keg,”

However, the cocktails are what really set Pusser’s apart in Munich’s beer hall scene. Rum-based and punchy, they’re a homage to the British Virgin Islands that inspired the bar’s signature Painkiller. Mixed with rum, pineapple, coconut, orange and nutmeg, it’s a sophisticated take on an island classic. The spirits I offered from the very beginning were the best available,” he continues. To this day, the bar has a reputation for fine products.”

A boat adorned with flags hangs from the rafters over the main bar. © PUSSER’S New York Bar.

A drinking institution

Pusser’s location, tucked away on a side street away from the main drag, Maximilianstrasse, only adds to its appeal. Inside, the bar is dark and brooding, with stained wood panelling and a traditional Bavarian tiled floor. A Caribbean nautical theme pervades the space, with a boat suspended from the rafters and the walls lined with naval memorabilia from the 18th and 19th centuries. The cellar holds a piano – one of the last to do so in the city – with live music played four nights a week.

But it’s the bar’s reputation that still draws in the crowds. After 43 years of continual excellence in mixing cocktails, the bar has become an institution in the beer city of Munich,” Deck tells us. Night-time guests who are looking for quality and an old-school’, classic American bar come automatically to this location.”

Authentic and pioneering with a dash of good old-fashioned fun, Pusser’s is a legendary destination for relaxing with a drink in hand in Munich. As ever, Deck wants to have the final word: You might ask why I called the bar Pusser’s. Their rum is one of the finest there is (if not the oldest), though first and foremost I called it Pusser’s because the word is known to mean liquid history’. I couldn’t think of a better name for a classic cocktail bar.”