Forget those postcards of old Bavaria. Today's Munich looks to the future, with new architecture, forward-thinking designers, and outlandish young chefs
Munich has often been defined by static images from its past: the history-rich Marienplatz district; the Frauenkirche, a 15th-century Gothic church topped by copper-sheathed onion domes; the overflowing fruit and vegetable stalls at the 200-year-old Viktualienmarkt. And though this city—often called Germany's secret capital—is rife with traditional Bavarian charm, there are now great new snapshots to take. Munich has had a modern face-lift, thanks in part to a contemporary art museum (one of Europe's largest) by architect Stephan Braunfels and a shopping center by the celebrated design duo Herzog & de Meuron. There's been a mini-boom in hotels, too, with several boutique properties giving the five-star classics some stylish competition (causing the old masters to respond in kind). With so much going on, Munich's future has never looked brighter.
CHIC SLEEPS: HOTELS There's been a flurry of openings and grande-dame renovations in Munich. The latest debut is the somewhat straitlaced Hotel Anna (1 Schützenstrasse; 49-89/599-940; www.annahotel.de; doubles from $165, including breakfast), with 56 minimalist rooms; ask for one of the four tower suites with 180-degree city views. · A vibrant makeover of the Kempinski Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (17 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/21250; www.kempinski-vierjahreszeiten.de; doubles from $364) has updated the Neoclassical public spaces and 170 of its 316 rooms; the lobby's stained-glass dome has been restored, too, letting refracted light pour in. · The 33 rooms of the Cortiina Hotel (8 Ledererstrasse; 49-89/242-2490; www.cortiina.com; doubles from $196, including breakfast) take their cues from Frank Lloyd Wright, with flagstone walls, and fixtures made of natural materials (a touch of oak here, a bit of cowhide there). · While the muted interiors of the 73-room Mandarin Oriental (1 Neuturmstrasse; 49-89/290-980; www.mandarinoriental.com; doubles from $348) will get an Asian-themed redo by year's end, the hotel's heated rooftop pool and patio will retain their current grand style. · The 50-room Advokat (1 Baaderstrasse; 49-89/216-310; www.hotel-advokat.de; doubles from $158, including breakfast), near the up-and-coming Gärtnerplatz neighborhood, is filled with carefully edited retro-chic pieces.BEST VALUE Above one of Munich's oldest cafés, the Mariandl (51 Goethestrasse; 49-89/5440-4348; doubles from $42 with shared bath, from $100 with private) is an inexpensive pensione restored by the antiques-loving Bayer family, who retained the original moldings and chandeliers and filled the 29 rooms with pieces from their private collection. The best room is number 30, just $116 a night, which has a matching 1880's bedroom set and a beautiful claw-foot tub facing the window.
SHOPPING The crown jewel of Munich's retail scene is the massive Fünf Höfe (15 Theatinerstrasse; 49-89/242-1480), a 35-acre space designed by Herzog & de Meuron that houses more than 60 luxury boutiques (Zegna, Strenesse, Ligne Roset). Check out the architectural details, such as the te·tured metallic façade and a hanging garden. · In an almost hidden courtyard on the Maximilianstrasse, Munich's magnificent mile, is the one-of-a-kind Sicking (36 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/2554-0606). Here shirts, suits, and dresses are made to order by e·pert tailors who add a slinky, body-hugging edge to classic suits and dresses. · If Sex and the City were filmed in Germany, Carrie and her pals would flock to Modehaus Marion Heinrich (9 Falckenbergstrasse; 49-89/292-526), which stocks the latest from Manolo Blahnik, Balenciaga, Chloé, and others. · The full bar and DJ lend a clublike atmosphere to Pool Fashion Music Lounge (14 Kreuzstrasse; 49-89/266-035), a shop specializing in upstart labels, including Plein Sud, Dsquared2, and Bikkembergs. · Lola Paltinger started her own label, Lollipop & Alpenrock (27 Tal; 49-89/201-1114; showroom only; appointment required), after working for Vivienne Westwood in London. Lola specializes in playful interpretations of Bavarian dirndls and lederhosen, some with a 1930's retro twist, making them out of every imaginable material—French hand-painted cotton, Chinese satin brocade, herringbone tweed, embroidered silk from Japan.
