April 19th-24th – Poland 🇵🇱 – Trip#5 of 2023


You are reading Part 4 of 4 on April’s trip around Europe’s best bars! If you want to start reading at an earlier part in our journey please backtrack to:

Part 1: Slovakia, Austria and Slovenia 🇸🇰 🇦🇹 🇸🇮

Part 2: Croatia 🇭🇷

Part 3: Czechia and Germany 🇨🇿 🇩🇪

In this final part we travel to several of Poland‘s 🇵🇱 central cities: Wrocław, Poznań, Bydgoszcz, Toruń, Warsaw and Łódź!


Day 1: Wrocław & Poznań

Due to frequency of flights and affordability I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Wrocław since my first visit in 2016. It belongs among a handful of cities where I could be dropped anywhere and roughly know my way around. Due to perhaps no more than its unfamiliar looking name, UK tourism really hasn’t taken off there in the same way as Kraków, even though many of its main features – castle aside – are actually reasonably comparable. A beautiful old town, network of waterways, visible heritage stretching from the middle ages to the 19th century connected by a modern tram system – sound familiar? It also has hundreds of little gnomes – that part is different, but I thought you’d like to know about it.

It would only be a fleeting visit on this occasion, but that wasn’t to say we wouldn’t be going to any bars! An early visit to Literatka 🇵🇱, a café bar on the central square gave a glimpse of what the evening atmosphere would be like, but for late morning visit I didn’t get enough of an impression to say for sure. There’s a backroom used for smoking and I understand it is popular with local functionaries and for a while the artistic crowd. Service was friendly and it’s somewhere we’d return to – much later at night.



After lunch at a nearby Bar Mleczny, I had a walk to the cathedral island, market hall and park, before returning to one of our Top 100 Bars in Europe, Art Café Kalambur 🇵🇱. While it’s a shame to not have been able to visit later at night (when the atmosphere is electric it is a beautiful environment to be in at any of time of the day, with its art nouveau stylings and funky adornments. A cinema, café, snack bar and later club/dance hall, this is a versatile, brilliant venue.



I drifted towards two other Wrocław classics, the first being the town square Brewpub/Ratskeller, Spiż 🇵🇱. Calling the venue iconic seems an anodyne description these days, devalued with overuse. It undersells just what a fixture this place has been in the lives of local residents. A cellar venue with huge terrace on the square, allowing for a great experience in summer or winter. Their own brews are last-generation and focus on Polish/German styles, but are not without merit. The beer is often served with bread and home-made bacon lard.



Moving to an altogether more sensual experience, a café bar that for all the world could fit in among the many antiquey, olde-world bars in Kazimierz, in Kraków. After nearby Graciarnia was ruined by some idiots and turned into an ineffective and overrated pizza joint, Mleczarnia 🇵🇱 has carried the flag for this style of bar in Wrocław. Candlelight, vintage furniture and low lighting effectively moves forward time, so while it may have been early afternoon, you can easily feel you are approaching early evening. You lose track of time. Have a beer, take a look at their cakes and pastries. While away the hours in a bubble of relaxation of harmony.



Breaking the spell was the thought of needing to catch the train to Poznań. Fortunately the walk takes you past one of the city’s key nightlife areas, a series of bars built under the railway arches on Wojciecha Bogusławskiego, for a while one of the seedier areas of the city. There are still a couple of sex shops and the occasional dodgy character around but these days it is leaning towards becoming gentrified. One of these bars, Sielanka 🇵🇱 is on our guide, but we decided to try somewhere else, and Cinema Paradiso 🇵🇱 looked worth a try. Part of the decision making came down to the fact people were inside unlike virtually all of the other dozen bars. On entry we discovered a tidy little pub which will prove a convenient stop off/fallback option before a train or tram, or even when going for a night out. The beer selection is a step up for this sort of place with Czech options on tap and a few Polish craft cans in the fridge. Didn’t make the guide but definitely pause for thought. Here are the two duff photos I took of it:



Poznań, by contrast is a city we hadn’t visited since 2016. We were assured by local residents that it was easily the equal of Wrocław. That remains to be seen – but it does nevertheless have an attractive city centre. I wasn’t to know but on arrival that city centre was a building site. Every lane, main road, side alley was surrounded by metal fencing and the paving had been removed. It made getting around a real pain in the arse and of course spoiled the views. This is as good as it got as when we returned the rain turned it into a quagmire:



From a bar going perspective, I was excited return to some of our favourite haunts. Alas, Za Kulisami 🇵🇱 was closed on a Wednesday, but it would be only a 2nd visit to a Top 100 Bar In Europe, Piwna Stopa 🇵🇱. This pub (English name: Beer Foot) is simply superb in everything it does. Melding top quality Polish craft beer with a well-tended garden, a truly cosy, convivial and social interior, and stonking pub grub. It is one of those places that’s painfully far from home, one that I’d make my local within 5 minutes of moving to the area.



After a rest at the apartment we tried a couple of venues for the first time. One, Dragon Social Club 🇵🇱 has gained some level of reputation at home due to it being the local pub for Ben Aitken, author of ‘A Chip Shop In Poznan‘ when he lived in the city. The interior has a purposefully colourful, collegiate feel with some niches that will appeal to different groups and that is perhaps its strength, turning what is in places a quite flowery, loungey venue into somewhere you’d still find punks hanging out. It made our guide, first and only inclusion of the day!



Final stop of the evening (remember this had been a seriously long day out) was at Na Piwek 🇵🇱 , a basement bar and craft beer joint. The combination of the two ought to have worked, yet while it was hardly a disaster, something about the shape of the venue, furniture choices and general ambience failed to fire, despite several groups of people being there. Photos may make it look better than it actually was.



That was the end of the evening, and we woke up ahead of our first ever visit to Toruń, where we would find the best bar of our entire trip.


Day 2 – Toruń – Gingerbread, Copernicus and Brick Gothic

Imagine a country with affordable first class rail travel, where you look at the uptick in price and think – ‘You know what? Yes.’ You’re thinking of Poland, where premium train travel can be obtained very affordably – on its own merits too, not just in comparison to Western nations. I arranged mine and headed to Poznań station, stopping along the way at Fort Colomb 🇵🇱, a bar set in the limited remains of an old Napoleonic fortress. As well as being extremely convenient, it is a nice little pub too, with the vaults of the building on show, a fire installed and little niches. Most of the furnishing and product is regular and mainstream but it just inched over the line by our reckoning.



The weather improved over the course of our journey to Toruń and on arrival rail passengers were treated to the splendid sight of its UNESCO world heritage city centre from the bridge passing over the Vistula river. Of all the new places I visited this made the strongest positive impression. While it can’t beat Kraków or Gdansk for scale, it is a beautiful old place with a set of attractions that make it an ideal stop-off. A night or two here will be very well spent, trust me on that.

Our first move bar-wise was to check out the city’s central brewpub, Jan Olbracht 🇵🇱. This well-financed operation in a historic old town building has been carefully designed to exhibit the historical features of the building, give some hints to the glory years in its Hanseatic era pomp and show off some seriously impressive modern finish too. The exposed brick, black wood, copper brewkit and yellow neon signage is really complimentary, with some flair applied too, booths set into what seem to be the inside of huge barrels. The complex is sprawling and perhaps the only real criticism is that they could have made the central bar room more communal and pubby. Their regular beers are competent rather than spectacular, although they have a creative side-line in more adventurous brews too. It deserved an inclusion to our guide.



