Ratings Key (0-10)
A: Choice and/or quality of drinks
B: Style and décor
C: Atmosphere and feel
D: Amenities, Events & Community
E: Value for money
F: The Pub Going Factor
Bars marked (*) will take you to our full profile write-up
|Leopold’s Delicatessen *||Split||9||7||9||8||6||8|
|Mali Medo *||Zagreb||6||7||8||7||7||8|
Croatia’s pub scene suffers from a combination of factors, some of which are typical to its location.
Of the culture in all the former Yugoslav republics, Croatia’s is arguably the most cosmopolitan, with Zagreb being one of the most Western-feeling cities in Eastern Europe, and the beautiful Dalmatian coast enjoying tourism to rival Greece and Italy. It might stand to reason then just through cross pollination and investment they would enjoy a good pub scene. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, that isn’t the case.
The economic circumstances, hot weather and café culture dictate most businesses aim for bland something-for-everyone cafés serving breakfast, lunch and dinner so the money keeps flowing in. It’s more difficult to run a specialist venue that makes money, so this is generally what you get. Certainly you can sit around for a beer on an afternoon and evening, but you could be anywhere. The beer would have to be something exceptional for such places to be considered here. It isn’t exceptional.
Croatia’s big three beers, Karlovacko, Ojuszko and Pan are all very poor lagers. The first two become wearing after the first one, and Pan starts out tasting horrible and doesn’t get any better. The best options are on the peripheries, with Northern Dalmatia and Istria having at least some local breweries, while down south you might be able to find the reasonably good lager Niksicko, from Montenegro.
However, slowly, this is an improving picture. Thankfully, the dark beer Tomislav is now doing the rounds and very much worth having as a break from the crap above. The main three are now tentatively trying to compete with craft beers by offering spinoffs like Pan Zlatni, Karlovacko Retro, though these are only mild improvements. Split and Hvar have their own breweries now, who have supplied some local bars with their goods. Split and Dubrovik have some reasonable bars, and there are one or two places in Zadar that rise above the usual cafés or drab derivative ‘modern bar’ templates. Zagreb is still sadly a bit of a shocker for bars, and it will take you some digging around to scratch together a bar crawl. Thankfully though, it is a friendly and boisterous sort of a place, so many of these locations become a lot more likeable thanks to some local interaction.
Look around anywhere you can find for terrace venues and ‘event space’ type locations as there are often bars attached that have alternative scenes going on, more interesting decor and you can occasionally strike gold, such as in Varazdin.
I’m hopeful before too long all major towns in Croatia will have local beer promoted alongside the dross mentioned above, and at the very least it will catch up with the alternative scene and stop trying to build soulless r’n’b aspirational venues that look like they’re trying to feature in pop videos.
2018 Update: Things have got even worse recently due to the closure of the atmospheric bars Oktogon and Back Door in Zadar.