While Bratislava itself may not be able to compete directly with nearby show-stopping cities like Prague, Budapest and Vienna, its location in central Europe is very well-connected and so frequently visited as a stop-off or day trip, for which it is actually well-equipped. The compact centre with castle, riverside setting, eclectic monuments, and remnants of ‘old Europe’ in its architecture (not to mention traditions) make it a worthwhile city to visit for a day or two.
Most of all however, Bratislava’s pub scene and nightlife is alive and well, with a host of centrally located brew-pubs, ‘pivaren‘, and quirky bars offering both variety and when compared to Vienna – excellent value. In this article we take you on a tour around Bratislava’s most enjoyable pubs, brewery taps and bars!
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On arrival by train or plane you will not be immediately struck dumb with awe at the sights in front of you. Bratislava’s train station is still seen as something of a national embarrassment, but may intrigue and amuse some. Likewise, the bus from airport to centre takes you through a series of shopping parks on past various dilapidated buildings and precincts. So not a good start. However, once Slavin hill becomes visible, the sights quickly pick up in quality. Before thinking about drinking or lunch it would be worth exploring the castle hill, popping into the museums and enjoying the view over the Danube of the famous ‘UFO’ bridge and the concrete jungle of Petrzalka.
On a hazy day the above image isn’t an exaggeration. Contrast and compare to the spruced-up Austro-Hungary era buildings of the old town, interspersed with some elegant (if not as well kept) inter-war era architecture.
Once you have taken in the angular juxtaposition, walk down the castle hill to explore Bratislava’s small but pretty old town with several lanes, back alleys and boulevards to enjoy. Make your way up to St Michael’s gate (Michalská brána) which is the epicentre of the city. You can climb the tower, enjoy the view and a small but diverting museum. Once you’ve done that, you must be starting to feel a little thirsty, no? Shall we begin?
I tend to find lunchtime the more opportune moment to visit brewery tap/brew pub venues, as you can entertain the thought you are engaging in a noble, almost academic pursuit of ‘tasting’, rather than simply starting along the way to getting pissed.
There are several brewpub options in and around central Bratislava but for the quality (if not the selection or price) I recommend Meštiansky pivovar as a good place to start. Both their svetly and tmavy lezak (light and dark lager) are great examples of their styles. The dark lager is so thick I wonder if it is poured from a nitro keg.
As for the venue, it’s bright, stylish with a rather unusual layout that makes it seem as though they have tried their utmost to reduce the space for tables and customers, but dig around as there are multiple floors. The food here is pretty good and reliable, though weighs in on the expensive side for Bratislava, so you may wish to hold fire. Ultimately the fun factor isn’t high here, but it is a place to wet your whistle with some home brew and have reliably good food. Enjoyed those beers? Now let’s go find some real local life!
2. Bernard pri Lyceu *
Not far to walk to our next stop, except the system of traffic lights along this snarled-up motorway intersection is hideous! You’ll just have to wait…and wait some more until finally the lights change. The pedestrian certainly is not King here. Take a look north towards the station where you’ll see the gleaming white Presidential Palace. Tempting to imagine them peering out at this intersection every day wondering how it went so wrong.
Our next stop-off, Bernard Pri Lyceu is distinctly different from the last. Less corporate, no tourists and also no English spoken. We wrote a full profile of the pub here in efforts to do it justice.
In short, this is a true local’s hangout with prices to match. As is the case in the region, the beer is also fantastic despite the humble venue. They offer most of the Bernard pivo range on tap crammed into the bar area which is little more than the corner in a single roomed venue. Most of which remain under 2 euros, very cheap for Bratislava centre.
From sunrise to sunset it seems like there are always at least a few locals in here enjoying a beer. The time of day becomes almost irrelevant once inside this bunker dedicated to drinking and chatting. Make sure to not sit in one of the regular’s favourite seats as you will soon get shifted elsewhere!
As the day progresses you’ll find a younger crowd emerge to hang out on the terrace, taking advantage of the competitive prices and high quality beer. It might be next to a motorway and a sex shop, but it’s got a good view of the castle – Eastern Europe in a nutshell. This pub is the slice of Slovak life that our first venue slightly sterilises in its corporate way. People of different ages and class mix together here and that helps make it a standout.
Now, it would be good to find a venue that combines the brewpub curiosity with a true pub atmosphere and confines – luckily that is our very next stop!
If you haven’t had food yet, now’s the time. Starosloviensky Pivovar is the pub-like brewery tap many more well-financed operations could learn a thing or two from. Unpretentious, fairly priced and homely with rustic charm without laying it on thick. It looks lived in and well-worn instead of a blank canvas, as so many minipivovary can be.
The environs of a Czech/Slovakian hospoda/pivaren with its own beers. Very good beers too, that achieve an impressive standard while also not really asking for any more than to be drunk and enjoyed. This may be why the venue still gets local custom, especially in the evenings. For me that places it above the other brewpubs in the city which are more overtly food focused and sterile in atmosphere.
After food it’s always a good idea to go for a stroll to work off some of the excess. Slovakian food is great at mopping up litres of beer but dishes like the delicious stodge strapačky can weigh one down. We go for a walk out of the old town and towards the university district and city parks where there are two of the city’s finest pubs – arguably two of Slovakia’s finest.