Next stop was one of Toruń’s craft beer bars, Deer Bear 🇵🇱. This is connected to a brewery of the same name who have a national reputation. The focus is – predictably – on IPAs and sours which were all hitting the mark. The interior was pleasant with some exposure of the historic beams and brick, but the layout slightly lacks a social focal point. That said, the actual people in the bar were chatty and it had a friendly feel. If you lived here you’d find yourself in this bar a lot. Overall it just sneaked an inscription on our guide.



The next venue was a way west of the city centre with no alternatives nearby, making it a risky all-or-nothing endeavour. However, from our advance research I had to try. And boy, was it worth it! En route, a sudden thunderstorm boiled up and I was hopping between tree cover for the last 15 minutes before reaching our destination, the fantastic Czarny Tulipan 🇵🇱 (English: Black Tulip). I hadn’t expected the building itself to be so striking, a brick turn of the century effort which had taken on an almost haunted house quality. On approach two windows were gleaming with warmth and light, and it suddenly looked far bigger than the images online had suggested. You walk up the porch stairs to be greeted by a supremely cosy, characterful and aged bar with a quality of light that places you in an instant feeling of ease – not just ease but a bond to the place. The side rooms were actually filled with 2 pool tables in use – not what I had expected for a vintage type bar, but it is clear this neighbourhood pub is versatile and accommodates a range of needs well. This is also seen in the pricing which was among the lowest anywhere we visited in Poland. At this stage we will let the photos speak for themselves:



How do you follow that? Well, thankfully with a walk to burn off one of the two strong beers I had sunk. On returning to the centre the pace had picked up in town seemingly, so decided to visit two basement bars for some lively atmosphere. One, Przepompownia 🇵🇱 was a nice battered old hangout but lacking customers, the other, Kredens 🇵🇱 was kind of the other way around, a little tacky and full with a young crowd.



It’s annoying when you arrive at a venue and it’s closed when the information published says it’s open, but occasionally leaving it too late to arrive can be no-one else’s fault but yourself. The next, final, unsuccessful effort was a mixture of the two. I arrived at Tutu Jazz & Whisky Club 🇵🇱 with around 40 minutes before the scheduled closing, but it was emptying out and the guy at the bar apologised as he was closing it up. I should have left a bit more of a margin, really. The frustrating thing is, it looked pretty decent.



Day 2 – A day in Bydgoszcz

With Bydgoszcz and Toruń only 45 minutes apart by train, there was no urgency to get up and about so after a lie-in I explored more of the gorgeous old town – soon to be improved with a renovated riverside/promenade area. The Town hall tower, Copernicus exhibition and Gingerbread museum were all well worth doing and the hour hand reached over the yardarm to – yes, you guessed it – bar time!

The first stop was a survivor, an old local’s hangout stretching back to the 90s (maybe longer), U Kaduka 🇵🇱. Whatever else you may say, it’s an honest operation, clearly somewhat of an institution but lacked some personality. Décor was non-descript and it didn’t give off the impression I was hoping it would.



This left room for just one more venue before getting the train. A better outcome, Krajina Piwa 🇵🇱 was a really nice place blending all aspects of pubbage well. A strong selection of Polish craft on tap and in the fridge, a nice, not overbearing seafaring theme, featuring a piano, upturned barrels at the bar top and a link to a restaurant – they may even be owned by the same operation. Service was friendly and helpful, and with the station only a few minutes walk away, it was ideal. It’s now on our guide.



Bydgoszcz (pronounced Bidd-Gosh-tsch) appeared to have a modest hitlist of a lot of what you expect from historic Polish cities. The reality is it is quite low key and understated with a nice, if slightly under-exploited riverside area, a nice, if slightly under-exploited market square and a funky little cathedral with colourful painted interior. There was no way a city of 350,000 people was not going to have a few great bars, until we discovered that actually, no – those bars don’t exist.

Somehow I ended up getting pointed to Pub Parnasik 🇵🇱. It was unbelievably drab as well as towny, getting things off to a pretty terrible start in Bydgoszcz.



After check-in and a rest, we headed out hoping for at least something a little better. That emerged in the shape of neighbourhood craft beer bar Kraftodajnia 🇵🇱. On arrival it seemed like a pretty safe bet, if a little unimaginative. The beer selection was very decent and hopes were high until my choice – a hefeweizen was undrinkably bad. The staff took a little persuading but agreed and I switched to a beer which was thankfully fresh as a daisy. The pub was near totally absent of people but even with an evening crowd I’m not convinced it would quite pass the threshold.



I assumed the next venue, Prolog9 🇵🇱, a rock/punk pub with craft beer would be likely to have at least a couple of groups hanging out. Not only was it dead, but the service sucked and the furnishings inside looked more like the locker room of a goth football team than somewhere you’d want to spend time. I like rock pubs, but not this one. The Black IPA was all kinds of meh, too.



With things going from bad to worse, and no sign of a let-up, I reluctantly headed to Piwo – Ty nalewasz 🇵🇱. I wasn’t expecting it to be guide worthy, but this bar has a sampler format where you load a card with money then pour your own beers. Half the taps were not overly interesting, however several were, and I at least got to have some fun, even in what was mostly a typical mainstream towny bar. It’s a good gimmick and so long as there are 4 or 5 beers worth trying, you can sit back and just about forgive everything else. It won’t make our guide though.



This was the 20th day of the trip, and I have to confess I threw in the towel after one final try – OGIEŃ Craft beer & pizza 🇵🇱. Neither bar, nor pizzeria, a typical hybrid place. Good beer, good food, middling value, but so little to write home about I didn’t even bother taking a photo, it seems.

If you find any great bars in Bydgoszcz then firstly, congratulations – you did a better job than me, but secondly, please let me know!

Day 3 – The capital city Warsaw beckons

The journey from Bydgoszcz to Warsaw is pretty straightforward – the train is modern, and the route is flat and boring, enlivened only by the odd sight of a deer, hare or kestrel in the field. Excitement was building though, as I had never visited Warsaw before though was well aware of the attractions in the capital and the differences between it and other Polish cities.

Due to an absence of affordable accommodation more centrally I was booked in right at the end of the line, so decided to break up the transfer, walking to the restored (rebuilt from scratch) old town for lunch, then a tram to Praga, Warsaw’s alternative end, to the first venue, W Oparach Absurdu 🇵🇱. A bar fitting for Kraków’s Jewish Quarter Kazimierz, this felt familiar and instantly likeable, if not perhaps as dramatic mid-afternoon. It was nice to see a healthy beer range, not only Browar Amber on tap but a big fridge of craft beer too. Vintage furniture, fairy lights and Persian rugs. You’ve seen it before, but it’s well done.



There was a bit of time available to check out another bar in the area before check in at 3pm and I spotted a craft beer bar not far around the corner, the supremely generic titled Beer Station 🇵🇱. With a range of Lithuanian options and a few Russian voices, I didn’t get the impression this was a Polish outfit. A neighbourhood multitap bar created on a budget, in a strange way the lack of finesse actually improves it and gives it a tiny bit of personality. There wasn’t much else to report though. It will do the job if you’re in the area but needs another dimension to be worth considering for an inclusion.



Based in Gocławek, literally the end of the tramline, it was about half an hour there and back from downtown Warsaw, so every decision had to be made with that in mind. After a rest I emerged, visiting the very cool Neon Museum before a park walk to Fregata 🇵🇱. Reportedly a survivor pub from well before the fall of the Iron Curtain, this supposedly offered retro vibes, good value and neighbourhood life. It did, but all of you will have felt the difference between a vibrant old survivor and a dog-eared one. This rather fell into the latter camp. It was also possibly too foody to really consider either.



