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!
|Jozef K *||Gdansk||7||8||8||7||7||8|
|Strefa Piwa *||Krakow||10||7||8||6||7||9|
|Viva La Pinta||Krakow||8||7||8||7||7||8|
|Graciarnia U Plastykow||Rzeszow||6||9||9||8||8||9|
|Art Café Kalambur||Wroclaw||7||10||9||8||7||9|
Nowhere is the transformation in beer and pub going more stark than in Poland. After dredging itself out from a planned economy, in a matter of a decade Poland had resurrected its brewing scene and as part of a new national fervour and optimism all forms of cultural expression, including pubs and bars have been subject to rapid change.
The major Euro lager brands such as Lech, Perla, Tyskie, Warka, Zubr and Zywiec could hardly have imagined in such a short space of time they would come under such intense pressure from confident, highly skilled and aggressively marketed microbrewing from across Poland.
It arguably started in the early nineties with the formation of Browar Amber, a Pomeranian brewery serving a series of authentic Germanic beers. Across the other side of the country in Krakow, a cellar pub/restaurant called CK Browar was formed with the relatively novel idea of brewing and serving on site in the style of a Brauhaus. Slowly the economics of brewing on a small scale became more affordable, and the demand from the market for a wider choice in reflection of the Western lifestyle Poland now wished to associate with. Opportunities starting presenting themselves all across Poland, with hotels forming with the notion of brewing their own beers, brew pubs doing likewise, and dedicated breweries proactively exploiting a huge gap in the market being complacently filled with bland gassy lager churned out by hulking great conglomerates like Kompania Piwowarska.
By the mid 00s things had started moving apace, Krakow, Wroclaw and Lublin all featuring new central breweries not only selling their beer on site but shipping them into new bars and taking on the generic lagers.
This occurred in tandem with a transformation in the Polish drinking scene, which had previously taken place in sports pubs, cellar bars and bland modern bars. Along with the appetite for new beers came the appetite for new alternative places to drink.
Krakow’s scene changed most prominently in Kazimierz, with crumbling and as yet unexplored buildings ripe for being taken over and changed into atmospheric, antiquey drinking dens, new and yet redolent of a previous era. Once this gained national and even international renown, other cities followed suit. I wrote about this as part of our Days Out feature, here.
At this point craft brewing was able to bypass the struggle to compete with major macrobreweries for tap space by becoming entirely separate entities, latching themselves onto brand new bars and making sure that when the next generation were starting out drinking it was their beers on tap – not the dull lagers listed above. You now have an entirely reversed situation, with the major players using their financial muscle in a desperate attempt to cleave some tap space in craft ale bars.
The polarised nature of beer in Poland at the moment has squeezed some of the medium sized breweries who somehow managed to survive 1980-2005, meaning they are forced to operate in the gaps between the sports bar lager drinking market and the too-cool-for-school craft scene. This is a less healthy situation than Czechia for example where medium sized brewing and a national obsession with bottom-fermented lager has managed to stay the advance of poor quality macro lager and kept craft brewing at the periphery.
Be prepared for some wild and wonderful nights exploring the huge diversity of lively, friendly bars across the country, each of which keeps gradually improving as the years go by. Poland seems to have taken the diversity of craft ale to its heart, and unless the economic weather changes there’s no reason to think that dynamic is going to change any time soon.