History was and is being written in the ODEON. Since 1911, it has been a meeting place for famous politicians, writers, poets, painters and musicians: Colonel Ulrich Wille (General in the Swiss Army during World War I), the Russian revolutionary Lenin, the Dutch dancer and spy Mata Hari and the physicists Albert Einstein and Benito Mussolini walked in and out of the ODEON.
During the National Socialist era, the ODEON became a “headquarters for emigrants”. Klaus Mann, Alfred Kerr, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Max Frisch and Rolf Liebermann came here regularly.
Due to the riots in the 1970s, the ODEON had to close in 1972. When it reopened, one third remained as a cafe, two thirds became a boutique and then – to this day – a pharmacy.
It was recognized early on that the Art Nouveau furnishings were worth preserving and are officially listed as historical furnishings. The reddish marble, the wardrobes and even the table legs are reminiscent of the old days.
On Sunday, July 1, 1911 at 6 p.m., the “Grand Café ODEON” opened its doors. A magnificent Art Nouveau coffee house with its own patisserie in the basement and a billiard room on the 1st floor. Characteristic of the Art Nouveau style it had a very large, high room, with large windows, chandeliers, brass paneling (decorative vegetable-linear ornamentation) and marble-clad walls. This great style is still the hallmark of the Café Bar ODEON today. The opening at that time took place under the direction of the Munich restaurateur Josef Schottenhaml, who ran the ODEON for many years and knew his famous guests personally.
Listing the names of all the writers, poets, painters and musicians who came and went in and out of the ODEON would certainly result in a complete cross-section of the musical prominence of more than half a century. Just a few are mentioned here who crossed the doorstep of the ODEON and gave it the reputation of an intellectual meeting place: Franz Werfel, the Austrian poet and storyteller, came to Zurich in 1918 to perform the play “Die Troerinnen”. The play led to unprecedented peace demonstrations.
Other illustrious guests were Stefan Zweig, Frank Wedekind and Karl Kraus, authors of “The Torch”, as well as William Somerset Maugham, authors of plays and short stories, and Erich Maria Remarque, author of the anti-war novel “Nothing New in the West”. But also Kurt Tucholsky, Ernst Rowohlt, Klaus Mann and Alfred Kerr. The Irish author James Joyce spent almost 5 years in Zurich, countless hours of it at the ODEON. In his works, names of Zurich streets and squares, pubs or people repeatedly appear in coded form. A confidant of the emigrants and regular guest at the ODEON was Dr. Emil Oprecht, publisher and bookseller in Rämistrasse. He helped many writers by publishing their works thereby bringing them to market.
In 1915, a group of young bohemians confused the service staff and the guests with strange table talk. The sculptor and poet Hans Arp and his girlfriend, the dancer, arts and crafts teacher and artist Sophie Taeuber, as well as the writer Tristan Tzara, the actor and dramaturge Hugo Ball, his girlfriend, the diseuse and poet Emmy Hennings, the poet and painter Richard Huelsenbeck and the sculptor Marcel Janco set up their regular quarters in the ODEON – and gave the cafe the long-lasting reputation of being the cradle of Dadaism. In their theses and slogans, the Dadaists not only protest against the war, but also against all secured bourgeois convictions.
Famous musicians who came to the ODEON were Wilhelm Furtwängler, Franz Léhar, Arturo Toscanini and Alban Berg. The eccentric dancer Mata Hari, who was convicted as a spy and executed by France just two years later, performed in the cabaret dancing on the first floor. Scientists like Albert Einstein, who liked to talk to a crowd of students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, were also among the regular guests. Benito Mussolini, then still a fervent anarchist, and Lenin, who devoted himself entirely to reading the newspaper, and Trotsky are representative of the politicians.