The theme of feeling vaguely underwhelmed persisted at the next stop, Kicia Kocia 🇵🇱. It came highly recommend and had an interesting brutalist entrance but inside the vibe was a colourful café trying to be all things to all people, with the inevitable feeling of dilution – not a strong ‘bar’ feel. It feels harsh to criticise an operation not doing anything actively wrong, but a vague sense of cynicism to the whole thing dragged it down. It was at least busy and it serves a neighbourhood that isn’t brimming with alternatives.



I thought it best to head towards the city centre, so stopped off at Pardon To Tu 🇵🇱, a high-ceilinged modern bar on the corner of an intersection. Busy with a mainstream crowd, there was something distinctive to the décor, but perhaps the sum was less than its individual parts. Further underwhelming vibes, but the black IPA was very tasty. The bar was a lot busier than the photos below make it look, with a large busy terrace full of people.



Changing style and tempo after these slightly underwhelming (or is it over-hyped?) venues, I went to downtown Warsaw aiming to find a speakeasy cocktail bar named BackRoom 🇵🇱. There are well-hidden ‘secret locations’ and those hiding in plain sight. The unmarked entry to this bar looks identical to any of the other apartment doors you’ll find in this complex and eventually I co-opted the help of a local resident. On entry, the bar was over-stocked with staff versus customers. I’m not sure how many moustachioed bros it takes to say Hi to one person, show them a menu and then rustle up a cocktail but apparently the answer was north of 6. All the same, the cocktails really were excellent. Décor fairly good, the back-room seemed to me the nicest part, bookish study type surroundings but without a reservation I had to settle for a space at the bar itself, which was still good to see the staff at work.



Staying on the cocktails for now, I walked across a few blocks to a much more open, neighbourly venue, Aura 🇵🇱. Far smaller than any images really show, this is a corner bar with a wall of booze from floor to ceiling, (accessible via a ladder), Persian rugs on the wall with arched mirror. Quite odd. A duo of hyper, possibly dosed-up guys exchange banter and do everything at a manic lick. This does give it a much more informal, fun atmosphere and I quite liked it – cocktails are very decent too. This is where I suddenly noticed myself having a profuse nosebleed which was quite embarrassing for 5 minutes or so.



The evening ended somewhere unplanned. I walked past Armand 🇵🇱, only to be impressed by what I was seeing inside. You have to give these things a go and not just remain fixed on an on-rails itinerary. For all my careful research, this impromptu bar I chanced upon was better than the 6 previous bars I had swotted up on – it just goes to show. An atmospheric place, the gilded Deco signage outside doesn’t quite fit the interior which is more pleasingly bohemian. Colourful but brooding, each little vintage table is cute and dinky with its own lamp, and the vibe had reached that lovely buzz of happy, spirited conversation. The bar serves up a decent modern range across the board – it’s unlikely anyone, even craft beer or whisky specialists will be disappointed.



Stalked by the fear of missing the last tram to Gocławek, I set off earlier for home than had I been based more centrally – a lesson to learn for next time perhaps. It had been an interesting first day, even if it hadn’t hit the top heights.

Day #4 – Warsaw Uprising, Wooden Shacks, Wine Stalls, Market Halls, Ruin Pubs

Starting the day with culture before fun, the Warsaw Uprising museum was as good as hoped. Thought provoking, sprawling, and placing a snapshot in time in its wider context without losing the poignancy of individuals or moments. If you just want to look at a big plane, you can do that too. I also wanted to visit the Fotoplastikon, the oldest stereoscopic theatre in Europe, but I, and others, failed to gain entry despite stalking the courtyard and ringing the bell over and over. They also weren’t picking up the phone. A trip up the magnificent Palace of Culture and Science would do instead, and afterwards I found myself near-ish another starred drinking venue on my map – Karczma 🇵🇱.

Karczma – a throwback rustic country diner – by the main station in the capital city seemed perversely backwards enough to hold some interest, and on approach I could barely believe this surviving shack, no doubt an eyesore to the property developers whose apartment blocks dwarf it, still stood, let alone a business operating in it.

With kindly service, basic Polish pub grub and very well tapped beer (if still macro industrial Polish lager) at a very good price, this venue was naturally charming in its refusal to bend or break. It really delivered and I could see why it has attained almost cult status locally.



Shortly after I left it was apparent the future remains uncertain for the business, which is a small tragedy. A venue like this will not be returning to Warsaw, that’s for sure.

The closest place nearby was the flipside of the coin. Uwaga Piwo 🇵🇱 was meticulously clean, modern and with a range of cutting edge craft beers, making use of the ex-industrial space creatively with a series of machines you could wander around to look at. It was also empty, soulless, sterile and fairly unfriendly/disinterested. Attached to a shopping mall, it felt more like drinking in the bar of a bowling alley than a pub. No doubt some readers would still rather come here. Dare I say it’s less good than these photos make it look?



Revamped market halls are often good spaces to find bars/drinks businesses when they are on the up, and for a change of scene we decided to visit Niewinność Wine Bar 🇵🇱 in Hala Gwardii, one of at least 3 branches of this business in the capital. The friendly welcome was appreciated, really helpful, personal and curious too, making me feel right at home and helping me decide. This business serve several wines from the barrel, all of which were well outside the UK’s normal distribution and ecosystem. The stall has been made more bar-like with plants, bunting and an extension from what is a tiny little retail unit. While overall it didn’t quite meet the criteria for our guide as a venue, any wine buffs could do a lot worse than popping here.



The whole day so far had been schizophrenically changing styles and vibe so why stop there? Our next venue, back into downtown, was Café Paragraf 🇵🇱. A survivor from the socialist era, purposefully pickled in aspic, 6 decades and counting have passed as fashions have swung away from their favour and back again. An intriguing narrow venue with a smoking room behind the bar and strong ‘1990s high street solicitors reception area’ vibes, a glass of ‘Belfast’, a nitro keg dark beer (brewed in Poland) was the ideal retro choice. I was unaware this beer had such cult status in Warsaw as it is barely visible in any other city I have visited in Poland (which at the current count stands at 19). While there was a lurid appeal, I don’t think I would return here unless I was with friends to hangout and chat with.



After a break and a rest, it was time for a final evening in Warsaw. I took a 2nd trip to W Oparach Absurdu 🇵🇱 to see what it was like at night. The answer? Very nice.



The next venue was a little out on a limb, always a chance of adding further mileage for little reward, but you have to try these things. Or maybe I just have to try these things then tell you about them? To się wytnie 🇵🇱 is a genuinely alternative venue that is part of the arts and cultural scene with live gigs (including an ambient act who were playing when I arrived) and community events. When I arrived at this unmarked venue which more resembled a squat, I tried the door (which was wedged open with a mat) to find a busy bar room with people sat around the live act, and a small bar to the back. Friendly and welcoming, there was a spread of drinks and snacks for guests, but I thought it best to actually invest in the business and went to the bar.



During my research I also discovered a courtyard cluster of vaguely alternative leaning bars in the Praga district along 11 Listopada. Several bars including a club share outside space meaning there is a fairly open atmosphere of mingling and wandering which I personally really like.

The first bar of these was Skład Butelek 🇵🇱, one of those sepia-toned vintage places with first floor clandestine rooms and a cool ground floor bar area. This got the evening off to a great start. I was surprised at the time of night there were still some families knocking around, who presumably arrived earlier and had forgotten to leave.



