By Bill Harby
Aficionados of über urban culture, get thee to Zürich – specifically, the trendy neighbourhood locals call “Züri West”.
You can get started at Im Viadukt, where the neighbourhood’s past and present meld. A railway viaduct hand-built in 1894 to transport coal for the area’s 19th-century factories, today the 36 archways are home to boutiques featuring modern fashion, furniture, housewares, toys, books and outdoor gear, as well as cafés, bars and restaurants. Stop at Markethalle for gourmet groceries, wines, whiskies and prepared ethnic foods that make a great takeout lunch to enjoy in adjacent Josefwiese park, where you’ll find a mix of locals and visitors, business execs and families, strolling, sunning, eating, drinking and playing.
On Limmatstrasse is Löwenbräu-Areal, Löwenbräu-Areal a handsome orange brick brewery built in 1897, now home to condos, art expos and the ateliers of international artists creating original fine and applied arts. This is just one of the formerly industrial buildings in Kreis 5 (District 5) as Zürich West is officially known. Now imaginative artisans and entrepreneurs have redefined these buildings once devoted to shipbuilding, machine production, and other heavy industry.
For example: Schiffbau, formerly a shipyard, is now home to three small theatres, the classy LaSalle Restaurant, snazzy NietturmBar and Moods, a scruffy jazz club which brings in exceptional international acts.
A few blocks away, the gleaming glass Prime Tower, Switzerland’s tallest building (only 36 floors), stands as a clean break from the area’s industrial past. It’s a handy landmark for finding a neighborhood favorite, Frau Gerolds Garten with its casual 3-season alfresco eatery, winter fondue yurt, and sleek little clothing boutiques.
Other cafés and restaurants all over the quarter offer everything from local sausages and beers to international dishes, including Alice Choo for fusion Asian cuisine until they clear the tables, and it morphs into a strobe-neon nightclub. Wander the streets, look in the windows, scan the sidewalk menus, take a chance. That’s what real travel is all about, right?
On other streets in Kreis 5, like Josefstrasse and Geroldstrasse between the rail tracks and the Limmat River you’ll find small independent storefronts selling all sorts of curios, including vintage and modern furniture (Walter Vintage Moebel), colorful custom bicycles tweaked for city riding (UrbanRider), and various odd items that you suddenly can’t do without.
For your Züri West night’s rest, there’s one 5-star hotel in the neighborhood: the Marriott Renaissance Zürich Tower. But it’s the 4-star 25hours Hotel Zürich West that really reflects the creative character of the neighborhood. This boutique hotel is a dream for anyone who loves whimsical, colorful interior design, not to mention exceptional, unpretentious service. And it’s next door to the fascinating Museum of Design at the new campus of the Zürich University of the Arts.
Ready to move to cool Züri West? Blocks of modest apartment buildings constructed for yesteryear’s factory laborers still house longtime residents. More luxurious apartments and office suites are available in places like the Mobimo Tower, Löwenbräu-Areal and Escher-Terrassen, as well as on streets like Shiffbaustrasse, Langstrasse and Heinrichstrasse. The new Hard Turm Park now has office space and rental apartments, with more becoming available in the next couple of years. Real estate is never cheap in Zürich, often called the world’s “most expensive city.” In Kreis 5, 2-bedroom flats rent for a rough average of CHF 4500 and up, and sell for CHF 4 million and up. These prices can be double, triple or more of what they are in other parts of Zürich. But if you fall in love with Züri West, what’s another million francs?