Notes on Zoiglkultur 🇩🇪

In July 2023 we experienced the Upper Palatinate’s ancient Zoigl tradition first hand! In this article you will find out what Zoigl beer and culture is all about. We hope you’ll be fascinated and keen to experience it yourself!

What is Zoiglkultur?

Between the years 1415-1522 around 75 small communities in a sleepy corner of Germany near the Czech border, were granted brewing rights enshrined on the title deeds of each eligible property. Families earnt Royal and therefore legal permission to brew beer at a communal brewery in their town and open their own houses to locals and visitors on rotation and on special occasions. With rights come responsibilities, and each brewer has a collective duty to maintain the brewery and pay in to a communal kitty known as the ‘Kesselgeld‘ (Kettle gold).

Spin on to the present day and the tradition of communal brewing remains alive, creating what are in effect transient pubs, which open only a few days each month. These pubs are why we, The European Bar Guide visited the region.

Beyond novelty value, the limited nature of each opening results in certain effects – some deliberate, some happy accidents. Each occasion feels special – you will not forget an evening experience when the whole neighbourhood turn out. The hosts know life will return to normal after their turn has ended, and are revived by the time it is their turn again, which helps prevent Zoiglpubs becoming tired or stale. In the case of Reinhard Fütterer of Schafferhof Zoiglstube in Windischeschenbach, his day job is a professional chimney sweep, and is keen to point out that he prizes the social value beyond any money he makes. As a visitor, knowing that you are unlikely to ever finish the full set of Zoigl pubs and beers will either inspire you to dive deeper or divest you of any stress accompanying those completist urges. Lastly and definitely most profoundly, Zoigl culture binds the community as neighbours become friends, their knowledge and resources are shared and the tradition is repeated and reinforced through generations.

This has been recognised as “intangible cultural heritage“, by UNESCO, as their inscription confirms.

Because no true Zoiglstube is open every week, some forward planning will be necessary for your visit. Your reference guide should be the Zoigltermine, maintained by the “Echter” (or Real) Zoigl community. N.B – Please be aware that this only lists the original/real Zoigl pubs, but there are a wider community of Zoigl pubs, as we will explain.

You should also refer to Oberpfaelzer Wald‘s Zoigl Kalendar (.pdf format – 2023 edition) which lists the true Zoigl pubs in bold as well as opening times for other Zoigl pubs. The others may brew their own Zoigl or buy it in.

Zoigl itself simply means “sign”, or “show”. It attracted this name because the Zoigl star (a star of David, but also synonymous with brewing guilds) is hung from the gable of a Zoigl pub to show when it is open for business.

What is Zoiglbier?

Zoigl beer production has some agreed parameters – boiling in an open pan over a wood fire, bottom fermentation and, after sitting in the attic coolship it is transferred (via a dairy tank in the case of Windischeschenbach) to their home cellars for lagering and maturation. All Zoigl is to some extent or another a ‘Kellerbier’. Unfiltered, ie. cloudy and usually (though not always) pale lager, but with lower carbon dioxide content than most. You will find the creations wholesome, rich in flavour but distinctly different from one another. Some are simple and indulgent, some subtly complex, some have a wilder approach, others show a high level of skill and refinement. But what all non-commercial “Echter” Zoigl has in common is social binding. Zoigl is best seen as part of a culture above a beer style. This is the merely the milkshake that brings the boys to the yard.

Pub Culture and Etiquette

Expect a more casual approach in the Zoigl pubs than some of the stuffier Wirtshaus venues you may be familiar with around Germany. There is no ‘front of house’ nor gatekeeper, so just like a true pub you wander in and look for a space to sit inside or in the garden/yard. Watch out for the ‘Stammtisch‘, the table reserved for regulars, which is normally the one nearest the bar. There is typically a sign to mark it, but if there isn’t then look elsewhere to avoid embarrassment.

Communal seating is part of German culture, a sort of leveller across class and ages which encourages cross-chat, socialising, bonhomie, etc. It has also given rise to certain rules and rituals – things Germans are also big fans of. Tischetikette requires from politeness to ask if space at a half-full table is free before sitting down, to greet those you’re sitting next to, and, if some food arrives, to wish them ‘Gut appetit’ (as they will do for you). If anyone leaves, bid them Adieu (or, well, you know…) and you may notice your fellow pubgoers rap the table with their knuckles on their way out – a curious little habit to say farewell. As well as general chit-chat, card games and live music are common in these pubs.

Once seated, table service is how things are done, so you won’t find bar service in Zoigl pubs to be typical. However, some may have a Schänke, a hatch to order a quick beer. As for tipping, it isn’t typical to Tip for 1 round of drinks unless there is a big group, but as the service for food/drinks piles up it is common to tip at least 10%. Bear in mind that unlike the touristy beer halls in Cologne or Munich, these pubs are run by families – they are glad you’re there, and the sign of a full house making demands for food and drink gladdens their hearts as well as their wallets. The hospitality is warm, jovial and quite personal too. A few we met were delighted to know we had come all that way. Be reciprocal in your generosity if you’ve had a great time.

Franconia and the Oberpfalz are known for their difficult dialects with crushed consonants and quirky vernacular which flies over many Germans’ heads, let alone foreigners. During typical pub transactional conversation you shouldn’t have trouble, but you may find yourself reacting blankly to something they intended as a joke. Don’t think anything of it. Everyone is there to have a good time.

Lastly, a wide selection of Schnapps/Brandies is nearly always notable on a Zoigl menu card. This is as typical a way to end the evening as you can find. Some of the creations on offer may seem unusual to foreign eyes. You aren’t obliged, of course, but if you find yourself with a friendly group, they may ask you to join in as part of the communal ritual. These can be anything from shop-bought to home made using the brewing liquor created as part of the process.

Prices & Value

True Zoigl pubs are very low-priced by German standards, with the beers as of 2023 being sold between €2.40-2.60 on average, and most dishes clocking in between €4-7 (although you will find cold cuts, bread and cheese rather than big meals in most of these places). A good number of Zoiglstube owners are butchers in their day job (or best mates with someone who is) so some of the produce available is as fresh as you will find, occasionally as good as anything available in the region. Yes, you can get double for your money here versus what you may pay in central Cologne or Hamburg.

Zoigl bier is brewed to be consumed quickly. That isn’t to say gulped in 10 seconds, but in terms of each batch they brew. They are open only 3 days a month so the beer and food cannot linger around; it is sold at a fair price to discourage waste.

The Pfiff

There are no small measures of beer – officially, that is – but after your first beer is consumed, you may ask for a Pfiff. This habit (also known as a Schnitt elsewhere in the region) stems from when men didn’t desire or have time to drink an entire beer, but did not want to look feeble among their comrades clutching a smaller glass. As a form of camouflage, the tapster serves a wild pour with a large head that reaches near the top, while containing around 60% of a normal serving. It isn’t just for show, but also affects the flavour. I strongly recommend trying a Pfiff which often adds a drier, rasping finish that is deeply moreish when combined with the sweet, spicy flavours and can elevate an already enjoyable beer to an exceptional one. Just don’t order it as your first beer – that will come across strangely!

This habit has mutated to the point where the huge lager producer Pilsner Urquell markets a ‘Šnyt” pour as a kind of epicurean delight (in reality more of a gimmick) whereas the true culture of such a pour has practical, if quirkily amusing origins.

Even the term Pfiff has been co-opted and distorted where, in Vienna 🇦🇹, the famous Trzesniewski snack bars serve 0.15l portions of Ottakringer Gold-Fassl described as a Pfiff. Both Wiener and Oberpfalzer would claim their use is legitimate!

The ‘Echter’ (real) Zoigl Towns:

Nowadays five communities maintain the true Zoigl tradition:

  • Eslarn
  • Falkenberg
  • Mitterteich
  • Neuhaus
  • Windischeschenbach


The main Zoigl hub would have to be the most tongue-twisty to pronounce, wouldn’t it? A small settlement slightly smaller than a ‘market town’, really, but with an enormous porcelain factory in the valley by the train station. You’ll find a not exactly affluent high street and church with some unused land, a building site where the town centre should be. Remarkably unremarkable to have something so remarkable going on. At the last count there are 5 venues to experience “Echter” (real) Zoigl and 8 venues in total although you’ll find no more than 3 will be open at the same time. The bigger, more frequently open venues are Beim Binner, Fiedlschneider, Beim Gloser. There is also Schlosshof-Zoigl, Zum Posterer, Homely Zum Roud’n is the more rustic counterpoint, a real throwback more like drinking in someone’s pantry. There is also the Gasthof Zum Weissen Schwan serving true Zoigl on tap in a pretty pubby feeling venue and the Zoiglstube Wolframstubn. Sadly the commercial Zoigl brewery Brauerei Würth closed in 2020, diminishing the options available, while the Zoigl-Schänke Loistl Rudolf also appears out of action. However, given the size of the town, it feels very well served with the current roster.

Neuhaus an der Waldnaab

Set on a hilltop, but reachable on foot from neighbouring Windischeschenbach, Neuhaus high street is a 15 minute climb away – not so easy after a few Zoigl biers! An impressive castle with rocky promontory greets you as you duck under the underpass and across the bridge spanning the Waldnaab. In town you’ll find a cute little church and more typically colourful Bavarian houses on the high street making Neuhaus a slightly more aesthetic choice. You will find 6 Zoiglstubn more or less in a line along the main street, with the hotel Zum Waldnaabtal also offering Zoiglbier vom Fass (on tap). The Zoigl pubs are: Bahler, Beim Käck´n, Lingl, Schafferhof, Schoilmichl, Teicher. Again, I must stress it is unlikely any more than 2 or 3 of these venues will be open at the same time. However, combined with Windischeschenbach down the hill, you may find 3 or 4 are open on the same day.


Approaching Falkenberg offers a picturesque idyll of rural Bavarian life, as you pass wheat fields to a view of a gentle river, field with storks grazing, with distant Schloss, church and the communal brewery. There are 3 Zoigl pubs in the village, 2 of which are often open at the same time. Kramer is both a small pub and a giant barn, with a characterful owner and “Echter”, as is Schwoazhansl-Zoigl. Wolfladl is a homely corner pub with a down to earth family operation, but not among the few “Echter” Zoigl venues. You will also find 2 Gasthofs which may offer beer and food and a pub atmosphere of sorts. Generally regarded as distant to reach, but we found it is reachable in a few hours hike from Waldnaab, which happens to be a scenic riverside walk. If you hire a bike you can cut further time from the journey. We hiked from Neuhaus to Falkenberg then asked a Zoiglstube owner to arrange a taxi for us back (cost for the ride in 2023 was 35 euros so bear that in mind).


Small town in the North East Oberpfalz near Marktredwitz. Currently served by a 7620 bus between Mitterteich and Marktredwitz which runs every 90 minutes during the day. There are 3 Zoigl venues, 2 of which are “Echter” (Real). These are Hartwich Zoigl (non “Echter”), Zoiglstube Oppl, and Lugert (The real deal). Wiesau, with 2 Zoigl venues and a train station is nearby, so combining the two is possible if the dates match.


A remote village on the Czech border with one Zoiglstube: Beim Strehern. In comparison with the other 4 settlements there is no rotational transfer of brewing to different families, but one master brewer brewing for the whole village. In that sense it stands apart from the full Zoigl tradition.