Things were really hotting up now after a vaguely underwhelming previous day, and peaked at Chmury 🇵🇱, the neighbouring bar to Skład Butelek and Hydrozagadka. Chmury ticks so many boxes. It’s fun, it’s cool, there’s a great outdoor area and a funky, distracting interior of lampshades and Twin Peaks décor, street food, surprisingly good range of craft cans and far more besides. The atmosphere was bubbling up nicely as there was an event coming up next door, so this was the pre-club drinks spot. It was my favourite venue in Warsaw and it looked like I’d saved the best til last.



Our next stop, Łódź, isn’t a long trip away from Warszawa Zachodnia station, so after a lie in we got going in a leisurely fashion. This proved a decent decision as Łódź didn’t exactly prove a showstopper of a city. Unlike most of the historic cities which are based around a central square, Łódź is based on one huge, long thoroughfare, Piotrkowska over 4km from end to end. Low-rise and actually not particularly modern/industrial, the city has an inheritance of 19th and early 20th century architecture that is crumbling away. On arrival not many bars were open yet, but we started at the retro nostalgia bar 07 Bar 🇵🇱.

This is a trend lots of businesses have tried to seize on, but this one did a reasonable job, particularly upstairs where there are views of the main streets and a nicely curated selection of vintage furnishings.



The next stop didn’t exactly fill us with huge excitement in advance, but ended up being an enjoyable visit, Piwoteka Narodowa 🇵🇱. On entry the impression was ‘so far so craft beer bar’, a large venue with spacious seating widely set apart from each other, and a good selection to choose from. On further inspection I noted 2 cask handpumps and inquired if either was in business – yes! This is a moment of excitement as true cask beer is very difficult to come by on the continent, but Poland has more than most, a positive cultural exchange from the influx of Poles in the mid-late 00s to the UK, many of whom came home with a taste for the stuff. After enjoying that I was invited by a group a girls to hang out with them for a couple of hours which was a really nice was to spend the afternoon.



After a break (needed after working our way through the menu), I emerged fresh(er) to explore the evening bar scene, beginning at the basement venue Biblioteka 🇵🇱. One of those decent cellar venues with exposed vaults, and the predictable quasi library décor. Mainstream but welcoming and versatile, really the only shortcoming was the last generation choice of drinks. Improve that and you’ve got a very strong venue on your hands.



Next up, an unfortunately pretty quiet bar Chmielowa Dolina 🇵🇱. It wouldn’t be uncharitable to say it hasn’t got what’s necessary to produce a sense of comfort and atmosphere in the absence of people. What’s worse, the service was pretty surly too, as though I’d offended them by walking in the room.



Still, some people seemed to be having worse evenings than me:



Running out of options, we tried Jabeerwocky 🇵🇱, which I really didn’t like. Grey, start, bad acoustics, really nothing to get into at all.

To inject some fun into proceedings I ended the night at Pijana Wiśnia 🇵🇱 🍒 This chain bar has become a bit of a cult venue, specialising in cherry liqueur. Well-financed with eye-catching décor – barrels and textures made from glass and red lights accentuating. If you have a group of friends together it’s a very good venue.



Day #5The trip comes to an end in Poznań

It was April 24th and with over 3 weeks away and 150+ venues visited it was time to draw things to a close. A long train journey retracing steps to Poznań where we revisited Piwna Stopa 🇵🇱 and Dragon Pub 🇵🇱 before heading to the airport.



There we go.

8 new cities covered in 24 days, 54 new entries to our guide across 7 countries!

The top finds were:

Czarny Tulipan, Toruń 🇵🇱

Chmury, Warsaw 🇵🇱

Jazzland, Vienna 🇦🇹

Gutruf, Vienna 🇦🇹

Valhalla, Zagreb 🇭🇷

Loos American Bar, Vienna 🇦🇹

W Oparach Absurdu, Warsaw 🇵🇱

Pub Gambrinus, Maribor 🇸🇮

April 7th-12th – Croatia 🇭🇷 – Trip#5 of 2023

Following 6 days in Austria and Slovenia as covered in Part 1, the next 6 days of our Big Trip of 2023 were spent in Croatia – firstly in Varaždin then the capital Zagreb!

Day 1 – Ptuj 🇸🇮 to Varaždin 🇭🇷 – Rail Replacements on Good Friday?

Unlike the almost seamless border transition by train between Graz 🇦🇹 and Maribor 🇸🇮, crossing the border from Ptuj 🇸🇮 into Croatia 🇭🇷 looked wooly to say the least. One of the spectacularly pointless elements of nationalism is making larger settlements that are in close proximity poorly connected – the Balkans is a particularly bad example. A 7am train from to Čakovec 🇭🇷 looked like the only option. Then, on inspecting the information online it appeared the train would go no further than somewhere called Ormož 🇸🇮 due to staffing issues and Good Friday. Unfamiliar with the reliability of Croatian rail replacement services, but aware all our eggs were in one basket, we had to try it.

In the end, the switch to the replacement bus was well choreographed by the train conductor, but the bus trundled along, getting us to Čakovec later than planned. A connecting train to Varaždin appeared to be horribly delayed, and the passengers listlessly kicking dust around the station concourse didn’t seem promising. The ticket officer also assured us it wouldn’t be coming and we could only get the next train 2 hours later. Resigned to that, we set off into Čakovec centre to have a look around and kill some time. Except – what is that on the horizon? As the station disappeared behind us, a train emblazoned with Varaždin approached. Running full pelt with full rucksacks, we got back to the platform in literally the nick of time, as the guard was about to blow his whistle. Off we went to Varaždin!

A northern city with an impressive central castle and beautiful Austrian-era old town, we first visited Varaždin in September 2014 where a 10-day festival Špancirfest was in full swing. Memories of cheerful crowds, bunting, huge barbecues, live music on the street and magical courtyards like Julijan’s Apartment 🇭🇷 left rose-tinted spectacles.


It is to be expected that any town goes through its highs and lows, and perhaps being Easter we could hope for something similar. We were wrong – on this year’s visit. Grey, quiet, with a hint of rain in the air, the experience was initially like after the Lord Mayor’s show, the air had been sucked out of the balloon somewhat. Still, after a café stop-off, castle visit and lunch, it was time to inspect the bars – bars we resolutely failed to visit in 2014, 3 years before this site was founded.

The first stop off, one we had recommended to us, was south east of the old town near the park. Medina Škrinja Pub 🇭🇷. Tucked around the rear of the building, you’ll find a pretty unremarkable set of patio furniture used by smokers, and uPVC type entrance, none of which sets off any great vibes. Hang in there though as the interior space opens out into a historic vaulted room, vast and dark. The ‘Bear’s Chest’ is decorated with a large ceiling centrepiece, the eponymous bear with a chest of treasure chained to it. Around the brick interior there are medieval sigils and a general acknowledgement that this is a very old building. The bar enjoys a decent beer selection – only a few that would get any beer geeks purring, but still clearly above average, and even during the afternoon there was a decent clutch of people and plenty of activity at the bar to create adequate atmosphere. We are confident the evening would be even better, and it was an easy inclusion to our guide.


Finally, it had rolled around to 3pm allowing us to check in our apartment, drop off our luggage and have a rest. Our next stop was on the fringes of town, around 25 minutes walk, Picabia Pub 🇭🇷. One of Croatia’s persistent issues is a lack of a pub type feel to its communal social drinking venues. While this place wouldn’t make our guide, it was pleasingly pubby in feel and appearance, the complimentary nuts made it reasonable value and it is basically a spacious neighbourhood hangout of a kind that are in fairly short supply in provincial Croatia.


After a stop for dinner, we looked around the centre in efforts to find Julijan’s Apartment 🇭🇷, only to find that it was closed (for the day, not permanently). Pretty gutting when you average 1 visit to Varaždin every decade.

