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Originally published in the July 2010 issue ofOut.
If anything proves how skewed our cartoon notion of Switzerland is, it?s Zurich. Maybe, as the tired clich? goes, the rest of the tidy Alpine country is as punctual as, well, a Swiss train, keeps its money neatly stacked in safety deposit boxes, and only cuts loosewith the occasional pitchy yodel. But in Zurich -- the Swiss capital of the artist, the freethinker, the renegade -- locals have been known to show up late for appointments, put things on credit, and, flouting Swiss Miss etiquette altogether, bravely leave home watchless. Now anything-goes Zurich is topping itself, as its newly revitalized Zurich-West neighborhood becomes a Euro epicenter of percolating, gay-friendly hipsterdom. Following a flow of bohos to the area in the ?90s, itchy entrepreneurs have been turning the area?s cavernous 19th-century industrial warehouses and factories into bars, caf?s, and boutiques. Adding to the scene is the recent conversion of the district?s former railway viaduct into Zurich?s first covered food market, as well as a warren of design galleries, bookshops, and artists? studios. Tellingly, as a sign of the area?s urbane exuberance, one of the viaduct?s dance studios is offering classes -- though they won?t be teaching the polka. It?s the passionate, smoking flamenco that tops the curriculum.
The oft-packed mixed club draws a late-night crowd lured by its expansive, double-decker layout and electronic and trance music. The after-hours partygoers don?t spin out into the streets until dawn. Pfingstweidstrasse 70; LotusClub.ch
Another two-level behemoth, plopped into a former chemistry lab, this combination bar, club, and lounge mixes its own bubbling test tube of creative types and theme nights. Schiffbaustrass 3; +41-44-272-4402; LaborBar.ch
Pioneering restaurant LaSalle has won plaudits for its high-concept dining room?cum?art installation?a Plexiglas cube dropped into the shell of a 19th-century factory?and equally conceptual food (e.g., octopus carpaccio roused by a saffron-tomato vinaigrette). Schiffbaustrasse 4; +41-44-258-7071; LaSalle-Restaurant.ch
Housed in a former Peugeot car garage, this culinary mecca is a combination Mediterranean restaurant and organic food market. Ogle display cases of Swiss cheeses while you sample the moules frites, tapas, and steak tartare. Pfingstweidstrasse 6; +41-44-273-1125; Les-Halles.ch
This ode to white-on-white minimalism favors fashion (the frosted glass screen separating bathroom from bedroom) over bougie comfort (any actual sound-proofing). Better for partying than sleeping. Herman-Greulich-Strasse 56; +41-43-243-4243; Greulich.ch
Baur au Lac
If you want to escape Zurich-West?s gritty factory row, this grande dame overlooking Lake Zurich offers a posh old-school cocoon. The hotel?s open-air Terrasse aperitif bar makes for a very classy champagne retreat. Talstrasse 1; +41-44-220-5020; BaurauLac.ch
The Morning After
Revamped Zurich-West shouldn?t keep you from discovering the city?s proudly unrenovated Alstadt, a hilly, cobbled time-warp punctuated by pastel townhouses and the world-class Kunsthaus Zurich, stuffed with canvases by Van Gogh and Picasso. Heimplatz 1; +41-44-253-8484; Kunsthaus.ch
Sitting on top of a former Zurich-West brewery, this center of contemporary art showcases cutting-edge global artists including, most recently, the German pop art painter Uwe Lausen. Limmatstrasse 270; +44-272-1515; KunsthalleZurich.ch