Azimut, Šibenik

 Obala palih omladinaca 2, 22000, Šibenik, Croatia
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 7/10
  • Style and Decor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 8/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 9/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10

Going out for a drink on the Dalmatian coast invariably involves choosing from a selection of Caffe Bars, which may have amusingly goofy names such as ‘TURBO’ or ‘KUM’ but in practise provide a nearly identical offering that defines the term Generic. After a few days anyone interested in good beer and good pubgoing will be tearing their hair out in frustration (I’m bald, so have to improvise) trying to find somewhere characterful.

Sibenik’s nightlife offerings are in the main, no different. There’s a beautiful Riva with patio furniture so you can relax by the calm seas and people watch – fine for a while. When it gets colder and darker, venturing inside becomes necessary, and it is then where the particularly poor beer selection, poor music choices and absence of interesting décor or atmosphere starts to grate.

Azimut is Sibenik’s alternative antidote to all that, a club and live music venue of sorts, with offbeat décor inspired by Hungarian ruin/garden bars making the most of its cellar situation nearly underneath the main square. I have recently been informed the basement used to be the town’s well/reservoir for water which explains the high ceilings very well! (Thanks to Azimut’s Facebook group for providing that information)

As with a lot of places on the Croatian coast, it doesn’t really get going until the summer, but even out of season there is a core crowd you’ll find lining the bar chatting and messing around, and a side room which is geared up for live music but also has games involved. The eventual end feel is relaxed, open, fun feeling and the sort of space you want to hang out and could make friends in.

Despite the basement situation there are tall warehouse-style ceilings which makes me wonder what the place used to be used for. However, they’ve done a good job with the décor, with impossibly high shelves, hanging umbrellas, books and bric-a-brac making it feel homely whether it’s busy or quiet, meaning the venue is quite versatile, capable of coping with live music performances and bustling custom in summer or acting as a down to earth neighbourly bar off-peak. Perhaps their slogan ‘Find Your Way’ has this in mind.

Another good thing is Azimut’s opening hours, carrying on until the early hours of the morning, which is long after the rest of the city has gone to bed, meaning there’s no need to feel obliged to shape your evening around arbitrary time constraints.

There’s what counts for an interesting selection of beers around this end of Dalmatia, with some imported bottled English ales making an appearance, however it was short on Croatian craft beer at the time of writing – only Tomislav was available, which is tasty but too strong to spend all evening on. Again, this is a fairly low bar to pass given most places in Croatia serve 3 or 4 awful beers at most. Azimut’s prices are a few kuna more than elsewhere, but given it’s a distinct venue and slap-bang in the centre of town, that’s unsurprising.

Edit (9.7.18) I have recently been advised by the management they now stock Croatian craft beer –  happy days! Until my return the score for drinks provisionally goes up to 7/10.

Given young Croatians enjoy going out in the evening, and Sibenik is starting to attract the attention of Western tourists you would think there would be more than one venue like this, but so far the nightlife remains largely bland obsessed with creating modern aspirational lifestyle bars to create that ‘summer vibe’, but ultimately blend in to one and project mediocrity and cheapness rather than glamour.

Hanging out in Azimut is like breathing fresh air given those otherwise stale options. It’s clear that quite some imagination and bravery obviously went into creating it, and any stay in Sibenik by anyone desiring a beer and a good time in the evening must involve a visit here. As TimeOut point out, every Croatian town should have an Azimut. I’d extend that to every town full stop.

Pivnica Mali Medo, Zagreb

 

Tkalčićeva 36 Street, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia

*BRONZE AWARD* *Good all-rounder*

  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –7/10
  • 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

The ‘Little Bear’ is located in the centre of Zagreb’s old town and offers by far the best example of a pub around these environs. Otherwise, your options are identikit café terraces or the odd raucous rakija bar. To be honest, a night out spent solely Zagreb’s old town would be pretty bland unless you dedicated yourself to drinking shots, or visited this place.

Mali Medo acts as brewery tap for Pivovara Medvedgrad (translates as Beartown), named after an old fortress in the hills North of the city which has undergone a rather appalling renovation, but is worth seeking out for the view over the city.

The brewery, operating since 1994 precedes the craft beer craze and concocts a range of different beers – including their own attempt at Kriek – highly peculiar by Croatian standards where anything outside Euro Lager seems to be regarded as otherworldly. Their beers aren’t unpleasant but they’re some way short of the wider standard these days and a bit ‘last generation’. Nevertheless, a couple of the more traditional styles are competent enough to put away a few of, and the extra flavour and freshness will come as a relief after drinking the likes of Karlovacko everywhere else.

They operate a number of pubs, but the best of the lot is, in my opinion Mali Medo in the centre of town.

The pub itself has a typical pivnica look, dropping down off the main cobbled street to a large half-basement area with a curved ceiling, and some partitioned niches with bench seating (one of my favourite pub features) along with the typical long tables you’d expect of a central European cellar pub.  Mostly, the décor is in-keeping with inn-keeping, wooden framed artwork on the wall, and traditional furniture, a step above bland. It’s suitably cavernous in order to cram in the many hundreds of people who flock to it daily – worth a reminder at this stage that it is the number one venue slap bang in the centre of town.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As there is a beer terrace out front with much coming and going the atmosphere is very noisy and lively, sometimes pierced by live music performances. The upstairs area serves as a stage, with performers opening the windows to serenade people on the street. Very unusual and atmospheric. You  get the picture that this is one of the cultural hubs of the city. Be warned, if you’re after peace and quiet, this isn’t the place for you.