This left 2 venues remaining, the first being only a semi-promising looking bar called Medonja 🇭🇷. Some places perhaps don’t photograph well, and this is one of them. It is true that the main lounge is unnecessarily green, and the bar area is pretty unremarkable. And yet two elements entirely compensated for that. Firstly the surprisingly good beer selection – you are not starved for decent choices, both Croatian and International. Secondly, it is a very effective social space that was on our visit buzzing with people.


A last stop of the evening was to the imaginatively titled Craft Beer Bar 🇭🇷. This guesthouse has converted its entrance hall into a café bar. It’s all done on a budget, with portable keg machines lined in a row below the stairs, the 1 member of staff gamely trying their best to cover orders, but nevertheless a long wait on a Friday night. There is a good social scene here, some interesting local craft beers on offer too, but the bare bones of the bar are somewhat lacking.


Day 2 – Arrival in Zagreb 🇭🇷

Varaždin to Zagreb by train involves a scenic, but very long journey around the villages, so we made the call to get a coach (not exactly quick either). The bus journey, mainly along single lane roads passes along rolling hills and villages, many of which have simple little farmsteads, a few chickens, goats, the odd pig here and there. It’s a good reminder of how fast the Balkans slides into simple rural life outside of the cities.

We spent 3 days in Zagreb on our previous visit, mainly staying rigidly around the old town and the boulevard towards the train station. It is curious looking back how much more closed and conservative our urban exploration was. This time, 5 nights would allow us to explore the city’s suburbs and its different sides.

As per usual, the dead time while waiting to check into our apartment was filled by bars – firstly Swanky Monkey Garden 🇭🇷, a hostel with an attractive modern tiered courtyard and bar – a fairly well executed bit of funkiness.


After that, a beer at the Ilica branch of Pivovar Medvedgrad Illica 🇭🇷 Tucked away off the street in a shopping mall, this is more of a traditional beer hall, with a large garden at the back. It had been a while since our last beer of theirs, back in 2017. What is noticeable is what strides forward they have made with both the traditional and modern beers. This operation is equipped and future-proofed, as far as beers go. In terms of the venue, it is a little too drab in terms of décor and atmosphere, not a place I would want to spend a long time in unless I was eating.


After check-in and a rest, we visited the fun, tragic, disturbing and amusing Museum of Broken Relationships which is worth a first time visit for any tourists.

The evening started with a walk along the Strossmayer boulevard, a treelined route overlooking central Zagreb with a great view of the cathedral at one end, through the old town to Tolkein’s House 🇭🇷, which was shut. We learn it has been closed a while, but may reopen soon. Oddly, the extension to it, Veliki Tolk 🇭🇷 was open. A little sparse on decoration and people, the drinks were fine, service also friendly enough, but we didn’t linger long.


One of the joys of exploring European cities is the prevalence of trams. Zagreb residents seem rather modest about their service. Perhaps theirs may seem inferior to some neighbours but trust the view of this English person with our generally awful urban transport: it’s still damn good. Affordable and comfortable, allowing to whoosh around the city. The pink line heads into the hills, and halfway up towards the cable car is the pubby mini-brewery Pivovara Mlinarica 🇭🇷 (possibly translates as Miller Brewery?). This roadside pub isn’t typical of Croatian drinking venues, with an interior similar to some English or American pub-restaurants. Their beers are really nice, the food and service seems appropriately pubby and my partner really liked it. I’d say it was decent, but it just misses something. We returned later in the trip for a second try, and it still just didn’t cut it. One of the clear disappointments is that the bar area, which should in theory be a social magnet, is far too small. Being tucked away from the main seating areas loses whatever atmosphere it may generate. Yes, these are the careful considerations we make when reviewing bars.


Seeing as we were taking a tram back down the hill, we allowed it to drop us off in the commercial centre, which is a largely familiar, unremarkable set of shopping streets you could place anywhere on Earth. There are plenty of bars and eateries of course, most of which are unremarkable so far as the bar guide is concerned, but we had passed one by chance that looked very different. Another venue we hadn’t found on our research but found out in the wild! Orient Express 🇭🇷 has an eye-catching train theme, a small narrow bar you enter straight off a shopping street. Wood fittings, leather upholstered seats and booths, golden age ephemera on the walls, this is noteworthy, particularly in a country with a famously ‘who cares?’ approach to decorating its caffe bars. Drinks are fairly stock and predictable, but complimented with some local craft beer options. Service is very friendly and used to touristic custom, and the place does a familiar kind of city centre trade, perhaps not a place with regulars in the evening as such, but well worth a look while in Zagreb given it goes the extra mile.


Back in 2014 we may have visited this place (but there is no evidence to prove it) – Čeh Pub 🇭🇷. This very directly-named pub is situated on the run between the station and central square, and has been a fixture of the city nightlife and social scene for a long time. Very smokey, noisy and vibrant venue with layers of event posters plastered along the wall and, it must be said, excellent Kozel and Pilsner Urquell on tap. It remains one of my favoured spots in the city. Yes, your clothes will end up stinking of smoke and your eyes streaming, but that applies to the majority of Zagreb bars anyway, in a nation where smoking inside pubs is still permitted.


There was time for a last stop of the night, and this was a place I remember we attempted to visit in 2014, but being timid little… *checks* 29 year olds, weren’t brave enough to explore. Bacchus Jazz Bar 🇭🇷 . This was a time when we may have still relied on paper maps, I can imagine us missing this place, tucked around the corner inside an alleyway. Neon-signage beckons you through but you still have to keep going until the stairs to the basement are visible. In summer months the courtyard is a popular place, but the weather was still a bit iffy so there was only the usual few smokers outside chatting. Indoors, you’ll find a cosy little underground bar with curved ceiling and warm lighting. They host occasional live music events but it is very much an attractive, social venue regardless of if an event is taking place. Some of the drinks options may be a little last gen, but this is also one of Zagreb’s longer-running city institutions, so deserves a bit of leeway. Even if they still hadn’t taken the Christmas decorations down! After an enjoyable nightcap it was very much time for bed.


Day 3 – Easter Sunday In Zagreb 🇭🇷

Croatia is a religiously observant country and there was a good chance Easter Sunday may have been a washout for bars. In reality, there was a very slow start with a lot of closures before the nightlife gradually got going in the evening time. An appropriate activity, and largely chosen because nearly everything else was shut, was the incredible Mirogoj Cemetery. Yes, spending time in a cemetery is not everyone’s holiday activity, but this is a colossal site with a mile of domed towers facing the street, and inside rows of porticos and beautiful headstones. Easily worth the tram ride and 15 minutes walk out.

After some lunch we returned to town to Carpe Diem 🇭🇷, which is one of those versatile café/bar/pub/anything tourist places with an uncanny valley appearance between Czech pivnice and English theme pub. Despite these sneery remarks, that’s not such a bad thing, and with a reasonably interesting drinks menu you could do far worse. It is versatile for a reason and does a good job, as reviews will attest to.


Next stop in the old town was our only surviving Zagreb inscription, Pivovara Medvedgrad’s old town pub Mali Medo 🇭🇷. On a sultry summer evening in 2014 we were treated to live music from the upstairs window onto the street and a great terrace atmosphere. Inside was the typical trad beer hall look. A refit has spoilt the interior which lacks a focal point, while it wasn’t exactly buzzing so early on an Easter Sunday. Still, it is a typically reliable option.


