Our next stop definitely clashes with the neighborhood’s hip reputation. Prime Tower, built in 2011, is the country’s tallest building, at a whopping 126 meters high. It houses international banking and business offices and, on its 35th floor, the decidedly unbohemian Clouds restaurant. Along with dazzling views that extend to Lake Zurich, Clouds offers sophisticated—and pricey—dishes such as beef tartare with marrow and truffle foam, and cod on a lemon-potato mash with house-made sausage terrine, crispy white-bean peperonata, and a parsley-tarragon beurre blanc.
Prime Tower might be coolly corporate, but it stands across the street from what is arguably the area’s most creative hive of business. A Lego-like stack of 17 repurposed shipping containers, Freitag Shop Zürich is the flagship store of brothers Markus and Daniel Freitag’s namesake brand of sturdy bags and accessories made from discarded tarps. Even if their totes aren’t your style, a climb up to the store’s observation deck is worth the trek. From there you overlook Frau Gerolds Garten, a space shared by community urban gardens, indie boutiques and art studios, and an outdoor bar and restaurant. During the winter, a makeshift hut becomes a packed dining room serving the classic Swiss winter staple, fondue.
Now on Geroldstrasse, all we see is nattily dressed and mustachioed young men on fixed-gear bikes, music venues promoting international indie acts such as Goldfrapp and Low, and pricey furniture emporiums selling antiques and reimagined pieces. At the end of this stretch of road is one of the neighborhood’s centerpieces—the 500-meter-long Im Viadukt. Comprising Switzerland’s first indoor produce market and some 30 shops, it is a refreshing contrast to the Old Town’s bustling Bahnhofstrasse. There isn’t an international luxury fashion label or watch store in sight. There is, however, almost everything else. Each of the shops sits between stone railway arches and all have the exact same dimensions, but they range widely from clothing boutiques and kitchen supply stores to a coffee shop which bills itself as a “social start-up meeting space,” a dance studio, and a Christian youth hangout.
“This is so different from how it was in the ’90s, when this was all warehouses,” Bosanis says. “We would only come down here on Sundays when a Greek restaurant owner would sell homemade yogurt from his storage space.” Pointing to some stairs, she adds, “And not everyone comes for shopping.” On top of the shops is an elevated footpath, a popular walking destination where Bosanis says she sometimes walks her dog.
The last stop at Im Viadukt is the indoor produce market, where vendors sell freshly baked bread and pies, fruit juices, artisanal chocolates, and small-batch organic fruits and vegetables. Over a late lunch at Restaurant Markthalle at the far end of the market, I look around the space framed by stone arches and see business types, kids and young parents, ladies who lunch. I tell Bosanis that I expected Zurich West to look more like the hipster enclaves of Williamsburg in Brooklyn or Silverlake in Los Angeles, with trendy artistic types and all the pretentiousness that goes with them.
“You see some of that, but you also see lots of families here on the weekends. And there are a lot of young and creative people who shop or hang out here,” Bosanis says. “Really, it’s for everybody.”
Swiss International Air Lines flies nonstop from Bangkok and Singapore to Zurich daily.
Where To Stay
Designer Alfredo Häberli has filled the 126-room 25hours Hotel Zürich West (102 Pfingstweidstrasse; 41-44/577-2525; doubles from US$182) with splashes of bright colors and a laid-back communal vibe.
Where to Eat
Located on top floor of Switzerland’s tallest skyscraper, Clouds (35/F, Prime Tower, 5 Maagplatz; 41-44/404-3000) is one of Zurich West’s few fine-dining destinations, with sky-high prices to match. For something more down to earth, Les Halles (6 Pfingstweidstrasse; 41-44/273-1125) has a compact, easy-on-the-wallet menu and loads of personality. After perusing the shops and market produce at Im Viadukt, tuck into the ever-changing daily specials at Restaurant Markthalle (231 Limmatstrasse; 41-44/201-0060).
What To Do
After browsing the one-of-a-kind bags and accessories at Freitag (17 Geroldstrasse; 41-43/366-9520), head next door to Frau Gerolds Garten (23 Geroldstrasse), a popular neighborhood rendezvous that is part urban gardening project, part shopping enclave, and part restaurant and bar. For culture vultures, the Schiffbau (4 Schiffbaustrasse) stages a regular program of modern theater, while the Kunsthalle Zürich (270 Limmatstrasse; 41-44/272-1515) showcases international contemporary art.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2014 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“West Side Story”).