As with most pivnicas there is food available. Sometimes this can turn a place too much like a restaurant, but here it blends in with people turning up for a drink of beer better than some others, and as the evening progresses you can tell this is chiefly a drinking spot – good.

Considering the hustle and bustle, service is actually not too bad until it comes to the point of paying, where you almost have to grab the staff by the lapels and shove the money into their pockets. As per usual, table service slows up the whole arrangement. This is a very inefficient method when you compare it to those mega-brauhauses in Germany and Austria where a tapster and a token system means hundreds can be catered for by just a few people, or simply an English pub with a big bar where you can walk up to the bar staff and order – sort yourself out rather than relying on others to carry a glass for you. Unfortunately in Eastern Europe there appears to be an unwritten rule that one must never ever approach the person pouring the beer, or expect them to be able to operate a till.

Any place, city, town or village automatically feels enhanced by a centrally located brewery and/or its taproom, and this is certainly the effect Mali Medo has had on Zagreb old town. There is some work to do on the beers themselves, and it would be nice to see a few more pub touches, just slightly, to add character. It wouldn’t be an 8/10 unless there was some constructive criticism to encourage improvements. Aside of this, it still remains an essential, indeed desperately vital place to go for a beer in Zagreb.

Leopold’s Delicatessen, Split

Ujevićeva poljana 3, 21000, Split, Croatia
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –8/10
  • Style and Decor – 8/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 8/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 6/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10

Although I am about to praise this bar and urge you to visit, I should firstly state that I really hate its name. Yes, Leopold is a nice guy who knows his stuff, and that’s a cool name but ‘Delicatessen’ seems sickly sweet for a beer bar. The quicker it is reduced to Leopold‘s or even Leo’s the better! Get in touch with Leo and tell him yourself!

There have been some comments made online that alternative beer is now mainstream in Split, which may be well-intentioned to promote the place, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that isn’t the case at all. Most of the time you’ll be stuck drinking Croatia’s terrible trio of crap lagers or Staropramen if you’re lucky. Yes, Split remains by far the best city for drinking good beer in Croatia, but even then, you could count the number of good bars also selling good beer in the old town itself on one hand, and some of those are not especially good value, leading to a loss of local custom – the net result is they become touristy and lose their charm. Those that manage to retain local custom and offer something worth visiting rather than a generic Caffe Bar experience are thin on the ground in Split, and pretty much non-existent across most of Croatia.

Leopold’s is certainly one of the standout bars in the city centre, not just for beer but for atmosphere and somewhere you must bookmark to visit while in Split. This place is a beer bar, first and foremost – you’ll see some ad hoc meat and cheese slicing going on at the bar, sure, but the reason everyone is here is to try Croatian craft beer, perhaps taking a dip into the fridge for a reasonable interesting array of bottle offerings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On tap are some really beautiful tasting Croatian beer which will seem like you stepped into a parallel universe after spending your days in Croatia drinking their depressingly bad mainstream brands Karlovacko, Pan and Ozujsko.

There are 4 taps on rotation, all with Croatian beer from small breweries across the country, (though they also sold the way over-exposed mainstream beer Punk IPA too, which may pass for interesting in Croatia but not for a British traveller).

Thankfully the Croatian beer I tried was pretty good, one by Nova Runda and a single hop version of L.A.B’s Barba the standouts. They have brewed these beers carefully so as to not scare the locals, not over-hopped, but with enough punch and unfiltered flavour to be comfortably superior to all the mainstream Croatian beers. Good for a session, you might say, that milder drinkability that suits Mediterranean summer drinking. Thanks for not going the Polish/US craft route of slamming as many bitter hops in there as possible. The place is also interested in scotch whisky and bourbon if you are too.

The bar itself is pretty interesting to look at, with some nice mosaic-tiled patio furniture and vinyl records stuck to the ceiling. There’s also a swing seat in the middle of the bar which is a bit of a novelty, and a classic ‘dive’ bar layout that will instantly appeal. Leopold’s also seems to have a slightly annexed looking terrace which was well-appointed but the surroundings feel featureless (like a parking lot) – not the best from the options available.

However, the splicani prefer to congregate outside (this is common practise in the country and probably why there are so few Croatian bars with interest interior décor), and at some point as the evening progresses you will probably find yourself sharing space with some annoying American backpackers. Leopold seems to arrange tastings in advance with large groups – unfortunately halfway through my visit 20 Americans darkened their doors and the staff immediately began catering for them, seemingly exclusively. Perhaps that was bad timing but being moved from my seat and then having to listen to them droning on left a sour note, and not the good kind you get from a quality lambic.

They organise events such as live music on the terrace, barbecues (don’t miss out on these if you get the chance!) and seasonal beer like Oktoberfest, another excuse to skip past the bad macro lager in Croatia.

I have every confidence if you can dodge the worst excesses of the passing tourist trade Leopold’s is one of the best, certainly in the top 3 bars in the old town of Split. Agree? Disagree? Join the chat on facebook