Another open attraction was the 80s Museum. Most Eastern-Bloc countries have their own version of these, and this leans straight into nostalgia and interactive exhibits rather than torturous captions about ideological repression. A fun time exploring Yugoslavian commercial and domestic life. Kudos to whoever donated the pornography.

Quite a few recommendations had come in online to visit Valhalla 🇭🇷 which was our next stop. One of Zagreb’s strongest beer specialists, combining a great range on tap and in the fridge with a venue that is itself worth hanging out in even if the beers weren’t there. A pubby understated space just off one of the main tourist streets, the Nordic signage is unmissable, though not over-the-top and leads into a two room pub with a mixed crowd. While this isn’t somewhere you’d go for a wild party, there is a social atmosphere around the bar and in the backroom, which all combines effectively to make this somewhat of an obvious choice.


After a rest and dinner (Sri Lankan food – go out with a vegan, interesting things happen!) we visited another old town circuit pub we had walked past the previous evening, Kvazar 🇭🇷. This small bar picks up the pace a little, with sport on TV, free popcorn, louder music and a younger crowd, but it’s a pretty well put together pub with some nice music memorabilia, leather upholstered bench seating, and a range of Croatian craft beer that goes beyond the norm too, a nice surprise. The atmosphere is friendly rather than brash, and it’s good enough overall to warrant an inscription to the guide. As we left, walking to the centre we noticed a man shouting, repeatedly, seemingly trying to get our attention. Then, as he approached he signalled, and we noticed a dog he was trying to chase down. The dog seemed to think this was a game so would wait until he got close then run away again. This scene continued to the central square, by which point it had descended into farce. Did he eventually grab his dog? Who knows!


I remember the day really sliding away, and somehow we ended up back at Swanky Monkey Garden 🇭🇷 barely getting in a round of cocktails (which are not amazing) for last orders.

Day 4 – Monday, Monday In Zagreb 🇭🇷

On the continent nearly all museums and attractions close on a Monday, so it is worth targeting what to do in advance, as neurotic as that may seem to some people. Zagreb Zoo, in Maksimir Park seemed a nice Monday morning activity, particularly as the weather was beginning to improve. Very good value for money attraction (for context about 15% of the cost of Chester Zoo with about 80% of the contents). Another opportunity for a tram ride, and to see Dinamo Zagreb’s battered stadium en route.

After that we paid a visit to a suburban pub Pivnica Budweiser 🇭🇷 which promised – and delivered – lots of chunky wooden rustic furnishings and a Krčma pub-restaurant experience. Not overly distinctive enough to be worth including but not an unpleasant experience either. The Budweiser was Budvar, not the US tosh, btw.


As we were in the vicinity, we paid a visit to neighbourhood pub Legend Riders 🇭🇷 On approach, it was one of those slightly intimidating ‘Am I really going in here?’ moments, and on entry we found a small pub with a large friendly dog blocking the path to the bar. Distinctly local, we expected a Hell’s Angels type theme, but instead it was classic rock with guitars on the wall, TV churning out rock videos and enough Eric Clapton memorabilia that it moved from a feeling of ‘that’s quaint’ to ‘that’s slightly disturbing’. Well reviewed, and you can see why, because this is unpretentious, local, has far more to the décor than the average Zagreb caffe bar and a bigger surprise, has decent beers – including local craft on tap from Nova Runda. It wouldn’t make our guide but it sticks in the memory, and is a good indicator that if craft beer has permanent taps in a place like that, it is making a breakthrough in a land dominated by Karlovačko, Ožujsko & Pan.


Running out of Monday activities, a trip to Muzej Marmaluka, aka Hangover Museum (yes, Zagreb’s speciality is wacky museums) killed an hour, with anecdotes and props – some hilarious, some moronic about drunken escapades with possibly ankle breaking tests for you to conduct, followed by a shot of herbal liqueur.

We returned to the city centre for a rest before any evening activities, but would be targeting the bars dotted along the epically long Savska cesta, which is also frequently serviced by passing trams. Running from south west towards the city centre north east, this is a transect of regular Zagreb life. Hi-rises, arcades, precincts, mainly dated, but life goes on.

The first target venue goes by a few names, but Hendrick’s Garden 🇭🇷 seems to suffice. Images of a fairylit treehouse and painted frontage are eye-catching, particularly given how few places are remotely like that. On arrival anticipation rose, only to find it wasn’t open. Everything shut! At least there was time to return.


Fortunately it wasn’t far to the substitute venue, Vintage Industrial Bar 🇭🇷. Modern, with a typical enclosed courtyard area with tactical graffiti and festooned lights, with a repurposed interior. Most Westerners will be familiar with this format. Given this is less usual here, I was confident this would be an inclusion to our guide, but somehow it managed to miss the mark. The seating is not very collected and communal at the bar area, everything feels overly dispersed, and there is an absence of something lovable, something quintessential about it that would have got it over the line. Oh well. It’s there if you fancy it.


With an appetite for something less corporate, the next stop delivered. Woody Beer Bar 🇭🇷 is everything Vintage wasn’t. Ad hoc, honestly priced, free of beer tie, neighbourly and local, raucous and generous. Unvarnished, but packed to the rafters with people visiting for the live music and deli spreads put on by the owner. The beer options were very good with a well chosen balance of Czech lager, Croatian craft and some international classics. We can’t guarantee it will be like this every time but it provided what we were looking for and deserved an inclusion.


The next choice, buried in Zagreb’s labyrinth of hi-rise, was Sunshine Inn 🇭🇷. Following on from the unpretentious experience in the last place, this was local, busy and considering how far off the beaten path – quite friendly too. More of a retro café with parquet floor, but music memorabilia and a pool table in the backroom underlined that it is still ‘a local’. It didn’t do enough to merit and inclusion but was worth visiting as a sample of real life.


If only there had been any life, real or otherwise at Medvedgrad’s 3rd venue, Fakin 🇭🇷. Well-financed, this large venue is built for volume, but didn’t have any. No-one was there. Given the array of beer taps including guest options (in this case Garage Brewery 🇪🇸 from Barcelona ) a lot of beer was going to waste, but if so many people prefer the likes of Woody and Sunshine, that should probably set off some soul searching. A venue without an audience, seemingly.


The evening ended where people actually were, underlining a distinct pattern for the evening, the corporate venues shut, quiet or dead, the neighbourly down to earth venues lively, vibrant and raucous. Take note, craft beer world. Krivi put 🇭🇷 is a large venue with huge courtyard hangout in summer and a barn like interior. Smokey, lively, another venue showing how frequently in Croatia there is little division between where the alternative crowd and the posers hangout. It ended up being a great choice to end the evening, concluding with the classic Imbiss kebab by the tram stop!


Day 5 – And then there was one. Zagreb 🇭🇷

My partner was due to return home mid-afternoon, leaving me (how dare she!) to myself for the rest of the trip. The flight was not until the afternoon though, and we had pencilled in a trip to The Garden Brewery 🇭🇷 around lunchtime. Way out of town, you’ll need a bus or tram, which takes around half an hour each way, dropping you off on some industrial scrubland. A major, well-funded operation with an international distribution network, this is no tinpot operation, but it does do legit craft beer, focusing on porters, pales and sours (quelle surprise). Enormous premises with a greenhouse type building housing the brewkit, large beer garden, tall plants and street food vendors. There’s something obnoxious about its utter predictability (although for some reason they don’t offer a taster set) but you can’t quibble with the quality of produce and amenities available. We’re sure it’ll continue to be an appealing venue for many and it just squeaked onto our guide, all things considered.