A traditional pub format in Czechia and Slovakia is for a venue to be based in a ‘half step’ basement, where windows look out at ground level. There is a degree of light but the basement setting draws your focus inwards, which is very effective when drumming up an atmosphere.
Omama is a special venue in terms of its decoration, with hundreds of recovered and restored signage and advertising from the early 20th century through to the fall of the Iron Curtain. You could spend all day looking at them. It trades on a loose sense of nostalgia and sentimentalism, but really works and fills the room.
Omama also trades on alcoholic drinks and meals, of course, with a reasonably good range of Czech beer on tap, along with simple hearty meals. The place itself is wonderfully atmospheric and a cult classic with locals and students. Occasionally an intrepid tourist will drop in, but this is well outside the tourist trail and really a local spot. Something about the surroundings lend themselves well to a late afternoon slow quiet recline (particularly the beautiful courtyard which is worth exploring), but the tempo picks up later on. You’ll find Omama and the following venue the bedrock of a quality night out in Bratislava.
Positioned only a few metres away around the side of the same block, Hostinec Richtár Jakub is arguably the best pub Bratislava has to offer.
Also located in a half-step basement, the venue effortlessly combines some of the most traditional Czech/Slovakian pub features with more contemporary offerings. Yes, the basement setting, low ceiling, communal tables and wooden fixtures will be familiar to most visitors to the region. They serve traditional lager, pub food and take table reservations (we recommend reserving in advance) in a time-honoured format. However, with a homebrew beer and multi-tap offering on rotation, this attracts a crowd of nearby students and young families rather than simply a few old crusties. It’s the marriage of old and new that makes the pub feel versatile, vibrant and relevant. You may pay a few cents more here than elsewhere, but there are few other drawbacks.
If there was one venue to choose to abandon or curtail this bar crawl and stay put in, it’s this one. However, our task is at hand, so follow us to the next place.
6. The Peach
Turning back towards the old town now, a 15 minute stroll will help clear your head. Don’t forget to drink some water on the way around! Vital on a day out in Bratislava, especially.
The Peach is marketed as Bratislava’s answer to the ruin bar, but there have been many such claims made to that effect across different cities.
This bar is no ruin but it is an alternative venue with a less try hard attitude than mainstream club-cafés. The furnishings are fairly ad-hoc and there’s an offbeat café atmosphere that gets going in the evenings. If you’re worrying about the drinks selection, don’t. There are a decent mix of high quality lagers on tap (with higher quality bottles in the fridge) and cocktails.
The bright colours and soft furnishings, along with the semi al fresco format have more in common with Serbian bar culture than Hungary’s ruin bars, in my view. Stay a while if it’s buzzing, but when it’s time to move on we are moving on in quite a few ways…
In this gloomy basement pub sturdy furnishings, battered old wood and bare stone is the order of the day. Cosy in its own way, ie – a completely different cosy to The Peach! You won’t forget this now I’ve told you, but the place used to be a public toilet.
Sit among old musical instruments, framed artwork and antique appliances in the candle light (it ought to be dark by now) and forget what time it is or may become. On a busy night it’s not uncommon for Steinplatz to remain open until 4 am.
This characterful and atmospheric venue has a lot going for it and is one of the better city centre options available. One question – have you got anything left? Ještě jedno? One more? Go on then:
Depending what time it is, you may wish to switch this bar in the order, as it calls last orders before midnight. However, if things have worked out well, you may find yourself rocking up here in the centre of the old town around 10.30-11pm for a final beer.
It will be a local beer too, as here is Bratislava’s taproom for the nearby Pivovar Stupavar. This brewery does a fine range of traditional and contemporary beer styles, 4 or 5 of which are usually available here on rotation.
Piváreň is the ubiquitous Slovak term for a pub. And this is a pub, no sterile taproom for chin-stroking tastings – it’s a true boozer that’s a bit grungy and dog-eared, in all the right sort of ways. Good punk. Such venues are usually best visited at the end of an evening. With very tasty beer and a buzzing crowd, you will be launched back onto the cobbles of the old town, not with a spring in your step exactly, but a woozy sense of satisfaction of a job well done. Congratulations – you made it!
Dungeon Pub – A late night pub with an emphasis on gaming. Very social and a young friendly crowd
Urpiner Pub – A very social friendly corner pub which has Urpiner’s range on tap
Papichulo – Small and cosy venue, crimson upholstered furniture, candle-light etc and a garden terrace.
Drink In Gallery Andy – Art gallery/bar immersed in eclecticism
Black Dog / Cierny Pes – Probably the big miss-out in this list. Very popular central late night pub in the old town.
Novopacka Pivaren – Local beer, rustic interior, down-to-earth hospoda with very cheap beer.
Hostinec Na Sanci – Decent looking boozer with beer from Trnava. Sympathetic fixtures and fittings despite the modern decor.
U Hasica – A throwback pajzl, super-cheap with Svijany and Pernstejn beer, meals for 4-6 euros and an old time atmosphere – smokey, grumpy and raw.