Other towns to find Zoigl in the Oberpfalz

Weiden in der Oberpfalz – A pretty town in itself with a classic Bavarian town square with gate towers, a characterful town hall on raised arches you can wander underneath, and painted gabled town houses. There’s a central not-very-pubby Brewery Restaurant BräuWirt serving commercial Zoigl (brewed to a similar method but not part of the tradition), Kloine Zoigl Stub’n, a popular Zoigl pub that’s a little closer to the original tradition and Zum Glöckerlbauer a characterful, twee venue on the outskirts.

Neustadt an der Waldnaab – A village easily reached by train from Weiden with two Zoiglstubn. Not recognised as part of the ‘Echter’ tradition, they nevertheless run a pretty similar operation. Beim Brucksaler offers warm hospitality and is a popular spot, albeit without the quirks of some. Zum Waldhauser is a homely, rustic, genteel venue that also doesn’t stray far from the venues listed above.

Amberg – A sizeable town of 42,000 people. Not known specifically for Zoigl, but the Zoiglstube Winkler is located in the town centre.

Marktredwitz – A small, but well-connected town with more Zoigl history than present day operations. However, you will find Oberredwitzer Zoiglstub´n and a typical town brewpub Zoigl Am alten Rathaus.

Villages & List of Other Zoigl Venues

The below venues either brew their own Zoigl/Kellerbier or buy it from Zoigl families and sell in their own Zoiglstube. Most of these pubs are aiming for the same/similar atmosphere.

(Again I must stress: Consult the Zoigl calendar or ring ahead for opening hours in order to avoid disappointment!)

Other Zoigl Venues

Altenstadt an der WaldnaabAlter Pfarrhof

Auerbach in der OberpfalzGrenZ-Zoigl Ranna

BärnauZoigl Hohenthan

BuchwaldBuchwalder Zoiglstub’n

ErbendorfBeim Meislbeck

Erbendorf-PfabenZoigl am Räuberfelsen

FlossZoiglstube Zum Gogerer.

Fuchsmühl Zum Schnapper

GrafenwöhrZoiglstube Zum Adler

Hammerles Zum Vinzenz

Kemnath Houderer Zoigl

KohlbergZum Binnerlindl

KonnersreuthZoiglstube Hofner

KrummenaabGrandlhof Zoigl

NabburgMutzi’s Zoiglstube

NeunkirchenZur Gerechtsamkeit

PfaffenreuthZum Schreiner Schorsch

PfreimdBene’s Zoigl


PlößbergBräustüberl Riedl

Plößberg-ÖdschönlindZum Waldnaabsee

Reuth bei Erbendorf Zoigl zum Rechersimer

SchirmitzBeim Heigl

SchnaittenbachSchmiehansl – Familie Schadl

SchönfichtBeim Gutbauern

SteinwaldWaldhaus im Steinwald

StornsteinZoiglstubn zum Mundl.

TirschenreuthZoiglstube “Hammerer”

TrausnitzZum Lohbinder


WaldsassenZum Sprea‘n

Wernberg-KöblitzZoiglwerkstatt Wernberg (A brewery with a Braustuberl – brewpub)

WiesauZoigl Fichtenschacht and Stefflwirt

Wunsiedel Zoiglmoos

A Map of Zoigl Pubs

Commercial Zoigl

Zoigl culture couldn’t stay confined to a handful of villages; naturally bigger businesses wanted to co-opt its home-spun, countryside vibes for their own means. These days there are many German brewers (usually, but not exclusively Bavarian ones) brewing a ‘Zoigl’. Some are faithful in method, some relatively faithful, some not at all faithful. There are dozens of fantastic beers brandishing the Zoigl label, and they can be enjoyed every bit as much as the “Echter” Zoigl producers, however it is still important to note that these brewers are not usually participants in the culture – they are brewers that sell direct to the market, often only in bottles, sometimes without even having a Gasthaus or pub operation. Commercial Zoigl is shipped worldwide, whereas if you want to drink the Echter Zoigl beer you need to visit the Oberpfalz.

Zoigl in the Allgäu?!

Further proof that Zoigl is a state of mind rather than a beer or some lines on a map is present in the form of Gernot Wildung’s self-built Kommunbrauhaus and his Zoiglstube in Kaufbeuren, a town nearer to Liechtenstein than to Windischeschenbach. Despite the distance from the core culture, this operation wishes to adhere to (where possible) the same traditions and values and spread the message. The reviews say it all.

How do I get to Zoigl country?

The vast majority of Zoigl pubs are based in the North of the Upper Palatinate close to the Czech border. On a map, the area looks rural. Between Nuremberg to the West and Pilsen to the east there are no cities and virtually no large towns for over 120 miles. However, don’t despair. The major Zoigl town, Windischeschenbach (and its hilltop neighbour Neuhaus) are served by a train station with frequent trains passing through from Marktredwitz from the North and Regensburg from the South, with the region’s central town of Weiden connecting to the rest of Bavaria.

From Nuremberg 🇩🇪: 1hr 32m train with a change at Weiden an der Oberpfalz. By far the easiest major city to reach Zoigl country. If you are visiting without a car I strongly recommend this as the simplest route.

From Munich 🇩🇪: 2hrs 54 with a change either at Regensburg or Schwandorf.

From Czechia 🇨🇿: Train from Karlovy Vary, changing at Cheb to Marktredwitz and on to Windischeschenbach. Timings vary substantially depending on connections.

Back to Germany 🇩🇪 page

April 13th-18th – Czechia 🇨🇿 & Borderlands 🇩🇪🇵🇱 – Trip #5 of 23

You are reading Part 3 of our 24 day tour of central Europe, which started with Part 1 – Austria & Slovenia and Part 2 – Croatia.

For the next 5 days we would visit the pubs and bars of Brno & Prague, go hiking in the Český ráj (Bohemian Paradise), visiting Turnov & Liberec in Czechia 🇨🇿 before navigating the borderlands of Zittau, Görlitz in Germany 🇩🇪 then Zgorzelec & Legnica in Poland. 🇵🇱

Day 1 – Planes, Trains & a Šalina named Desire – Brno & Prague

After a very boozy evening with our Zagreb 🇭🇷 pal , followed by a cripplingly early start to the airport I wasn’t feeling all that great on landing in Bratislava 🇸🇰. Arrival early and in the pouring rain we headed for an omelette and a lemonade in efforts to perk up. Semi-successful. A 50 minute delay on the train to Brno didn’t improve matters as we kicked around the cold damp station concourse of one of Europe’s less pleasing stations, but eventually we were away.

Our 2nd visit to Brno 🇨🇿 this year after our January trip, and something like 8th occasion in this lovely city, it is nice turning up somewhere already knowing where things are and how to get to them – not least when the rain is absolutely hammering down. Good old April 🌧️!

Such conditions require safety first decision making, meaning an umpteenth trip to Pivovar Pegas 🇨🇿 for lunch and a beer (but equally important warmth and dry). Stolidity is an underrated quality on such occasions. Traditional with more of a pubby feel than perhaps even the creators initially intended, they churn out a core range of beers which vary from alright to surprisingly good, with a roster of seasonal specials. Food is city centre prices and decent enough.

Once fed and watered, I emerged to find the rain easing off, the city itself quiet aside the tram stops. Brno’s term for trams is Šalina, which is nearer in terminology to ‘Streetcar’. As with most of central Europe these are very useful, normally in good condition, quick, clean and cheap, all allowing people to explore far more – I can’t encourage their usage enough. A few stops up the road dropped us off at one of Brno’s cult pubs, almost the first name that comes off people’s lips when you mention Brno boozers: Hostinec U Bláhovky 🇨🇿 .

This place has a draw. After a first experience here, if you find yourself even in the same region you feel an almost magnetic pull to head there for a pint. Pilsner Urquell is not the standard beer in Brno as it is in Prague, the picture is mixed. Aside of Stopkova in the city centre, this is the next known place for it, something recognised in Prazdroj’s ‘Legend Tapster’ series, with one of the acclaimed individuals pouring the beers at Bláhovky.

Rather than being a big beer hall, this is a neighbourhood pub on a corner. You’ll encounter the regulars on a table adjacent to a bar, groups of people who know each other well, the great, good and everyone next on the rank. On weekends you’ll find a queue of people outside in preparation for opening. A beer is assumed unless you make an interjection, and this can be enjoyed on the stand/na stojaka by the bar or sat on high tables opposite or the backroom. The local life and the ingrained rhythm of service is special, this is a truly outstanding bar in Europe that made this year’s Top 100.

On a limited timeframe, we had time to squeeze in three more venues before our journey to Prague 🇨🇿 . We prioritised seeing somewhere we hadn’t been to before and two venues we hadn’t been to for a few years. Starting at U všech svatých (The All Saints) 🇨🇿, we were keen to revisit on account of not really exploring the pub properly. Multi-room with mid-brown wood panelling and large religious prints, this is a Poutník pub with their regular light lager and its unfiltered version on tap, both at very reasonable prices. The service was kind, even giving a smile as I launched into the few exchanges in Czech I can handle without difficulty. They have rather shot themselves in the foot by only having one enormous stamgast table at the bar, which kind of rules that room out as being a social focal point when no-one is there. But the pub is likeable, naturally likeable, almost with a bit of underdog spirit, local charm, quite versatile too. And the beer… good grief, it was every bit as tasty as it looks.

A change of scenery followed as we walked back to Brno’s central square, the Cabbage Market, Zelný trh to Air Café 🇨🇿, our 1st visit here. By no means a beer bar, this central bar specialises in spirits and has a theme, decorated with WWII memorabilia to recognised British and Czech co-operation in the war. Service and the atmosphere is international, it felt like the bar guy would rather have conversed in English. I did enjoy the fact my small beer (Fagan, from a small Moravian brewery) was poured schnitt-style with a big head. Kudos to the bartender for that. The venue deserves an inclusion to the guide, and offers something a little bit different.

Further train delays meant only one thing – further beer. Somewhere quick, somewhere close by – ah! Pivnice u Poutnika 🇨🇿. Among Brno’s cult venues, a Pivnice with classic grumpy mute tapster, the curved ceilings and net curtains, but a slightly wilder knockabout vibe. An evening hangout, not somewhere to go for a meal or a date, put it that way. It’s name is instructive – they serve Poutník, and it’s bloody fantastic. When you get nice vibes in a virtually empty pub you know you’re somewhere pretty good. I know you’ll look at the below and think ‘what’s all the fuss about?’ – Trust me.

Having slightly overindulged, a 3 hour train journey probably wasn’t the worst outcome in order to sober up, or perhaps snooze it off. A relatively quiet train allowed for that, and it was early evening by the time we alighted at Praha hl. n and made our way to Žižkov district to check into our accommodation, drop bags off and relax for a few hours.

Our approach to exploring Prague bars these days is as follows: hit a few of the absolutely non-negotiable core venues, revisit one or two lesser visited, and find a few new venues. This keeps a nice balance of familiar trusty rewards, risks and novelty value.

With the weather brightening up, a walk along the Royal Route from the Powder Tower to the Old Town square and along Karlova to Charles Bridge and through Mala Strana up Nerudova to Prague Castle offers an entirely free and infinitely repeatable way to be astounded by mankind’s creations (not the pedestrians).

On the way, we attempted, perhaps foolishly, to get a seat at a table in U Zlatého tygra 🇨🇿, without luck. It would take another 2 tries on our trip before we succeeded.

