Good while it lasted: Chain of Berlin wine bars mostly give up on ‘pay what you want’ pricing

For a time there, Berlin was in possession of a pretty well-kept secret: A chain of wine bars called weinerein that were based on the premise that you paid what you felt like paying.

It was simple: You’d come in, drop a euro coin through a slot in a jar, and select from a substantial selection of reds and whites that changed weekly. You’d go back up to refill your glass…and refill your glass…and refill your glass. Upon leaving, you threw what you felt the experience was worth to you in the money jar.

Sure there were cheapos that got drunk and paid one euro. And there were others that would drink two glasses of wine and threw in a ten note.

The places began to get more popular when the New York Times featured the chain in its pages about a year ago.

Now, this isn’t the only enterprise in the world to experiment with discretionary payments and the honor system, I know. But it was a nice addition to Berlin’s wine landscape.

Now it’s gone — mostly.

I popped in to my favorite of the four bars, on Kollwitzstrasse in Prenzlauberg, with a few friends a few weeks ago only to be told by the hostess that they had done away with the pay system. She pointed to a chalk board with the days offerings and a per-glass price (around $3 for most).

I did some research and have found that all but one of the bars have done away with the honor system. A friend once had commented that it seemed like a pretty unsustainable business model to him — I guess he was right, as were those that bet enough people would take advantage of such places that it would become hard for them to stay open without going to a traditional pay model.

I want to stress that these were very local places, rather than some national or international chain. They were run by the people that lived in the city’s Prenzlauberg and Mitte neighborhoods. These were bars that many of us wanted to keep supporting.

Alas, one is still holding on to its pay-what-you-want mentality, and its packed most nights. The wine selection is always eclectic and surprising, and it serves a full menu of food that changes nightly. It’s called Frarosa and it is on Zionskirchstrasse in Mitte.

I guess we should enjoy the place before it changes as well.