As we said our goodbyes I found myself just south of Kvaternikov trg, which wasn’t all that far from Caffe Bar Croatia 🇭🇷, a venue I’d researched in advance as it appeared to be a tiny old battered bar that had virtually fallen off the map. It felt like the ultimate counterpoint to the demographic led corporate brewery tap we’d visited. On entry, that classic head-turning as a stranger arrives occurred, but the young bar staff didn’t bat an eyelid and that gave me sufficient welcome. With basic drinks and zero glamour, the experience of visiting this pub is about authenticity. Local life, way, way off the tourist trail in Stara Peščenica, an old working class district near the railways. Smoking, drinking and banter at the bar in surroundings more personalised than most, with wood fittings and unexpected nautical nik-naks.


Rather than heading home to the safety of the old town, we kept going further out to try Hub Cooltura 🇭🇷. A neighbourhood café bar, versatile hangout spot with pleasant beer garden and vintage furnishings in the interior, this attracts a young boho crowd. It’s a likeable place with a very snug backroom, a bit of a diamond in the rough.


It was time to return to the apartment and sleep off some of that booze. On the route back we popped our head in a bar we would return to later. The evening started with a return to Mlinarica 🇭🇷 to try and understand why we hadn’t given it an inscription on the guide. One lovely beer later, we still weren’t fully sold on it. Not that it’s bad, it’s just that our inscriptions need to possess a certain something. The challenge is to reach 7.5/10. This is the most 7.4 place we’ve been to. Maybe in a year or two this fussiness will seem mad.

Back down the hill to a 2nd stop at Kvazar 🇭🇷 and found another busy, buzzy environment with a football game on, and then headed into the centre for a first visit to an intriguing venue, The Beertija 🇭🇷. A courtyard with a hint of ruin bar to the environment, ideal for lounging in summer, very useful in an area of the city without much outdoor bar space. However it is also a basement bar, reasonably mainstream and very ‘worn’, clearly hosting a few too many nights out for its own good. Overall though, it ticked plenty of boxes to warrant an inclusion.


The night ended with a 2nd trip to Čeh Pub 🇭🇷 which was starting to wind down for closing time, but that helped to appreciate another side to what had always otherwise been a bustling bar. Once the beer was sunk it was time to get some late night scran at Pingvin, a cult fast food kiosk in the centre.


Day 6 – The final day in Zagreb 🇭🇷

After a well-earnt lie-in, we rose to a warm, sunny day. It had been a while since one of those. Taking the tram out to Jarun with its swimming lake and park was a nice way to get ‘out of the city’ (while still essentially being in the city). The fresh air and sunshine was welcome, but as always, the next bar visit wasn’t far away. Jazz Café 🇭🇷 is set in a pleasant neighbourhood, and the interior is a labour of love from someone who appears to be a water polo medallist. We didn’t enquire further! Quite a way ahead of the typical interior décor you’d expect from a Caffe Bar, with a few nice bottles available to drink. It was too early for that business though, so we made do with the Balkans classic – Cockta!


In the vicinity of Hendrick’s Garden 🇭🇷 this represented the final opportunity. Google said it was open so this seemed an appropriate time to visit, with the sun blazing. Well, what a waste of time. A 15 minute wait in a near empty bar for the staff to take my order, and no sign of the drink 15 minutes hence. After sitting on the patio furniture clicking my fingers, the novelty of the treehouse was no longer enough, I just left. This venue had the biggest gap between expectation and reality.


Referring to the remaining venues we had yet to visit, the next nearest bar was Ero 🇭🇷, a knackered old wooden boozer in a square, fairly brutalist complex. The staff were friendly, it was fairly quiet, fairly priced and photographs reasonably, but let’s be real – there’s nothing much to the place overall other than basic provision for locals.


Working my way up Savska cesta, en route I was advised to pay a visit to Le Petit Belge 🇭🇷 This Belgian café in a modern complex is a very good option when in Zagreb and was instantly likable. While there’s no point going too over the top, it covers drinks, decor, atmosphere, amenities and reasonable value, the service was nice and the environment is friendly, day or night. Not the worst place to drink Czech/German lager or Belgian ales.


After a break, it was time for some final drinks in Zagreb before my flight onwards. One of our followers on Twitter invited me to meet up, which I eagerly accepted. It’s great to meet some locals and help understand the local scene. Better still, the place he chose was another first time visit and one that ended up on our guide afterward. Cajt 🇭🇷 is located a short walk from the old town and its unprepossessing exterior appears to successfully deter tourists. Inside, a typically battered café layout with wood partitions and old patterned upholstered seats are opposite the bar. This is a place where everyone knows each other, a pleasant feeling, rare to find in a city centre, and certainly not something you’d find so centrally in a city like London. Cajt’s big draw is beer, which covers local craft to international classics both on tap and in the fridge. We worked our way through several before moving on.


The final venue ensured that the wake-up for the flight the following morning would be hungover and unpleasant, but those are the sacrifices you make sometime. Modern bottleshop and taproom Ambasada 🇭🇷 was recommended by our friend, and is walkable from Cajt, if not exactly close by. The offerings here are not so much vast as extremely well curated, with each beer style represented by particularly strong brands. The atmosphere was also jocular, local, with plenty of banter between people that knew each other, and the fact they were willing to switch to speaking English was very generous too. The venue itself is painted in warm ochre and furniture is the typical ‘does the job’ utilitarian approach. So somewhere that is full of pretty familiar generic elements is elevated to an inclusion by virtue of its friendly atmosphere and excellent beer.

And that was that! The final stop, after which we staggered home to bed ahead of a 4.45am start to Zagreb airport.

Conclusions:

5 days is a pretty good amount of time to spend in a city the size of Zagreb and it would have been a poor performance by us if we hadn’t done a thorough search. After visiting 30 venues, we’re pretty confident there isn’t some world-beating bar that’s slipped our net. In truth Zagreb has a number of good, likeable if flawed bars but very few that breakthrough as being among the very best. You won’t run out of options, and nightlife is overall pretty lively too, with the old town, the commercial centre and Savska cesta offering three quite distinct districts to explore. Zagreb has a number of varied activities making the city well worth a visit in general, never mind the bars. We didn’t get time to head into the hills, which are full of other excursion possibilities. Aside of one or two streets in the very centre of the old town, Zagreb still feels refreshingly local and not over-saturated with tourists most of the year.

Where next? Join us for Part#3 – April 13th-18th as we journey to Czechia 🇨🇿 and the Borderlands of Germany 🇩🇪 & Poland 🇵🇱 !

Roncsbár, Debrecen

back to Hungary

Csapó u. 27, 4024 Hungary
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –5/10
  • Style and Decor – 10/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 10/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 9/10
  • Value for Money – 8/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  10/10

While ruin bars may be synonymous with Budapest, other cities in Hungary quickly taken inspiration from the design and ethos – it was inevitable they would create their own version. Gázfröccs in Sopron and Csillag EzPresszó in Győr both prove that the bar has been raised. Roncsbár in Hungary’s 2nd city Debrecen, is the most convincing example yet that it’s worth leaving Hungary’s megacity to explore the nightlife in the provinces.

While I love an old boozer, such as Wichmann’s in Budapest, it must be said the standards of décor, atmosphere and amenities in Hungarian pubs have shot up dramatically since Szimpla et al arrived on the scene. Roncsbár (Roncs, meaning Wreck) immediately showed that its up to the task.

Established 2013, Roncs is both a cosy pub, a concert hall, a garden terrace and a arty streetfood courtyard, delivering the alluring appeal we love about ruin bars – a combination of rooms to explore as well as cosy areas to congregate. Unlike unsuccessful attempts to export these to the West, it doesn’t feel the least bit corporate, even when you add bouncers and plastic cups (we’ll get to that in a minute).