Normally the next selection would be something like U Medvidku, U Vejvodu or U Rudolfina, all nearby, but I was in the mood to go straight for the bullseye. On entry to a Top 100 Bar in Europe, U Hrocha, 🇨🇿 things didn’t look any more promising in terms of seating, but the atmosphere was terrific, and I engineered – awkwardly – a leaning post in one of the niches. The server was struggling with the swell of people and it was difficult to get people’s attention, but I eventually secure the treasured Pilsner, which at the time of writing cost 49 crowns, unreal in that part of Prague. Bustling and glowing with that steam you get on wet evenings in warm rooms, this was the pub reaching its zenith – it was just a shame no-one else was with us to enjoy those moments.

The climb up to Hradčany, Prague’s Castle Hill is usually followed by the reward: a beer at U Černého vola 🇨🇿. This time however it was not to be, with no spaces opening up on the tables inside. More than a little frustrating given there aren’t exactly a ton of pubs up at the top of there. In fact it was a rare occasion where on a trip to Prague we didn’t manage a visit.

Tram #22 from Pohorelec stop is the way out from there. You can drop down and round back to where you started, or head west, which is what we chose to do, in search of a pub that had eluded us for years: Majk L’Atmosphere 🇨🇿

Originally recommended by Pivni Filosof Max Bahnson in his 2015 edition of Pisshead’s Guide To Prague. Several years have passed including Covid, with a period of silence as to this bars operation. I noticed it had also moved, though not far, across the other side of the road. Initially we were worrying it had gone altogether.

The place is clandestine to say the least, the exterior doesn’t exactly scream “come in”, although as you approach the door the sound of drunkenness bleeds through. On entrance, something of a madhouse. Cackling old server with frozen perm, a group of rastafarians, and one or two others smoking. Another venue which gets around Prague’s smoking ban by turning themselves into a club, in the most ad hoc way possible. Ring the bell, be buzzed in. Ta-da!

I chose a table adjacent to the bar, somewhat appropriate for my rubbernecking rather than deep dive into this culture. Before long a guy started up conversation with me – who revealed after 10 minutes he was the owner. Florian has run the place for the last few years and was interested both in my efforts to learn Czech and the fact I knew one of his beer suppliers, Pavel Kyslousek who brews at Pivovar Olešná. Oh yes, despite the bar giving off no promising vibes whatsoever about good beer, they actually stock a beer on tap from one of Czechia’s modern facing little independent breweries. Go figure!

One of those memorable down n’ dirty dive bars, an experience you can only have through taking a risk, stepping into the weird looking room.

Not that the weirdness was about to stop. After this I decided to go further away from the centre. When you’re used to the tram movements, honestly, nothing phases you about getting around this city. U Prezidentů 🇨🇿 is a true one off. A family-run hospoda in a genteel and very un-pubby neighbourhood that has taken a step further and turned the space into a plush living room covered in portraits of previous presidents along with graffiti and scrawled excoriations of many of them. The elderly gentleman is kind and runs the show in a hospitable fashion that is just not taught these days. This was our 3rd visit and what really stood out this time is how much the owners actually enjoy what they do.

Several beers in now, I had to refer to our list of tweets and camera footage to confirm what happened next: Minirest 🇨🇿 happened! This place is convenient as hell – it is located yards away from Náměstí Republiky and Masarykovo nádraží and stays open until 2am most days. This helps stitch together bar crawls very well. The interior, curved ceilings aside, is no great shakes, but the beer is excellent, focusing on offerings from small independent brewers, the atmosphere is always intimate and social, and there’s usually football/hockey on TV. The bar guy is pretty gruff, but it’s Prague where anything else is actually notable.

So endeth Day 1 in Czechia.

Day 2 – The day the rain turned to rain

From the point of waking up to falling asleep it did not stop, mostly persistent, heavy rain, sometimes easing to simply ‘rain’. I can’t remember in the last 10 years a day I spent abroad that was so unrelenting. However, where better to find oneself in such a situation than Prague? City of indoor activities – boozy ones!

After a tactical lie-in, I figured it was best to visit some fresh target venues today, starting with a soggy walk up the hill to U Mariánského obrazu 🇨🇿. This came after some quite persistent recommending on Czech Beer Fan Club. I found it a decent diner with a local crowd, good food at honest prices in a very familiar feeling setting. Think of places such as U Veverky that do similar. One thing it was not though, was a pub. It’s an eatery! This is not really somewhere you’d go to hang out during the day and was a little lacking.

Sated in the stomach, if nothing else, I decided to make the next venue an out-and-out boozer, Hostinec na Schůdku 🇨🇿 It was not a long walk away, and on approach it looked promising. Telltale Gambrinus signage and a personalised look. Unfortunately, on entry it was obvious it had received a bland renovation, spoiling things. Even some of the Bohemians signage I had seen online had been removed. And then the wifi wasn’t working, leaving me with a handful of mute customers and a jar of Gambrinus (I wasn’t all that keen on drinking it), yet trapped there until I did. Not a bad place exactly, but not up to the mark for our guide.

After two strikeouts it was time to go somewhere that delivers over and over again: U Sadu 🇨🇿. Too much written about it already to say anything new, but the main pub room was as always, a timeless dusty and atmospheric experience even during a quiet rainy afternoon.

A break from beer and bars followed with some classic Prague tourist stuff and a rest. The plan was to have an earlier evening out rather than the heavy two previous days. We were going somewhere new though, to Dva Kohouti 🇨🇿 a brewpub that’s one of Prague’s hippest, happening and all other fuddy-sounding adjectives that betray my latent prejudice and my guilt through feeling out of touch at being disinterested in visiting a US-style brewery taproom in Prague. I was however still interested in their beer and understanding why the place is popular.

Karlin is generally the test-bed neighbourhood in Prague for whatever globalised derivatives they are attempting, financed by whatever unimaginative businessmen can see already happening in America. This is fair enough – the locals want more than simply Czech restaurants, and to be honest, the taproom itself is a welcome addition, no matter how unexcited I may have been by the unimaginative décor, an exclusively middle class white crowd and amusingly expensive prices (64kc for 0.4l of the house lager brewed on site – effectively £4 for a pint in Prague. Guys, it’s tasty, but it’s not that good).

The summary: You’ll have been to somewhere like this before, it’s clean, it’s shiny, there are tasty beers. It’s fine. If you’re seeking a little bit of a distinctive experience with your product, maybe head elsewhere. We did.

I was keen to get back to Prague’s roots after that, and took a first visit to the trad Pilsner Pivnice Na Mělníku 🇨🇿 in the district of Holešovice. This simple boozer ain’t changing for no-one, with its time-worn cream walls, dark chunky furniture and round after round of decent Pilsner Urquell keeping the customers happy. While a familiar format this is a likeable bolthole with varied custom that’s enough off the tourist trail to feel like a genuine local’s pub.

Keeping our eyes on the prize, next stop was Hangar Pub & Pivotéka 🇨🇿 a short walk into Letna. Still raining, by the way. This venue benefits from the classic Czech hospoda arrangement, social space simply furnished in a half-step basement, a layout that encourages cross-table chat and feels neighbourly even in a city centre. The beers were so-so, not all that great value either, however this was complimented by an eye-catching selection in the fridge. Service was by Prague’s standard warm and welcoming which helped. Their airplane theme adds an identity without smothering the place, so all-in-all, tastefully done little pub that we added to our guide.

This part of Prague is going through a really hot patch, and I’d recommend it as having just as many good pubs in number as the Old Town and Malá Strana put together. Yes, some of the venues don’t have that sense of history and institution but they ably compensate in their authenticity, the absence of tourist churn and perhaps less focus on food too. Our next stop was a classic example, our first visit to Na Sekyrce. 🇨🇿Personalised, local and social, this is very much about local gossip and the social connections people there have, one of those pubs that becomes more than just the sum of its parts and we were convinced to include it on our guide.

After a long day out we had a long rest and, with the weather unrelenting, only popped down to the neighbourhood pub U Járy 🇨🇿 near our apartment for a pint, which was ticking along, server jolly as ever. The visit was perhaps our final chance to taste Pardubický Porter, a creation that has a history of being a celebration beer in Czechia in the years prior to revolution when the choice available was so much more limited. The brewery has been closed down by their parent owners and while they are persisting brewing some of their brands off-site, this one is unlikely to be anything other than a very occasional limited edition brew. A sad day for all concerned. At this pub, this very strong 8% abv beer was always available for pennies.

Day 3 – Final day in Prague

So far, a proper seat at some of Prague’s more famous venues had eluded me. Keen to put that right, an early start and walk in Petrin park was sufficient to work up a thirst ahead of arrival at U Hrocha 🇨🇿 shortly after opening time. This time I didn’t have to hide under some niche like a guilty interloper, but secured a table facing the taps, one of the best seats in the house. Wolfie wasn’t on taps this time but I recognised the other geezer from previous visits.

Dropping down the hill next, we checked out a café bar that’s been gathering plenty of attention and rave reviews: Roesel 🇨🇿. This is a modern venue although in a historic building. You enter via an alley and work your way to the back of a small courtyard, entering a room with a curved ceiling. These guys serve up to date beers and a good standard of basic Czech pub food that’s purposefully tuned up a notch. While inevitably attracting a certain segment that you might call the Instagram crowd, that’s not too distracting. This is definitely a place where individual groups keep themselves to themselves, it is not as social a venue for mixing, and it narrowly missed a guide inclusion – probably for that reason alone. Enjoyed it – the interior and experience was better than the pictures make it look.

After this we were marking time until the opening of The Golden Tiger, U Zlatého tygra 🇨🇿 at 3pm, but doing so in two of the old town’s best pubs, U Rotundy 🇨🇿 and U Medvidku 🇨🇿. These stalwarts offer reliable, slightly different experiences. U Rotundy is a frozen in time hospoda with simple and basic wares, sport on telly and a scruffy, but friendly tapster. Medvidku is a giant beer hall equipped to deal with inundations of people, but is a perfectly decent place to stop for a pint – they also brew their own beers.

Finally it was time – not quite – 2.40pm which is about the time you need to be joining the queue outside U Zlatého tygra 🇨🇿 to ensure a seat. Once open you have effectively 2 hours until the table reservations start kicking in, after which your chances of getting sat down reduce dramatically. You’ll be guided to a place by the server – be sure to take a look around because unless you’re with a group of people, these folks are your drinking buddies for the next two hours. I had a group of Finns to my left who were friendly and inquisitive, and a Prague resident with a Mongolian he had befriended in the queue. This is the joy of the place. There can be frustrating aspects, sure, but among the throng you become initiated, time slides away, you’ll be lucky to escape without necking shy of three Pilsners, often many more. Simply one of Europe’s best pubs.

Even though the beers were padded down securely by a round of Ďábelské topinky at The Golden Tiger, it was still time for a well earned rest.

In the evening we made a couple of first time visits in the Žižkov district. Unijazz 🇨🇿 is a café bar/Kavárna/bookish type event space with predictably warm, friendly service. The interior is homely with huge rugs and vintage furniture, and the audience were a predictable crowd of post-grads. Their beer selection is decent, more similar to the independent options you tend to find in Brno. Although it didn’t grab me by the scruff of the neck, I still quite liked it and it was only a few tiny points away from an inclusion.