A long time recurrent guest was Ferdinand Sauerbruch, director of the surgical clinic of the cantonal hospital. He caused offense among the people of Zurich because of his champagne consumption. After work, he used to drink a bottle every evening. Supposedly, under pressure from public opinion, he swore off this habit. But in reality he had only become more diplomatic: with a wink the server Mateo would pour Sauerbruch from the huge coffee pot that did not contain steaming coffee, but in reality sparkling champagne. Mateo convinced him that the champagne tasted almost as good in a coffee cup as in a crystal glass.
Not only did the surgeon's reputation benefit from this ruse, but also the simpler clientele. The campaign brought the operators of the ODEON the idea to offer the sparkling wine by the glass, or coupe, and thus make the former luxury drink accessible to mere mortals: the popular “Cüpli” was born.
In the years leading up to the First World War you could sit here all night, police hours were a foreign word. Lots of international papers were piled up on the newspaper shelf, and there was still room for a conversation dictionary and a petrol can to fill up the lighters. A thick haze of smoke belonged in a real Viennese cafe, as do experienced waiters and the various games. Chess was capitalized at the ODEON, and every Friday Colonel Wille, who later became General, appeared for a small card game of “Jass”.
In the 1930s and during the war, the ODEON was both a hub and home to an intellectual, political and social elite who had to be on the run from the fascism that was rampant in Europe at the time.
After the Second World War, the ODEON remained the central meeting place for a young generation planning the upswing and the future of the 1950s. At that time, as a young person, the most you could rent was the maximum of one room; therefore the ODEON continued to be almost home and a meeting place for many.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the ODEON was affected by the aftershocks of the “Globus riots”. The self-governing youth center Lindenhof went completely out of control and Zurich’s Bellevue and the local bars were caught in the crossfire of the rioters. The drug scene of the time took over the ODEON and left the historic Art Nouveau facility largely devastated. In the spring of 1972 the cafe was closed by the police.
In mid-1972 the city listed the building as a monument and the restaurant was renovated. For reasons of better clarity and control, the restaurant area was reduced at the same time and from then on the ODEON could only be entered through the western entrance. A boutique was rented in the part of the former cafe before the ODEON pharmacy, which still exists today, was installed.
The coffee house still had a wicked reputation when Fred Tschanz took over. His fearlessness and last but not least his business acumen prompted him to redefine his clientele. Instead of the rocker and drug scene, the ODEON should be frequented more by a distinguished gay community. He was personally committed to making the ODEON the safe haven it was in the early 1960s. (The award-winning Swiss film “Der Kreis” shows the ODEON as a meeting place for the early Zurich gay scene.) First, Fred Tschanz made a pact with the Hells Angels to keep the ODEON free from aggression. After that, he actively recruited his clientele, or rather lured them away from other gay bars.
Busy restaurateur Fred Tschanz’s plan worked. From then on, a generous and extravagant clientele characterized the course of business and the ambience of his bar. Even when the fear of HIV hardened prejudices against homosexuals again, the ODEON remained loyal. As a place of exchange and mutual support, it indirectly promoted the self-image of the local gay community and their acceptance in society. Throughout his life, Fred Tschanz never regretted taking over the once discredited restaurant.
Times have changed – the tradition has remained. The ODEON has become an integral part of our city. Guests of all ages and professions and from all social classes come to us: early risers, tourists, business people or night owls will find a suitable offer and a place to be with pleasure in the ODEON at any time of the day. Our kitchen is open all day until one hour before closing time.
In 2022 we will celebrate 50 years of operation of the ODEON by Fred Tschanz Hospitality. We took this as an opportunity to freshen up the historic interior with careful manual work. The marble facings on the walls, the silver champagne bucket on the solid mahogany counter with brass handrails, the wooden benches – all these elements characterize the spirit of the ODEON. In order to maintain this and carry it into the future, we did not shy away from any investments.
Our more than 100-year history continues, thanks to our current guests and our will to maintain the ODEON as a hospitable meeting place in the heart of the city of Zurich and for its people.