What do three Spanish friends with no background in gastronomy do in Berlin? Why, open a hugely popular vegan tapas bar, serving up dairy-free tortillas, cashew cheese and crispy croquettes to the hungry folk of Neukölln. A bar cosy enough vibes to host plenty of Tinder first dates and contented regulars alike.
David Ballesteros Mas is constantly having to explain the concept of vegan tortillas to guests: It’s just chickpea and cornflour, water and salt — nothing complicated there. It’s always the same question: “Spanish tortillas without eggs? How is that possible?” The Spanish restaurateur gets it every night. His tapas bar Alaska in Neukölln’s Reuterkiez is the proof of concept.
At Alaska they serve traditionally vegan Mexican tortillas, rather than the Spanish variety. Starting out they mostly served wine and cocktails, but the vegan tapas has really taken off. “A lot of people come for dinner, now,” says David Ballesteros Mas. They make everything by hand — from the croquettes to the cashew cheese, and vegan cliches like tofu or seitan never make it as far as the plates.
“Many of our regulars treat the bar like their living room,” says Daniel Fernandez Campos, who is responsible for crafting the look of the space, with its inviting flea market furniture. And the bar isn’t as frosty as its name might suggest. The actual inspiration for the moniker is Spanish cult singer and animal rights activist Alaska.
The bar is run by a trio: first, David Ballesteros Mas and Daniel Fernandez Campos met two decades ago in Barcelona. The two then crossed paths with culinary enthusiast Estefania Medina Muñoz in their new home in Berlin through Bar Raval. The Kreuzberg-based restaurant founded by German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl popularised tapas culture in the city back in 2011. Brühl’s team have since spent their fair share of evenings at the Alaska Bar, too. That’s what you might call a major success.
None of the three has a background in gastronomy; Estefania Medina Muñoz and David Ballesteros Mas worked in television, while Daniel Fernandez Campos is a fashion designer. But when friends offered them the space in 2015, they took a chance on it. And lucky they did. The bar is not just a hub for vegans, it is also popular in the neighbourhood, and among Spaniards in exile.
They host concerts, film screenings and charity events for animal rights organisations. “We’re definitely a Tinder bar, too,” grins Estefania Medina Muñoz, who could tell you plenty of stories about the steamy conversations she’s heard across the tapas tables. So it looks like egg-free tortillas are just the beginning.
All photos by Lena Ganssmann
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