The next venue is too much of a well-known pub in Žižkov to not have ever visited. While I wasn’t entirely convinced it would make the guide, it deserved at try: Planeta Žižkov 🇨🇿 is the epitome of an all-rounder. Yes, it does everything reasonably well to a good standard. It’s quite pubby and certainly popular. The decoration won’t last long in the memory but good service and social environment is on offer. Not distinctive enough to earn a guide recommendation but as a fallback option it will serve well.

Day 4 – Český ráj – Bohemian Paradise

Part of our trip was intended to explore the national park Český ráj, reachable by train from Prague in a couple of hours via the town of Turnov. The journey became extended due to a rail replacement service from Mlada Boleslav, meaning we arrived a little later than planned. However, we were still able to catch the train and walk from Ktova through the famous rock formations at Hrubá Skála to the clifftop chateau of Hrad Valdštejn with enough time to return before the rain – and possibly thunderstorm – set in. It is a truly beautiful as well as distinctive and unusual area with little caverns and crevasses to explore, and rocks towering above and below you.

On our way back to Turnov we passed by the village of Mašov, making sure to check the local pub situation. Hospůdka Sokolovna Mašov 🇨🇿 is part social club, part pub with darts, three cushion pool, and community events. The beer (Svijany & Rohozec) was as expected, very cheap and the welcome was reasonable, all things considered. While the pub won’t enter our guide it was nonetheless a bit of a living museum to a particularly local experience.

A review of Turnov’s nightlife did not look promising and to make matters worse, it was a Sunday too. However, even in smaller towns you can generally expect to find a local brewery (Pivovar) and their taproom, which was no different here. Dinner and a very tasty pint at the modern, warm, but rather angular and sterile taproom Turnovská pivnice Slavie 🇨🇿 kicked things off. There was about as much socialising going on there as the local graveyard and a couple of the young staff were a little too staring and rude.

The subsequent ‘choices’ weren’t selections so much as finding anywhere that was open. Things were about to get very local and a little bit too much so as we wandered across the bridge to Hospoda Stará Smrt, 🇨🇿 translating to ‘Old Death’. I certainly received a slice of that from the woman serving, not through any lack of etiquette on my part. Mustering all my Czech pleasantries – greeting the staff as I arrived, ordering politely and asking if a table was free, and in return receiving a barely veiled hostile stare. It tells you how important welcome is to a pub, because if she’d been pleasant I may have considered including this raw, unvarnished and entirely authentic smoky pajzl. A community of grizzled locals, yet another three cushion pool table (what’s going on in this part of the world), a seriously cheap pint, but no feeling I could be at ease.

After this there was virtually nothing left. I passed by the empty and beginning to close BAR ne BAR. That was somewhere of close to zero interest so carried on until reaching Barrel Bar 🇨🇿. This competent late night bar specialised in rum, while also offering pivo of course, but other than the clique involving the bartender’s friends, there were no customers and it generally reeked of all the bad elements of provinciality.

A last ditch effort to salvage a guide entry in Turnov was made, walking to a pub with virtually no online presence or recent reviews in just the mere hope it might be open. For all the world I assumed it had been shuttered long ago, but then as I drew near – the lights were on at Hostinec V Zatáčce 🇨🇿. On entry there was an old woman working the taps and two paralytic customers. I quickly gleaned it was closing time and nodded as the tapster confirmed as much. While I didn’t see much to write home about it is good news the pub remains open for a town not endowed with many choices.

That was that – in lieu of a great pub we could at least get an early night and prepare for a long day of travel ahead.

Day 5 – Liberec 🇨🇿, Zittau 🇩🇪, Görlitz 🇩🇪, Legnica 🇵🇱

A hop step and jump is required when trying to get from Czechia to Poland. A row of mountain ranges and lack of huge cities make most border arrangements long and without much backup if things go wrong. The simplest way from Turnov to Poland happened to be via Germany.

First, a train to Liberec, a city we had visited once before in 2018 to visit the incredible town hall and Jested tower in the snow. In slightly warmer weather this time we saw nothing to divert us from Radniční sklípek 🇨🇿, the town hall’s beer cellar run by Svijany brewery.

Back in 2018 I felt the venue was useful rather than a great pub, but on this occasion I was able to see beyond the utility to what is a truly beautiful premises which has been well restored to show off stained glass, a curved, cloistered ceiling and candelabras, which along with the beer offerings (including 2 unpasteurised tank poured options) is an opulent venue that if placed somewhere like Prague would be busy every day. Despite the plum location the daily menu remains fair value and as it serves predominantly locals, it has to make the price fit the wallet.

I made a vain attempt to locate any other sort of pub or drinking hole between here and the train station, but it was futile, in fact it also caused me to miss my connection by maybe 30 seconds as I ran to the platform to see the train in motion, departing.

I was soon enough on the train to Zittau though, a beautiful little town. It was Monday mid-afternoon so expectations were low for pubs, but I figured there would at least be a competent Wirthaus or Gaststätte open. But it was worse than that – there was nothing! All I could do was look at Café Filmriß 🇩🇪 in the market square and dream about it being any other day and time.

Rather than hanging around for a miracle, we moved onto Görlitz. Our 2nd visit there, one of the most beautiful towns in Germany and possibly the most beautiful in Saxony. As we discovered, it is also rather middle-aged and staid, not a great combination for a vibrant nightlife.

After a tip-off we visited Sud Ost 🇩🇪, a café and minibrewery for the first time. As so often happens, the product was good – very good, the service was friendly and helpful, but the venue was awfully lacking, without social space, too many high chairs and the problem was acute enough that I barely found the place to be eligible, let alone other considerations because it is more like a coffee shop.

There is however a jewel in Görlitz which comes in the shape of Bierblume 🇩🇪. Here you can have home brewed beer but in a truly comfortable, cosy, friendly and all-round lovely environment in a historic old town building yards from the Polish border. 4 years ago I had popped by and spent an evening drinking the proprietor’s strong Dunkles bier with a Polish friend, and again this time, once seated it was very hard to even consider leaving. There was also no motive to, as it was 3 hours until the train from Zgorzelec (the Polish sister town of Görlitz) to Legnica was due. Sit back, relax, drinking Zoigl and Hefeweizen. Delighted to report this place goes from strength to strength.

Eventually time comes calling, and I reached Poland on foot from the footbridge over the Neisse, with a half hour walk to Zgorzelec station as the mist of the evening rolled in.

The Polish city of Legnica is halfway between Görlitz and Wrocław. It isn’t somewhere we’d been previously but appealed due to some nice postcards of the churches and the restored tenement houses in the centre. As it is, Legnica was a reasonable evening stop-off but I doubt we’ll be back any time soon.

On a Monday night bar choices were going to be a challenge, as it proved. Legnicki Browar 🇵🇱 , the typical ‘brewery taproom’ was open as we passed from the station to check into our apartment, but closed when we returned 40 minutes later. With other options closed due to being Monday, this left a selection of chain bars, namely Piwiarna Warka 🇵🇱, Pijalnia Wodki i Piwo 🇵🇱 and Ministerstwo Śledzia i Wódki 🇵🇱, the latter of which was by far the best. Yes, mainstream and towny but with a pleasing nostalgia-retro décor and some actual nightlife action going on.

The step down from drinking excellent Czech and German beer hours earlier was brutal, the Warka even by its own dismal standards one of the worst single beers I’ve ever had that was clearly meant to be as it was.

Legnica may prove a handy stop off for you at some point and is not without its diverting landmarks either, but it may make most sense to head direct to Wrocław, which is where our story next picks up!

There you have it! Part 3 of 4 of April’s trip. Please join us for Part 4 as we explore Poland 🇵🇱 for the remaining days of our trip, visiting Wrocław, Poznan, Bydgoszcz, Torun, Warsaw and Łódź!

A Weekend In Romania – Trip #3 of 2023

Trip #3 of 2023 - A Weekend In Romania

Hastily arranged, a last-minute opportunity arose to spend a weekend away in Cluj-Napoca, a city in Romania 🇷🇴 (<- this link is a plug to our Romania section of the guide) we last visited in 2018. As well as a chance to check in on some old favourites, we decided to include a day and night in Oradea, a city in the North West of the country close to the Hungarian border which we had never previously visited.

Day #1 – The Long Night

Arriving at Cluj-Napoca 2:45am local time from Leeds Bradford Airport, we made the brave, possibly unwise choice to eschew a hotel for the night and instead simply find a bar, stay out and take an early train to Oradea at 5:50am. On arrival at Cluj airport it was quickly apparent Romania had received heavy snowfall the previous week. The snow had stopped but not cleared away. Icy temperatures had set in, a bone-trembling -10 Celsius as we stepped out of Arrivals into the airport car park.

A taxi ride to the centre later, we reviewed our brief list of venues claiming to stay open after 3am on a Friday and made an attempt to visit Submarine, a bar/club hybrid with an interesting theme and decor. Just off the main square, we were relieved to see the city still lively with clutches of groups emerging from bars and nightclubs. However, when we approached the building Submarine was in we found wooden scaffolding and a sign on the door that despite translation remained unhelpfully vague. After a few attempts to pursue the matter we were forced to abandon the idea and headed for a place we knew would be open – La Țevi 🇷🇴.

On our last visit, La Tevi was the epitome of a scuzzy down-n-dirty dive bar popular with all manner of goths and misfits generally consuming large green bottles of cheap lager. It certainly won’t be everybody’s choice of venue, but it does what it does well. If you get in with this crowd they’re as friendly and loyal as you’ll get anywhere else.

This time, on our 2nd visit we found space at the bar next to the fireplace, roaring away. We looked at the options of beer which had expanded considerably to include a wider range of regional lagers with some craft beers. The tap options are still dreadful but if you’re after something that’s not a gassy Euro lager, they have several options in bottles, the best being from Capra Noastră.

We spent a couple of decent hours here knocking around with a selection of people who were far further on than us until it made sense to take the 40 minute walk to the station in the deep cold.

The 5:50AM train to Oradea takes around 2 hours 30 minutes on a grubby hand-me-down from Deutsche Bahn that hasn’t been well looked after. Broken toilet, broken windows, broken heating, and small. Two carriages was barely enough to squeeze in the passengers and it was a truly godawful journey, punctuated two dozen stops at villages in the middle of nowhere, each time releasing all the residual heat we had built up, resetting the carriage temperature to Baltic. Due to the state of the train, even when daylight arrived it wasn’t possible to raise spirits by taking in any of the lovely countryside vistas. But eventually the mind-numbing, sleep-deprived shivering ended – we had arrived!

Day #2 – All Day in Oradea

After all that, the warmth of the station hall in Oradea felt like a big swaddling hug from one’s granny. The cold had set in deeper than surface level though, and it was time to get some liquid central heating. Unfortunately the woman at the kiosk misinterpreted my request for a hot chocolate and I was served some ersatz hybrid of Ovaltine and cheap coffee which lasted about 3 sips before being binned. Not a great start. Christ, was it all going to be worth it?

Oradea enjoys a – let’s be polite – obscure reputation outside this region and enquiries with other well-travelled friends didn’t yield much either. However, cursory research actually piqued my interest. The city to Oradea’s south, Timișoara has a vast inheritance of crumbling Art Nouveau architecture too vast, too intricate and too beyond repair for a city with their budget to begin restoring, making the city centre an atmospheric place, haunted houses and faded glamour. Oradea was similar, except that for one reason or another, some money had come rolling in from the EU and many of its own marvels have been spruced up and fitted in their Sunday best!