MUNICH'S TOP TABLES In the ongoing battle to be called Munich's best restaurant, Tantris (7 Johann Fichte Strasse; 49-89/361-9590; dinner for two $135) always comes out on top, thanks to chef Hans Haas and stellar dishes such as red snapper with coriander pesto and mussels in a spinach and truffle sauce. · The restrained façade of Lenbach (6 Ottostrasse; 49-89/549-1300; dinner for two $86) barely hints at what's inside. Sir Terence Conran updated the 1898 interiors with blue neon lighting, a mosaic tile floor, and a fashion-show runway cutting through the room. Worthy of this theatrical environment is the food of Stefan Marquard, one of German cuisine's Junge Wilde (young wilds) group—think punk-rock chefs. · Ododo (6 Buttermelcherstrasse; 49-89/260-7741; dinner for two $53) opened its doors five years ago, and it's still hard to get a table. If you do, don't miss the fondues: bread, meat, vegetables, chocolate—you name it, you dip it. · Twenty years before its current vogue, Karl Ederer made organic food fashionable here, when he opened Gasthaus Glockenbach (29 Kapuzinerstrasse; 49-89/534-043; dinner for two from $95). A classic is Ederer's mini-eggplant with arugula and octopus. BEST VALUE Sitting down to eat in the collectibles-packed Master's Home (11 Frauenstrasse; 49-89/229-909; dinner for two $85) is a bit like dining in an overflowing flea market: you get everything—including the kitchen sink. The inexpensive nine-course menu changes often and you never quite know what you'll be served; simply choose vegetarian or meat.
AFTER DARK You can't talk about Munich nightlife and not mention Schumann's American Bar (36 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/229-060), still going strong after more than 20 years. And though most tables say reserved, they're not really: etiquette dictates that you wait for an invitation from owner Charles Schumann himself (he's behind the bar) before sitting down. · The blink-and-you'll-miss-itentrance to Maria Passagne (42 Steinstrasse; 49-89/486-167)—minuscule writing on a nondescript door—ensures that most out-of-towners pass right by this sweet sixties-inspired lounge. · The pared-down Bar Centrale (23 Ledererstrasse; 49-89/ 223-762) has a great wine list, good cocktails, and the best panini in town. · Dress your best for Erste Liga (3 Hochbrückenstrasse; no phone), a packed dance club with Munich's pickiest door policy.
NEXT GREAT NEIGHBORHOODS South of the Marienplatz, two turn-of-the-century quarters—Gärtnerplatz and Glockenbach—are attracting major attention. Among the chic boutiques that have colonized Gärtnerplatz are Slips (2 Gärtnerplatz; 49-89/202-2500), with a lively collection of Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Paul Smith; and Sarajo (3 Rumfordstrasse; 49-89/ 2602-4343), selling selections from Jil Sander and Dries Van Noten. · You'll see more than international labels in the two new neighborhoods; local stylemakers have their own shops: Talbot Runhof (41 Klenzestrasse; 49-89/236-6730) specializes in opulent evening gowns, and Clara Niggl (8 Rumfordstrasse; 49-89/2602-6035) turns out classic fashions reminiscent of early Ralph Lauren. · In the studio behind their namesake Glockenbach shop, Eisenblätter & Triska (13 Hans Sachs Strasse; 49-89/260-5860), Katrin Eisenblätter and Astrid Triska design hats from everyday wool ones to over-the-top-occasion chapeaux worthy of Ascot.· The menu and décor at Kay's Bistro (1 Utzschneiderstrasse; 49-89/260-3584; dinner for two from $85)are revamped every month. The most recent theme was Caribbean, with waiters in sunny tropical shirts dishing out jerk chicken.· The tiny Holy Home (21 Reichenbachstrasse; 49-89/201-4546), a funky lounge with comfy couches and other secondhand furnishings, spins house and trance late into the night.
Mandarin Oriental, Munich
The 2007 renovated hotel occupies an 1870's building and has a delightful heated rooftop pool and patio. The hotel's Michelin-starred Restaurant Mark's is open for an elegant Christmas Eve meal of almond-covered venison with cherries and semolina strudel.
Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski
A vibrant makeover in 2003 has updated the Neoclassical public spaces and 170 of the hotel's 316 rooms; the lobby's stained-glass dome was restored, as well, letting refracted light pour in.
The intimate, newly expanded boutique hotel in a central but tucked-away location.