Designing a customized modular bar for the Friends Space with Hidden Fortress
A collaborative effort in design, hospitality and friends with Hidden Fortress, Berlin
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Features > Designing a customized modular bar for the F…

FvF itself is a digital representation of our network of friends and that’s always been the goal of anything that FvF does—bringing the community around us together, whether online or in-person.

When we created the FvF Apartment several years ago we wanted a space that would make our guests instantly feel at home so we naturally had to have a mini bar stocked with our favorite liquors. For the apartment it’s perfect—mixing drinks for friends stopping by after work or to accompany an FvF Cooks session.

The FvF Apartment was our first foray into bringing the FvF network into the real world and it’s still an important part of our DNA, with dinners and talks still being held regularly. After realizing how successful the apartment was, we knew that we were going to need more room to play around with—enter: The Friends Space. By having a massive loft just under our offices in Kreuzberg, we’re able to host larger dinners, new events (including our new event format The Sooner Now), explore interior design on a larger scale and continue to expand our network.

And since the Friends Space is a continuation of what we do in the apartment but on a bigger scale, we naturally had to scale up the bar. We’ve worked with Diageo World Class on events for a while now, and we naturally partnered with them on designing the Friends Space bar, using their expertise in drinking culture to create something truly unique. They put us in touch with our neighbors at Hidden Fortress Design Studio to create a bar that would both step up our cocktail game considerably and enable us to do everything from full scale events to hanging around in the space as though it were our own living room.

Meeting with the team at Hidden Fortress to design the bar

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“If you are curious about bar culture, you realize that bartenders are not just nicely dressed people who put one drink after another on the counter,” says Hidden Fortress co-founder Ingo Strobel with a smile, “they’re really creative, curious artists who come up with crazy ideas and new tastes. That’s when you realize that the culture isn’t about getting drunk but exploring what other universes of taste we can create.”

Take for example, their award-winning design of the Berlin bar, Buck and Breck: in the main room you’ll find a large table that creates a personal experience between the bartender and guests by placing them at the same height, making the bar a stage where the audience are also playing their roles. “[Buck and Breck is] a small room entirely filled with this table so it was in a way the first ‘Japanese Bar’ in Germany,” says Ingo. On first glance, the decidedly European styling of the furniture doesn’t conjure images of Japanese bars, but the limited seating and close proximity between the guests and the bartender may call to mind the experiences one may have in the tiny bars in Golden Gai, Tokyo.

The name of the design studio itself takes influence from Japan, referencing the Akira Kurosawa film of the same name: “The film is one of the main sources of inspiration for George Lucas in creating Star Wars. For us, it was the perfect example for something that was created in the eastern hemisphere, and went to the Western World to create something entirely new. It’s this big circle of influence,” explains Ingo.

That’s not to say that Hidden Fortress makes necessarily Japanese-styled designs, and in fact, try their best to not impose a design ‘style’ on anything they create. “The product shouldn’t scream ‘Hidden Fortress’ but should be custom tailored,” says Korbinian Kapfhammer, a designer at Hidden Fortress with a background in cabinet-making.

Taking Shape: the metal workshop where craftspeople fabricated the bar’s frame

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Majo (left) and Korbinian (right) discussing the bar’s design with Malte (center) who oversees the productions at Ferrum, the metal workshop
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“The design process is like a ping pong game, rather than simply demanding something.”

And the Bar Hidden Fortress created for us is custom tailored to our needs. “It will be in the loft for a long time but it won’t be in one fixed place—it should be able to move,” says Ingo, “Also the Friends Space has a lift—so it also had to fit into the lift. On the other hand, it had to be a fully functioning world class bar. This means that two bartenders can run the show with two fully equipped cocktail stations, so the question was: how do you fit a four meter bar into an elevator? It had to be modular!” The result is a full bar with six modules that can be swapped out and moved around the space depending on the situation.

The modules are transparent and all the inner workings of each one are exposed. “It has to look good from all sides, even if you look at the backside of it,” says Korbinian. “We’re also not in control of where the bar will be or what’s going to be around it so we decided to make it an ‘anti-color’ in order for it to match to anything and everything.”

The creation of the actual bar harps on another hallmark of Hidden Fortress design—their close collaborations with craftspeople. “Sometimes I see other colleagues who treat craftspeople like contractors or suppliers,” says Ingo, “With us, we tend to see them as partners and interact with them. The design process is like a ping pong game, rather than simply demanding something.”

Inside the Marienwerder studio of Craftsperson Majo Ertel, where he custom-built each component of the bar

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Majo in front of his studio, a converted barn on the outskirts of Berlin
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“If we develop a new type of furniture with special parts that have never been made before, then he’s our go-to guy.”

For the Friends Space bar, they worked with craftsperson Majo Ertel, who they’ve worked with for years, “He’s not someone you just send the drawing to and get the final piece sometime down the road,” explains Korbinian, “If we develop a new type of furniture with special parts that have never been made before, then he’s our go-to guy.”

Every project that Hidden Fortress works on gets this special attention, and as a result the Friends Space is getting a bar that will enable much more than just fun get togethers with friends. We’re contributing to the progress of drinking culture and creating opportunities for real human connections to happen.

In fact, the entire process of creating the Friends Space bar perfectly encapsulates what FvF has always been: an ever expanding network of individuals who come together to form a community. Diageo put us in touch with Hidden Fortress, who in turn worked with Majo, and now we’ve all worked on a project together. After all, bringing people together is the purpose of a bar in the first place.

The Bar arrives in the Friends Space and is ready to serve its first guests

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For its first outing as a full bar, all six modules were used
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One press of a button activates the frost shocking system that instantly cools glasses down to -30 degrees
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Thank you, Diageo World Class, for helping us create the bar along with Hidden Fortress and Majo Ertel. It’s sure to bring years of good times and good connections to come.

Our friends at Diageo World Class share  the same passion for the craft of cocktail mixing and fine drinking. Out of this friendship grew an exclusive drink partnership supporting our community events with fresh and unique drinks. We were thrilled to collaborate with Diageo and the design studio Hidden Fortress to create a modular and mobile bar for our new Friends Space in Berlin Kreuzberg. As a result we’ve got a bar ready to serve high class cocktails for our friends and community by the masters in mixology that Diageo puts us in touch with.

Text: Kevin Chow
Photography: Daniel Müller