Oradea has lots of side streets with low-key diverting and unusual constructions but reaching the main thoroughfare through to its main square and shopping streets suddenly unfurls startling, dramatic, colourful mansions and palaces. To a Westerner this feels all so hidden, and, to be cynical for a minute, so under-exploited as a destination.

We realised pretty quickly on our last visit to Cluj-Napoca that due to a lack of pub culture, bar-going in Romania doesn’t really happen until late afternoon at the very earliest. After breakfast, a trip to Oradea fortress, the apartment check-in and a much needed nap, we visited Columbus Café 🇷🇴 at opening time. This pub is located in the Palace of the Black Vulture, arguably Oradea’s emblem – an awesome name too.

Columbus Café had a nautical theme with a mast, sail, and ‘deck’ type wood-fittings. Some people may already be shuddering at the prospect of such a theme but it was actually fairly muted and well-executed, easily ignorable. All the wood at least produced a cosy appearance and some natural atmosphere inside, while there was also terrace seating covered with the beautiful arcades in the Palace. The pub served a bottle of beer – Märzen – as it happened which was in effect a house beer, named after the palace. This was passable – in these regions you adjust your expectations accordingly.

After dinner and a strategic time-out, it was time to get involved in the nightlife properly, beginning at Lokal 🇷🇴. This venue is very typical of the alternative scene in Romania, based in a network of rooms in what appears to be an old apartment complex, with covered outdoor seating and a bohemian atmosphere among the faded grandeur. Their drinks offering was pretty decent, far beyond the incredibly limited distribution we found last year in Sibiu. Craft beer has punctured through the macro offerings meaning most bars will have at least one or two atypical choices alongside those plugged by Heineken, SABMiller et al. Lokal was the standout venue in Oradea with a friendly feel, a core audience of post-grads and a firm sense that in late spring and summer it blossoms into its full potential.

Moving on, our next venue was Gekko Pub 🇷🇴, another house/complex turned into a bar and club, with a series of rooms and a courtyard. This is not central, but easily reached about 15 minutes walk from the centre. On entrance we were confronted by some bouncers. After explaining we are English they appear to abandon the normal spot checks and questions and let us in anyway with no frisking or payment (top tip for any locals). The pub itself is on the extreme end of unpretentious, simply a bruised and battered hangout spot for youngsters that resembles a sixth form common room. Loungey sofas, table football, big screen, etc. The drinks options weren’t so great here, but it’s cheap and cheerful and when the warmer months approach, the courtyard will be one of the better spots in the city to go to.

The final venue on our list, Café Moszkva 🇷🇴 followed a similar format, a large building repurposed into a bar, live music venue, courtyard, hangout spot and basement club. Resources are also stretched thin so a lot of space receives only the minimal TLC and decoration, giving it an alternative feel. There was no bouncer this time, but we arrives to a throng of people smoking/vaping in the courtyard. On entry you are effectively in a townhouse with a stairwell and corridor leading off to what were previously grand old rooms, but are now fixtures of the bar itself. Moszkva’s audience was somewhere in between Lokal and Gekko’s – young, down-to-earth, one of the first times I have felt conspicuously old, albeit not to feel unwelcome in any way. Pumping music, live gig going on upstairs and a very decent selection of drinks including several craft beers makes this a well-equipped choice for a late hangout in Oradea and finished up as our second favourite in the city.

Day #3 – Return to Cluj-Napoca for an evening of Hungarian folk culture!

We were dreading a repeat of the train that took us to Oradea, so made a personal decision to book first class for the return – for a price that was still not very expensive given the length of journey. Thankfully the train on this occasion was a spacious, length, typically central/Eastern Europe affair, with compartments (which I prefer) giving a private and relaxed journey back to Cluj-Napoca, enjoying lots of sweeping sights of snow-capped hills and meadows in what is still a sparsely populated corner of Europe.

Apartment check-in times are an obstacle any seasoned traveller needs to navigate, making pub choices around agreed check-in times, so on arrival with time to kill we decided to visit Klausen Pubhouse 🇷🇴 for the first time. This pub bears no relation to the rooftop brewpub Klausen Burger 🇷🇴 (which we somehow failed to find this time after having previously visited), as Klausen is the old German name for Cluj, so as commercial property, its use is fair game. Klausen Pubhouse is stodgy in a reassuringly familiar way, its design a portmanteau of pub styles from Irish to Czech: curved ceilings, chunky seats, hues of creams and greens. It was no surprise that the first foreign voices we heard aside ours was in this place. Not wishing to be sneery about that, this sort of pub has a solid reliable appeal and also offered a Romanian brewed IPA on draft that didn’t suck. It also got busier during our visit.

After some food there we made a repeat visit to Insomnia 🇷🇴, a 1st floor apartment bar and cultural centre that made probably the biggest impression on us during our 2018 visit. In between then and now the venue has been given a facelift, moving closer to a kind of aspirational chic that hasn’t done it any major favours, with a redesign of the bar area also spoiling the pub-like feel it used to have where you would sit in a bar room itself. During this visit there was a photoshoot so the sight of preening individuals posing didn’t help either. However, the choice of drinks has improved, the courtyard area has been better exploited and they continue to host off-beat events. As Cluj’s oldest bar (still not that old) there will remain a degree of nostalgic appeal.

After check-in and a rest, we decided to check out two of Cluj-Napoca’s craft beer venues, The Brewhouse 🇷🇴 and Beer Wall Café 🇷🇴. The former was only around the corner from our apartment, and is a corner bar on a beautiful little street, the sort that you have to pinch yourself is in a major city centre. The Brewhouse offers a large range of Romanian craft beer supplemented by a connected brewing operation, Blackout Brewing whose wares occupy around half of the taps. The interior is tasteful and well designed, and there is altogether an absence of anything to complain about (aside the prices which are pushing UK levels). The main issue is that there is so little to really grasp on to that’s distinctive, that provides a sense of identity.

Beer Wall Café is a 10 minute walk away, through the central square towards the riverside. There is a nice cobbled lane by a stream and a painted barrel by the door guides you to the entrance. Inside you’ll find a more generic craft beer bar appearance – blackboards, raised seating, industrial chic, but it isn’t overly obnoxious or starkly lit, and the drinks selection is, once again, excellent. The ‘beer wall’ does what it says without ever being impressive enough to justify the dramatic sounding name for the place. While it didn’t quite make our guide, we also found there wasn’t much to criticise and really enjoyed the Zimand wheat beer we had (brewed near Arad) that was impressively authentic.

A few doors down is Old School Coffee House 🇷🇴 where we paid our 2nd ever visit. This place defines low key with a bookish café bar vibe, lived-in decor and fitting, friendly service and a couple of craft beer options in addition to the norm. They attract a corresponding audience which stays the right side of pseudy.

After an evening meal we noticed one of our guide entries, Zorki 🇷🇴 wasn’t open, so took a gamble on an interesting venue out of the old town. Heltai FolkCenter 🇷🇴 is not well-reviewed online, however there are some mitigations. Based on its format (probably love or hate) and the inevitable ethnic contrasts, some people have taken a dislike to the place. We are not among those people.

The evening almost didn’t happen. On arrival we entered through a driveway to what appeared to be a venue fully closed for the evening. Lights off, no-one sat in the courtyard, no music or sound of conversations. We tried different rooms – conference centre, offices, and made a last effort to try the door in the far corner – now we were in business.

Heltai Folkcenter is a Hungarian cultural centre whose dealings go well beyond operating its pub – which is a simple traditional kocsma, its bar room a timeless rickety affair with a bookshelf and simple seating. The drinks selection is Hungarian focused – mainstream selections of beers like Csíki Sör and hard liquor like Unicum, but there is a perfunctory selection covering most bases. The prices are cheap and fair in accordance with those offerings.

Initially the place felt like it was winding down, with 4 or 5 groups chatting among themselves, but after half an hour a slow influx of people changed the momentum and suddenly there was the sense we were instead building up to something. This was surprising given their official hours close at 11pm!

As suspected, the music began to play, first with a fiddle, then an accompaniment of double bass, before an impromptu band had developed, with traditional dancing, a room full to bursting and at this point we were sharing a table with some of the locals.

A few beers – then whiskies – later, the blurry, fulfilled merriment and excitement of being at the right place in the right time may have led to some excitable tweets from our account. We stick by the general vibe though – one more occasion where we walked through a scary dark door to find a great pub and have a wonderful time.

Day #4 – More Cluj, then home!

After a day without sleep on arrival and a late night, we caught up on sleep ahead of the final day in Cluj. We walked up to the old citadel hill late morning in bright sunshine, then through to the long city park where skaters were still using the frozen pond to the large modern football stadium at the end, where melting icicles were causing a hazard! Lunch was at Fabrica de Bere 🇷🇴 which has had a change of operation since 2018. Rather than being focused on Cluj’s ubiquitous beer Ursus, local craft beer operation Bârlog run this flash pub restaurant. Unusually they offer 6 of their beers on tap, so we of course ordered a tasting tray of them to accompany our lunch. As a venue the vibe is too restaurant and the decor and atmosphere too embedded in aspirational lounge bar culture to consider including on our guide, but it was a good opportunity to try more local beer.

The walk back to the centre from there is grim, a busy, noisy polluted road with pavements that apparently still haven’t been relaid even after 4 years. At least there wasn’t 10 centimetres of snow to trudge through this time.

One of Cluj’s peculiar themes is steampunk, a design style that many local artists appear to have coalesced around. There’s a fun little museum you can visit in the centre that sets the tone, which can then be augmented by visiting bars like Enigma 🇷🇴, Submarine 🇷🇴 and Joben 🇷🇴 who share this design style. We visited the latter and found it predictably low key and café-like in the early afternoon. The frustrating thing about Joben is that it does have many interesting items to look at, but they are bogged down in otherwise generic furnishings that tilt the place towards being a modern mainstream lounge bar rather than an alternative one. It’s still worth having a nosy visit if you’re at a loose end.

With time running out before our flight, we fit in two 1st times visits, first to Blériot 🇷🇴 which was a studenty, fairly alternative hangout spot that mid-afternoon on a Monday was virtually deserted. It looked to have a bit of potential however and one to bear in mind.

And finally….. Shadow Café 🇷🇴 a well-reviewed 1st floor apartment bar (haven’t we heard that a few times already) with classic rock n’ roll stars on the wall, and a decent drinks selection. Again, the setup is designed to segue from sedate café to lively bar seamlessly. While a little more could be done with the decor, it must be said that the place is a strong all-rounder and we’re happy to recommend it.

Final thoughts!

The main development since our previous visit to Cluj-Napoca is the emergence of craft beer bars which widens the diversity and provides a challenge to the existing venues, one which they have adjusted to by nearly all including in their offering, which is a big positive. Finding the FolkCentre and being there at exactly the right moment is a stroke of good fortune – be careful to ensure your visit there coincides otherwise you might find your experience significantly differs.

Oradea was a welcome highlight with a beautiful, quirky and distinctive centre and just enough going on from its tower climb, citadel + museum, Orthodox church and funky architecture to fully justify a day and night there. Although the trains are rickety, reaching Oradea in terms of time is perfectly possible from Cluj, but we’d recommend not trying to cram in a visit and return to Cluj on the same day.

Romania’s bar scene is still far too geared around a small section of society – you won’t see almost anyone aged over 40 in most of these bars, while the action itself gets underway reasonably late. Prior to then, sleeping cafés and stodgy pubs don’t exactly inspire. However, focusing on the positives, the nightlife is lively, very unpretentious, good value and increasingly satisfying in terms of its drink offering.

Le Pot Au Lait, Liège


Le Pot Au Lait: A surrealist masterpiece and rite of passage.

Address: Rue Soeurs-de-Hasque 9, 4000 Liège, Belgium
Nearest Station: Liège-Carré , 10 mins walk
Opening Hours: 11am-4am Monday-Saturday, 2pm-2am Sunday (Due to Coronavirus restrictions this may change, so check with the bar directly for any latest info)

Le Pot au Lait is located on Soeurs de Hasque in the heart of Liege. Number 9 is a magnificent house from the 19th century built over an ancient convent which held, from the end of the 15th century, sisters from another convent from Hasselt, a Flemish city, being often called “Haske” in Liege, “The Sisters from Haske” gave their name to the street. Here is how the bar was founded:

“In 1973 a group of students created a place that until then had never existed in Liège where they could organise films, concerts, debates, theme days, free of any official politics. They found what they were looking for at No 9 Soeurs de Hasque Street and it opened as “Trou Perrette”.

In 1979, it became obvious that a second bar was needed next to the “Trou Perrette”. So we needed a name and after a brain storming session came up with “Pot au Lait” in reference to a fable from a french poet, Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) called “The Dairywoman and the Pot of milk”.

In 1981, the Trou Perrette closed its doors for the last time. But now you know why the Pot-au-Lait became the Pot-au-Lait

The Pub

These days, Le Pot Au Lait continues its historic function, being the beating heart of nightlife and social affairs in the city. It would be untrue to say that this is a student venue either, more a youthful rite of passage that stays with you afterwards, one of those rare things, a pub you keep returning to over and over long after the early years.

Set off the main street, you will enter through a narrow courtyard, already spying the decorations festooned left and right. Some people will be hanging out on the terrace. The place gives off good vibes straight away.

Then, enter through to what at first appears to be a greenhouse, with uneven flooring. The ethos is akin to Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna, with a commitment to uneven surfaces, and heterodox approach. To call it distinctive is underselling it. Cartoon gorillas, carnival scenes, macabre taxidermy, graffiti, tall plants and more that would take too long to describe. Le Pot Au Lait is the funfair that got lost one day and decided to lay down roots.

Like some of the best bars in Europe: Szimpla Kert, ‘t Brugse Beertje, Zlatna Ribica, to name but a few, the place has an immediate draw that comes from sensing that everyone is having a great time, the excitement of being in the place to be.

It’s pretty cool too that Le Pot Au Lait is located somewhere like Liége. No, not somewhere fashionable for the nightlife like Brussels or Hamberg or Copenhagen, but this down-at-heel working class city in Wallonia.

Anyway, it’s time for a drink, don’t you think? You’re very well served here with several tap options and a suite of bottles covering a reasonably broad range of Belgium’s better beers. Perhaps they could serve a few more specialist options for the sniffier customers, but there is something here for most beer drinkers. Being popular with a younger crowd, there is also a reasonable selection of alternatives. You’d think this might be one of the more expensive venues too, but some choices appear genuinely cheap, and will certainly come across that way after a few days in the much more expensive end of Belgium.

Once served, plonk yourself among the communal niches surrounding the bar, the atrium (good for people watching), the mezzanine level or any little hidey-hole that suits your needs. Go for a wander around, because this is an art gallery as well as a bar.

Le Pot Au Lait has maintained a commitment to culture and the arts, so while we’d be perfectly happy if they just served drinks, it deserves extra commendation for hosting live events and being a communal meeting spot. Long opening hours mean this is a versatile venue that suits a quiet afternoon hangout or raucous late night drinks, each enjoyable in their own right.

We give bars a 10/10 rating when they are reasons in and of themselves to visit a place, and Le Pot Au Lait certainly justifies that.

Chata Pod Rysmi, Mt. Rysy

Chata Pod Rysmi

When is a pub not a pub?

…back to Slovakia

“Address”: Rysy Vrch Štrbské Pleso Štrbské Pleso, 059 85, Slovakia

Quality + Choice of Drinks: 6/10

Style + Décor: 8/10

Character + Atmosphere: 10/10

Amenities: 7/10

Value For Money: 8/10

When is a pub not a pub? When there’s no electricity or plumbing? When you can’t get there without clambering up chains and ladders? You’d think so, but you’d be wrong.

Chata Pod Rysmi stretches the whole concept to breaking point, yet its offerings resemble an Inn so near as damn it, that who would quibble? It bloody well is one.

2250 metres above sea level, inaccessible by car and 2 hour’s hard climb up from the fringe of civilisation at Popradske Pleso, Chata Pod Rysmi is the highest mountain refuge in Europe. Through sheer commitment, sacrifice and bloody-mindedness, a hut which most people would expect to offer – at most-  a basic place to escape bad weather, provides cooked meals, beds and beer on tap.

Open from 15th June until 31st October (due to being impassable at other times of year), the hut primarily provides a safe haven – and, if necessary – lodgings to those wishing to climb and pass the summit of Rysy, the peak of the High Tatras and border between Slovakia and Poland.

The idea to build a mountain hut came up at the end of the 19th century, but it was only in 1933 that the first Chata Pod Rysmi was realised. Lasting an impressive 20 years before sustaining severe avalanche damage in the mid-1950s, it was rebuilt and then extended in 1977. In modern times, a further avalanche in 2000 virtually destroyed the hut. Since 2013, following a lot of unnecessarily wrangling the venue has been fully reconstructed with a new design. Read more here:

The fixtures are impressive and solidly built – and they have to be. The weather at this altitude is unpredictable and at times severe; it is situated at a point where humans are not designed to be.

Arriving via Slovakia: The walk from Popradske Pleso to Chata Pod Rysmi is beautiful and dramatic, with pine forests and mountain waterfalls giving way to jagged granite peaks, via an otherworldly tarn, before a short series of chains and ladders gains you access to the final climb, a rocky hard slog to the hut.

Weather permitting, it is up to you whether you want to scale the summit on arrival or sleep over and save that for the morning.

Arriving via Poland: A very steep slog from the easily accessed lake Morskie Oko, albeit up a well marked and well travelled route up sets of chains and ladders. Pack cautiously, move cautiously and attempt this in clear summer weather.

By all accounts, the interior of the new Chata Pod Rysmi has preserved the original atmosphere. Upon arrival you will note a few jokes, such as the ‘bus stop’ located outside, and inside some nooses handily labelled “2 places for vegetarians”. Hilarious… depending on your sense of humour.

The hut’s tenant Viktor Beránek has been taking care of the hut for 36 years and is a living legend. Not only for the length but nature of the commitment he has made – in his prime carrying 100kg of stores up to the hut on his back. Yes, this is not a hut that benefits from airdrops: all the day-to-day supplies are provided by porters, sherpas if you like. Each day they supply on average 60kg worth of supplies. On your hike you may see drop off points, where the porters have left gas canisters midway up for their colleagues nearer the top to collect.

You can imagine, given the variable weather and tough terrain that this is requires an almost missionary level commitment. While your first beer (on our arrival it was Litovel Maestro) arrives, trust me when I say it slips down with as much guilt as pleasure when thinking about the poor sods lugging the kegs up the mountain! But after a while you have to get used to it, you have paid for it after all.

If you feel too guilty to partake, then make contact with the Poprad Lake Mountain Hotel who will be delighted to offer you a range of packages to take to the hut (weighing you down further on your ascent) which you can exchange for a free tea or soup at the hut by way of thanks. This way you can personally experience a fraction of the sacrifices they make every year.

They also have contracted their own label beer, courtesy of Pivovar Nymburk in Czechia, which you can buy in cans at the hut itself, testament to its iconic status in the region.

The food here is simple – warming and hot – and definitely Slovakian. Cabbage, dumplings, soup, goulash. Prices are as fair as you can expect given the supplies have been delivered on foot up a mountain. When you are up here, nearly everything they offer feels somewhat of a charity, even when you are paying for it.

Once you are fed and watered, there may be an occasion where nature calls, and here, the fun really starts. Clamber 150 metres along a rocky slope to visit Chata Pod Rysmi’s ‘Panorama Toilet’!

This outhouse boasts a full perspex window on the valley below, as you are seated on the throne. Anyone feeling constipated will soon find their digestive passage easing. During the night, this trip can be annoying as it is outright dangerous in bad weather to be visiting the toilet, and yet they are fairly strict about ensuring the gentlemen staying over don’t simply relieve themselves nearby. There are rodents around, you see…

The experience of visiting a clifftop outhouse at 2 am with a weather system drawing in up the valley is certainly ‘one to tell the grandkids’.

So, onto the “pub itself”, you will note the communal area looks to all intents and purposes like a Slovakian pub. Communal wooden tables, rustic and simple decoration, and a bar area. Whether you’re drinking spirits or beer, you take your seats in the same way you would a pub, drink in the same way you would a pub, and chat in the same way you would a pub. It’s a pub. A pub with an enormous green ceramic heater, for good measure.

As the light fades, the staff bring out oil lamps, where the atmosphere increases even further. Lit by lamp and the occasional glint of moonlight, sit and enjoy your warm food and your beer in good company, a one off unique experience yet one that feels like a familiar throwback to simpler times, especially as there is no music unless someone picks up the guitar or sits at the piano which has also, extraordinarily made its way up here. There is no electricity (for the guests at least), no wifi, no phone signal.

If you get up in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature (requiring, for safety and good health that you get fully clothed and booted each time) you can see the staff jovially drinking and chatting among themselves in their breakout area, something which reminded me that after all, pubs are about socialising and human contact. With the usual trappings of modernity out of action it puts you in touch with the simple pleasures – with a side helping of bracing outdoor toilet usage for good measure.

All the same, without internet for 12 hours, I was gagging to find out the cricket score in the Ashes when we got off that mountain….

You can’t find somewhere like this place just anywhere, it goes down as not only one of my best pub experiences but best life experiences.

Au Delft, Liège

There is a certain delight in finding a diamond in the rough, not least when it’s a brown café. Liège’s careworn and ramshackle districts provide plenty of rough – this is not a city that has enjoyed the most tasteful town planning, nor preservation of its heritage. There are quirky features and surprising beauty spots if you are determined to find them. Impasses, a giant staircase, quiet side streets, timber framed buildings sprinkled across the city, and upon arrival a dramatically different (if annoyingly distant) ultra-modern railway station.

This city is certainly not one to write-off, but on a grey weekend, the place seems overburdened with regret about its numerous ill-maintained architectural mistakes, not to mention the inevitable results that come from relatively pauce economic circumstances.

Wallonia is not the well-to-do side of Belgium these days, and hasn’t been for a long time. While it is breathtakingly beautiful in its rural areas and some small towns, a visit to its cities (the likes of Charleroi or Liège) is more than a tad reminiscent of the atmosphere you’ll find visiting dour towns in Northern France, especially in comparison to the well-financed Flemish cities of Ghent and Antwerp.

However, a reliable general rule is: the more hard-nosed a city, the worse its climate, the more likely it will be crammed full of drinking holes. Liège proves this quite adequately, as a cursory search will reveal, you can barely turn a corner in the centre without bumping into some bar or other, while certain streets have a local notoriety.

Some bars, such as Taverne St. Paul, Café Lequet and Le Pot Au Lait are, for their own differing reasons, Liégeois institutions, the bright lights that draw everyone in (those with good taste, anyway). However, today we are going to focus on a more understated city centre venue, Au Delft.

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Au Delft is a corner bar situated in an art deco influenced grey-brown brick city building with a quarter-circle frontage and circular windows running down each storey. The structure is non-committal and the materials used are unattractive in colour, so the impression lands in an uncanny valley between noticeably funky and downright ugly.

It doesn’t seem as though this would contain anything preserved except perhaps the embryonic ego of a reckless architect, but one look at the Jupiler signage, and the ground floor bar indicates that something interesting may be inside – or at the absolute very least, somewhere to buy a beer.

Step inside under a large dark green awning to discover a well-preserved bar blending stylish décor (appearing to span from the early ’50s to ’70s to my eye), with features and fittings that regularly appear in brown cafés, one of my absolute favourite styles of bar. Their name itself references a medieval town in Western Netherlands, a heartland of the brown café or bruine kroege.

That Au Delft now feels frozen in time is no accident – they knew they were onto a winner with this place and haven’t altered the format. Unlike the thousands of idiots who have vandalised amazing pubs and bars over the years, the owners have chosen to retain what made it special and ignored the nearly irrepressible human instinct to follow trends.

The bar area itself is magnificent. Faded with age but handsomely redeemed by its character. This scene is juxtaposed with a chess board tiled floor, which wouldn’t be my preferred choice usually, but works brilliantly for this place.

Some small details set this place apart, without adding clutter. The newspaper clips, the beautiful painted lettering on the mirrors which are installed in the partitions above crimson leather-backed seats. Indications of present tradition and ritual mixed with a melancholy legacy of days that are long gone, never to return.

Some of this reminded me of Au Daringman, in Brussels, another out-of-time venue,  that exudes confidence and contentment in what it is.

If you are used to paying 4 euros 50 for a quarter litre of beer in Brussels bars then you will scarcely believe your eyes when you discover the prices. Yes, pleasingly these are pitched to attract the custom locals rather than fleece tourists, but when allowing for Au Delft’s city centre location it comfortably beats some of the local competition too.


Au Delft are not competing with those bars that are trying to start their own seed bank of beer for when the human race faces extinction, but they carefully tick off most of the main traditional Belgian beer styles and none of these could be said to be poor value: far from it.

There is actually something relieving about being spared the task of rifling through a Bible to choose between hundreds of beers and dozens of styles each time you desire a drink.

With my limited French I struggled a little to get my point across (there’s nothing more confidence-sapping than delivering a sentence which you are fairly confident is grammatically correct and well-pronounced only to receive a reaction of complete opacity and confusion) but thankfully the service was more than kind enough to offer patience in that regard. Any beer you select will be served to your table along with a small tray of nuts, which is a little token of mutual back-scratching I always like. After all, once the salt gets to work, further liquid is required.

The crowd in Au Delft is a mixture of loyal older regulars who have instant recognition and are well cared for by the staff. You will also find couples wanting a quiet drink and the occasional group of young friends.


Au Delft has a nice convivial atmosphere whether quiet or busy, partly down to the carefully preserved décor and sense of refuge. It is both an excellent place for quiet contemplation or jovial conversation.

I was on limited time and so could only stay for a couple of beers, but I could have easily remained in Au Delft all evening. The impossible prospect of turning a place into my local, to get to know the other staff and become part of the fixtures of the bar are often one of the melancholy aspects of travelling. Often I am happy just to have found the venue and spent a night there, but Au Delft is one of those places I suspect you can only truly ‘find’ when you have visited for many years.

While Au Delft may not be the first name on everyone’s lips when it comes to nightlife in Liège, their quietly confident style, preserved features, genuine local life, friendly service and great value mean that it can’t be missed out and it comfortably earns a place on our guide as being one of the best pubs in Europe.

Our Rating:  8/10

Quality and/or choice of drinks8/10

Style and Decor8/10

Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life8/10

Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10

Value for Money8/10

The Pub-Going Factor8/10

Place Cockerill 22, 4000 Liège, Belgium
+32 4 221 45 70

…back to Belgium




Domkeller, Aachen

back to Germany

  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 8/10
  • Style and Decor – 8/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 10/10
  • Amenities & Events – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  9/10
Hof 1, 52062 Aachen, Germany

Although it shouldn’t, it comes as a surprise to me, as much as a relief to have located a cosy, non-corporate pub slap-bang in the middle of a European city centre.

However, Belgium and Netherlands make a habit of it, and these nations just so happen to be Aachen’s closest neighbours.

This German border city and the Low Countries (either of which can be reached in an hour walk from Aachen centre) share a host of cultural cues, with the city itself having initial importance as a Roman spa town before the cult of Imperial Rome spawned Charlemagne and the crowning of 31 Holy Roman Emperors in the subsequent centuries. Aachen also enjoyed a position as a major trading point between nations, goods and wares shipped from the North Sea ports, which may help explain the cultural overlap.

Don’t be under the impression Aachen is any less German for it – believe me, Aachen is a firm fixture of Nord-Rhein Westphalia, and this mixture today results in interesting blends of buildings as you walk around town. Its town hall and surrounding Gothic buildings in the Altstadt could as easily appear as far away as Ghent or Nijmegen without raising any suspicion, but similarly, the remnants of the city wall and the post-war reconstruction are as German as it comes. The cultural centre of Aachen isn’t a large ensemble of buildings when compared to some places, but they are nonetheless impressive and occupy a bigger portion of the city than Cologne or Dusseldorf’s old towns, for example. Aachen is easy to get to from virtually anywhere nearby, and its attractions justify you spending a night here.

Domkeller is situated in the heart of town in an attractive brick townhouse on the small Hof square (you know you’re somewhere central when Hof appears). The scene is made all the more picturesque by a ruined arch halfway along and the distinctive houses that line the square, all fitted with huge grid windows of the kind you normally expect to see on Burgher houses.

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The risk is that Domkeller could so easily be one of those common tourist traps and a let-down given its advantageous situation. Instead, you will find the opposite is true.

Domkeller is neither based at the cathedral, or in fact a cellar venue (that ceased to be true in the 1980s, apparently, due to safety regulations), however its proximity and age, dating back at least until the 1950s justifies a name of such significance.

This pub enjoys a handsome trade of local people both young and old who are happy to sit and socialise among the odd tourist (such as myself) or group of businessmen that are passing through.

It’s a place that invites interactions with other people; that magic chemistry where strangers who would otherwise be ignoring each other feel they can cross the divide. That alone would be a good reason to include Domkeller on our guide. Aside of that – the antifascist sign near the entrance is proof that many of these elements go hand-in-hand.

Be assured, the appeal doesn’t stop there. As you walk in through a corner door you will find a cosy room with bar area to your right and communal bench seating with fixed small tables. To your left is some chunkier furniture and further benches. Beyond the bar area is the second part of the room, which again is based around bench seating by the walls and has the effect that most of the time you are spent in an enclosed space where you are looking at and interacting with what’s inside rather than what’s outside.

Domkeller accepts orders at the bar but keeps table service operating and prefers that – it is quick, attentive and polite without being too formal. You’ll be needing a drink of course, and here is where Domkeller comes into its own.

The choices of beer are certainly quality over quantity, but even this selection is encyclopaedic when compared to most German venues. Here at Domkeller, several bases are covered. They have various styles of German beer on tap covering Kolsch, Altbier, Landbier, Pils and Hefeweissbier – most of which are from medium-sized, not corporate breweries – and a suite of Belgian bottles which are mostly the familiar Trappist and Abbey ales, but nonetheless hugely welcome in a nation that is not fond of selling beer brewed by anyone except themselves. Believe me, travel east from Domkeller, stop in each pub you find and it will be a long time before you see as many Belgium beers again.

The atmosphere is also quite fitting for drinking whisky, something which the management appear to have recognised a long time ago – take a look at the drinks menu for a few interesting options.

Prices are along the typical level for this part of the world – perhaps cheaper than Maastricht up the road, a little cheaper than Cologne too, though perhaps a little more expensive than Liege and the rest of Wallonia, which is after all a poorer region of Belgium than Flanders. For a city centre venue, it’s fair value.

Domkeller’s website claims their Weinstube (the upper floor, accessed via a central staircase by the end of the bar) is converted into a small concert hall every Monday night, which I can imagine drumming up even more atmosphere in this place. These start at 8PM, and the pub won’t accept new entrants after 7.30PM.

The upper floor is a lighter shade than the downstairs with a surprisingly high ceiling, though still decorated in a simple, traditional style. There is a gently sloping roof at one side of the room which adds a bit of character. I would rather be downstairs, but would certainly accept a seat upstairs if that was what remained.

Domkeller have a relaxed attitude towards bringing food into eat, which is a refreshing change and shows the sort of pragmatism that people who know pubs recognise but accountants do not. Clearly any food is going to make a person thirsty for more of their fine beers – who loses?

Have I mentioned the opening hours yet? Bloody brilliant! How many cities have I been to that practically shut up shop by midnight? A lot. Too many. Expect Domkeller to serve your needs well into the early hours of the morning, in fair weather or foul, throughout the week.  This, along with the friendly company and Belgian ales explained why I found it very difficult to leave and go to bed!

Speaking of weather, the place throws itself open as the weather improves, with outside seating on the square. This is of course a pleasant place to sit back and enjoy the sun, but the true character of the place is indoors in my opinion, a wonderful refuge from the bitter winter weather – the core creation should be at the core of the appeal.

Across Europe, places like Domkeller, based so close to the centre of the city, have ceased to be cult venues long ago and sold out to middle aged tourists to become a generic café.

It’s great to see that the real character of Aachen endures and therefore we say, ‘long live Domkeller’ – and hopefully see you again very soon!


B.O Baras, Kaunas

back to Lithuania

Muitinės g. 9, Kaunas 44280, Lithuania


  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 7/10
  • Style and Decor – 7/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities & Events – 8/10
  • Value for Money – 9/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10

Blue Orange, or B.O for short (…lol!) is undoubtedly Kaunas’ foremost long-standing social drinking institution for students and young folk, taking on an unofficial Student Union bar feel, with a few bells and whistles that entice a post-Uni crowd  as well.

The name was inspired by the poem The World Is Blue As An Orange by the French Surrealist poet Paul Éluard, yet this little pretentious flourish couldn’t be further apart from the uncomplicated down-to-earth and friendly bar you’re about to visit.

Unusually for a student bar, Blue Orange is a family operation, opened by the current manager’s father and uncle, now run by mother and son. This is a nice fact in an increasingly corporate world.

Enter off a quiet side street in Kaunas’ pretty, though low-key old town and you’ll see a long room tunneling off to your left, and the bar straight in front of you. Décor is down to a earth, a little offbeat but generally plain, going on ramshackle, but in that cosy lived-in way that gives places like these some charm.

B.O (yep, this is still funny) offers a range of the usual pub amenities in addition to the beer: board games, beer pong, foosball, rudimentary pub food, events nights etc, and is without doubt focused on gathering and maintaining a community around it as best as it can. It succeeds. Football championships, “Guitar Hero” nights etc., you name it.

At the minute the second floor is being renovated so don’t count on any DJing or dancing up there for now. We shall keep a close watch on what they do with the space.

Everyone likes a late bar (What, you don’t? See me after class!) and Blue Orange provides a stalwart service in that regard, opening way past midnight into the early hours, all nights of the week. Be aware though that the place doesn’t actually open until 5pm, so don’t rely on it for an afternoon pint.

The furnishings and the bar concept may be growing a little dog-eared, but among a friendly crowd, that doesn’t seem to matter. And it’s an easy place to make friends, with space being at a premium you may find a group or individuals offer you a friendly – if drunken – introduction.

As far as the beers go, you can fill your glass for a very decent price, and there are 6-7 decent taps with Lithuanian beer on offer, along with a correspondingly well stocked fridge full of bottles. It is, after reflection, a pretty good range for the type of bar it is, and reasonable quality. Unfortunately you might find as with a lot of small time operations in mainland Europe that the beer comes out of the taps far too lively and it takes three pint glasses of foam before finally enough beer is produced to fill your glass. This can cause holdups but thankfully the drink at the end is worth it.

Staff are surly in the usual Baltic manner (perhaps they are fed up by the bar taps) but at least it’s service at the bar and not having to wait for table service – a dreaded custom across many venues in Eastern Europe.

BO has a central location near a number of good transport connections, but isn’t situated on a main thoroughfare that gets passing trade. This means it is visited by a loyal crowd of those in the know. It remains a really good option if you want to sample what the young but not so preening Kaunasii are up to with their free time or make it your local.

Going from some comments, Blue Orange  isn’t quite as zeitgeisty as it’s heyday, though you can’t help wonder whether these critics are just resentful thirty somethings trying and failing to relive their glory days. It must have been some heyday if they’re correct, as during my visit the bar was rammed full of young people who all looked like they were having a great time, also with the feel that it was their regular hangout spot. I’ll be back next time I’m in Kaunas, that’s for sure.

If Blue Orange doesn’t suit your mature post-grad mentality, then check out their new bar B20 on Gedminas gatve 30, which is similarly well reviewed but has a more modern and generic décor to my eyes. All the same, it breaks up the long, long walk between the train station and the old town quite nicely.

Have you been to Blue Orange? Agree or disagree with this review? Join in the discussion on Facebook or leave a review below!

Insomnia, Cluj-Napoca

back to Romania

Strada Universității 2, Cluj-Napoca 400091, Romania
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –6/10
  • Style and Decor – 8/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10

Insomnia in the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca claims the title of the longest continuing pub in town.

22 years (23 in May this year) doesn’t seem to me a long time in the life of a pub, so perhaps this has something to do with the turbulence of the revolution at the turn of the ‘90s, and/or a change in cultural trends? I am from a country where so many pubs have remained open over a hundred years or more, so this strikes me as peculiar.

Cluj-Napoca is a university town and so the nightlife reflects the demands of young people. You’ll struggle to find anywhere (deserving of the label ‘pub’ at least) where young and old people mix as they would in England, or indeed many other countries in Mainland Europe. In fact it was difficult to find the sort of old-man’s drinking hole you’d expect to see everywhere. Another surprise.

Insomnia is very much geared towards a younger crowd – if not young then young at heart – with bright, psychedelic décor, paint thrown up the wall Jackson Pollock style and giant lampshades covered in stretched Insomnia-logo t-shirts. About that logo – a not particularly discreet drawing of two animals humping. That aside, the place is funky and seems to have survived 15 years without looking overly dated.

You will notice from their website a rather esoteric mission statement (some of which might be lost in translation) which is reflected in the bar itself. It is the perigee between taking themselves too seriously and not taking themselves seriously at all. This must come from its early days as an art gallery. While the venue is now predominantly a bar, they still host events of varying flavours – book launches, poetry readings, the odd festival here and there.


The bar, as with most you’ll find in Cluj, is set up for sitting rather than standing, which means dealing with table service – not my favourite thing in the world. In Romania I noticed some people become rather upset when they have to order at the bar. Not sure why – getting drinks that way is quicker, direct and you can settle the bill there and then, saving everyone time and effort.

Insomnia also has a slightly different format in that they expect you to settle the bill upon the drinks being served, which took a little getting used to when most table service involves you settling the bill at the end of the evening. I can only imagine they have had some trouble with people leaving without paying – which again could be solved by switching to bar service!

The other gripe is that, quite alike other central European countries, it is possible to reserve tables in advance. Is this a good thing? In practice this hardly ever works well in a pub, as it deters people who haven’t got a reservation sitting in that spot until the reservation starts, costing the bar money and making the arrangement feel off-putting. Also, when the bar is really busy, save for two or three empty tables, simply because of a couple of reservations that may last for only one round of drinks, where is the logic there?

In Cluj, all beers seem to have arrived on the same lorry, so you can expect the local brew Ursus and its variants (which are okay at best), and other SABMiller-owned brands including some English beers. The choice here is neither great nor terrible – they have covered several bases, but after a couple of days in the city, seeing the identical drinks everywhere becomes a little dull.

Draft beer is also served in 400ml glasses, a cynical way of gaining 20% on every drink, and quite pointless given the bottle sizes are 500ml and often cheaper. It’s difficult to criticise Insomnia over any other Cluj pub for this, as it is unfortunately commonplace. The upshot is that most people order bottles, not draft beer as they are better value for money – given the expense involved in setting up a bar, this seems hideously counter-productive.

Insomnia also offer what they call “long draft”, 2.5l of beer arriving in an enormous trophy-like stand with its own tap which I saw a few people taking ‘advantage’ of.  You know you are in student land when gimmicks like this pop up.

Anyway, moving back to the positives, Insomnia’s atmosphere inside is lively and well-paced, while the surrounding décor certainly helps keep things upbeat.

Insomnia is also based on the first floor of a historic building, which I often like as bars of that sort always feel quite bohemian. Outside the bar you will step out onto the balcony walkway of an inner courtyard, the typical sort of atrium you get in ex-Hapsburg cities (especially those with Hungarian history). This situation is appealling and adds to the experience.

Insomnia can be found just a few seconds walk from the main square, which is also handy as the main squares of European cities are generally host to far more corporate venues than this. Insomnia, more than others, underlines the all-encompassing young feel of the city, not to mention a European city centre that yet hasn’t been ruined by corporatising everything.

Maybe Insomnia will continue for another 23 years to come – and onwards – or perhaps the economic tides will sweep it away. I certainly hope to find it is going strong when I return, and hope it doesn’t take me 23 years to do so!

I strongly recommend Insomnia for your visit to Cluj, primarily as a fun alternative venue, and a strong all-rounder that does a lot of what it takes to be a good bar well, or really well.

Lastly, be aware Insomnia closes at 1AM, so if you are having trouble sleeping, you’ll need to move elsewhere!

Keimling, Fürth

back to Germany

Obere Fischerstraße 5, 90762 Fürth, Germany
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –8/10
  • Style and Decor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 10/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  9/10

In clarty weather there’s nothing more enjoyable than diving into a warm cozy pub. Franconia is no stranger to such climatic conditions and the pub offerings are generally designed with that in mind.

It is January after all, so when we emerged from the U-Bahn station at Rathaus (from our weekend stay in Nuremberg) we were faced with a deluge arriving from above. Fürth old town is a pretty one, with a classic Bavarian/Franconian appearance, clock tower, steep tiled roofs and timber-houses, enough for an hour or two pleasant wandering, but it took us only ten minutes stroll around getting soaked through before resolving that we needed to get to a pub – and quick.

After researching in advance I had one pub in mind as an outstanding potential venue – Keimling.

It’s a short walk from the stop and a pleasant one, along one of the main streets and then down a steep lane. A charming and enticing little lane spurs up to your left but carry on down until you see a small beer garden – you have arrived.

Keimling (translated as Seedling) is so named after a seed-trade facility which formerly existed on the premises. Evidence of this remains apparent as you walk in, with the drawers and cupboards re-purposed into the new pub structure, most notably to the left of the bar as a corner-bar top. The bar’s logo and mascot is a seedling emerging from a wooden house, which can be seen in wood carving in the corner to the left of the bar.

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I really like the use of space in Keimling. You’ll enter to find a small bar directly facing the entrance and inviting partitioned benches to your right. The alley leading to the toilets also manages to find space for a dartboard (N.B – careful not to leave the gents toilet without checking if a dart is headed towards your face!) There is a small standing area to the left of the bar with ledges and corner area with stools, which has been constructed from the cupboards and drawers I mentioned above.

Carrying on past behind the bar leads you to a subterranean cellar ‘snug’, a very characterful little quirk of the pub which I can imagine being handy for gambling and plotting – among other things. The rest of the pub space is a large, more communal back-room area akin to a quaint pub restaurant, with windows looking out over the street.

The style is rustic, a quintessential traditional pub of a kind you’d hope to see everywhere in Northern Europe, especially on a rainy day. Apparently the owner Wenzel has not altered this appearance since the 1980s; hopefully it will remain intact for another 40 years to come.

The rock soundtrack is a clever touch as it brings in a younger crowd and prevents the risk of the pub becoming too genteel and middle-aged. Staff also vary between young and middle aged so there is a nice communal mix, and it feels like the community are coming together, in that great way a pub should do. The music is also a throwback to the pubs long-standing connection with live acts.

It’s a typically Germanic thing to combine the quaint with the visceral – in this case the almost twee decoration that you’d expect to find in your Grandma’s living room with hard rock music.

Adding further to an impressive list of positives is the selection of beer. Not only do they offer the Franconian speciality Rotbier (red beer) on tap, but they offer their own label beer, Keimling Dunkel, a rich, thick and dark beer that was at once flavourful as it was easy to drink. You’ll note a host of other local ales, which are about quality over quantity.

Don’t sweat about the prices either. As with most places in Franconia a half-litre of beer rarely exceeds 3 euros 5 cents, considerably lower than in the West.

Service is assured and courteous, and despite being English ausländers they were kind to us – it’s a friendly place.

Keimling also offers food, a handy thing for any pub, though I cannot comment on that so much as my real interest is in the pub and the experience.

The optimum time to arrive in my opinion is between 7pm-9pm where you can watch the pub transform from sleepy (albeit with a rock soundtrack) to a bustling neighbourhood venue, with every bit of seating space occupied.

It’s always a great sign of a pub when it makes you feel like you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

If there was any room for improvement I would suggest keeping the volume of music down in quieter times. Many pubs believe loud music compensates when it is quiet, but I believe the opposite, it simply emphasises the absence of people while making it more difficult to speak. This is not a big problem with Keimling, but a little recommendation nonetheless.

Fortunately Keimling is very easy to reach, even if you are staying in Nuremberg, because the U-Bahn links to Fürth in a simple 10 minute journey, and Keimling is only 5 minutes up the road from there. There are pubs in the city I live in, sitting at work right now, that would take me longer to get to.

For my money it’s worth doing. Perhaps only WeissbierHex in Nuremberg old-town directly competes to a similar standard, so I’d say Keimling is the best pub in the Nuremberg/Fürth area.

As their website states, quoting Terry Pratchett:

If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.

Now there’s a romantic philosophy to justify pubgoing, if ever there was one.

Have you visited Keimling? Any comments or suggestions? We’d love to hear from you!