There is no shortage of ways to spend your evening here, whether that be for a quiet drink, for food, for music and partying, or games. What’s better, the bar is designed in such a way that it never feels like those people are clashing with each other.

While not as enormous as the likes of the Fogas Ház ‘party complex’ or the ruined mansion of Szimpla, there is a fair expanse of space, and just like those it’s exciting to walk through it all for the first time.

Entering via the front door of the pub, you could be fooled for thinking that’s all there is. It is very pleasant – nothing negative to report – the area is focused on drinks and socialising rather than food – fine by me. You’ll find exposed brick and slightly ramshackle wooden tables. The ceiling appears to be studded with cymbals from drum kits (or was I wrong?). There’s a lively atmosphere and if that was it, then Roncsbár would probably warrant inclusion on our website as an 8/10 pub.

But after you’ve taken in the indoors, have a wander around and look for a side door – this will take you into the entrance way for the ruin-pub aspect proper. The design suddenly explodes into an eclectic whirlwind of bric-a-brac and, if you pay attention, some finely-crafted artwork. The cherry on top of the cake is, in this case, a wrecked (get it?!) aeroplane which looks like it has been hung, interior contents an all, to the inside of the roof.

What’s better, is this is heated in the icy winter and well-ventilated, keeping the place comfortable at all times.

Carry on past the stalls to find a courtyard seating area which will appeal to anyone wanting to watch some sport (big screen, of course) and a terrace garden area – closed on my visit due to the snowy weather – but definitely a further area to spread out in spring and summer. Barbecue? Yes please.

Drinks are about on standard with most Hungarian bars, however their website boasts they have their own-label beer from Rendelkezik (Reindeer?) which I must admit I didn’t see. It’s still possible to get a standard lager for a fair price and nothing here, be it beer, wine or spirits will offend most local or foreign wallets. If you’re outside you will be made to drink it in a plastic cup – on the upside no-one has to worry about broken glass.

Service can be a bit rushed and impersonal in that way all popular places end up being, but that isn’t a reason to mark this place down.

Unlike Budapest, there really is only one place like this in Debrecen, certainly making it stand out. There will always be one or two people of a contrary or conservative nature who take a dislike to these bars. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but Roncsbár comes pretty damn close.

I love being able to dip in and out of events that are happening, be able to get some fresh air, or have a sit down, and still be in the same place, and still have something interesting to look at.

Please note that Debrecen has a very lively, albeit dispersed nightlife and there are several pubs of a very different style that are also worth visiting. Please see HERE.

There are only a few bars that have earned our 10/10 score, and so congratulations goes to Roncsbár. Long live the Wreck!

 

Orzo Bruno, Pisa

back to Italy

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Via delle Case Dipinte, 6/8, 56127 Pisa PI, Italy
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 8/10
  • 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

Opinions of Pisa tend to be mixed, which is a shame as the airport provides an excellent conduit for people to explore Tuscany, but often people venture no further than the Piazza Dei Miracoli before moving on. It’s certainly true the Tuscan idyll of cypress trees, rolling hills and gently worn villas is perhaps not best demonstrated in Pisa, but that’s not to say the town is without charm, far from it.

The city centre is certainly one of those places that feels like it gets taken over by young people at night. Yes, you can sigh at the peeling plaster and graffiti in some of the classical piazzas that have become a bit grungy but there is a certain verve and energy Pisa offers in compensation for that. It’s a good night out.

Beer isn’t Italy’s strong suit, however it has belatedly begun a concerted effort to catch up. When you have a little think about why it’s suddenly taking off, it makes sense. The young seek good beer out in Italy for a few different reasons. Wine is seen as the preserve of the middle-aged and middle class, increasingly more of a drink to enjoy with food or a particular occasion or season, whereas beer is more casual.

Of course there are those looking to be a bit hip and different for which beer offers an opportunity to pose and stand out/completely conform among peers. Boiling all that down, the main appeal as I see it, is that quite honestly beer and aperitifs are a better option in a hot country over the course of a long evening. It is still the case that in Italy good beer is a bit of a novelty, but craft beer has been riding the crest of a rising wave for a few years now.

Pisa’s very best exponent of this is Orzo Bruno (a play on words with Orso meaning Bear and Orzo meaning Barley) not just a place with good beer on tap, but a really, really good pub.  In order to find Orzo Bruno you naturally find yourself wandering into the epicentre of the city’s nightlife. It’s a nice walk in, as you can feel the volume and excitement level gradually rise. You’ll find the pub and its unassuming exterior perched down a side-street, yet in the thick of the action.

Inside, it’s an informal affair with pinewood type seating falling somewhere inbetween modern and ramshackle. In the summer heat the windows and thrown open and there are tables and chairs outside. As with all great pubs, everyone looks like they’re having a good time. The best of all, it looks and feels predominantly like somewhere Pisans go themselves, with a ring of authenticity you just can’t fake.

On tap you’ll find local Italian brews for a decent price – their predilections for strong beers and German styles ensures you can purchase some strong, tasty stuff for quite a lot less than you’d expect. Wit beer, red beer, doppio malto, it’s nice to go to the heart of interesting Italian brewing styles and have a genuine isolated and authentic ‘Italian beer experience’ in what is a nice pub.

These are brewed at a co-operative brewery Il Birrificio Artigiano, an excellent idea still common in Germany where provincial beer enthusiasts have occasional use of shared premises of a scale capable of delivering decent volume. These beers are usually unpasteurised and unfiltered, which is fine because they aren’t designed to last, but to be drunk straight away! You may even find oddities such as attempts at cask conditioned bitter served by Angram hand-pumps.

There’s a little something extra on offer too, that a lot of English people won’t be used to. It’s difficult to find complimentary anything with a drink in England these days, yet in Orzo Bruno dig into a veritable platter of snacks laid out on plates in front of the bar to enjoy with you beer from 7pm onwards.

Spain and Italy are insistent that food must in nearly all cases accompany drink, which is not my view, but offers a change of speed. You may want to consider leaving some room after your evening meal to enjoy the range of snacky bites on offer. It’s a quick way of adding on further poundage on top of the calories in your beer, so don’t go over the top!

Orzo Bruno works well whether at day or night, which is typical of places of its kind that stay low key and informal. You could pop in mid-afternoon and read a book with a pint of head here at 11 in the evening with a group. It’s just an all-round good place, reinforced by the enthusiastic patronage of locals. They also do discounts between 7-8.30pm, which is much later (and therefore better) than most happy hours in England.

Bar Pastis, Barcelona

Carrer de Santa Mònica, 4, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –6/10
  • Style and Decor – 10/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 8/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  9/10

Any cursory research into Barcelona’s bar scene will lead you to the venerable and incredibly dinky-sized Bar Pastis, a staple venue of the Raval district for decades – with very good reason.

You may be concerned the place is over-exposed and  overly touristy – that’s understandable given how often it happens – well don’t worry. Bar Pastis can’t physically contain very many people for a start – secondly, the format of the place acts as an effective filter repelling faint-hearted rubberneckers, mainstream middle class folks and gormless teens almost as soon as they walk in (if they even get that far).

The outside of the bar really looks like nothing special, so much so that you might do a double-take before even trying the door. A late 80s/early 90s era sign in black and white ‘futuristic’ lettering hardly signposts the atmospheric speakeasy inside – just look at it! – but be brave, intrepid traveller, and dive in.

Once entering, and on the – not guaranteed – proviso you’ve managed to secure a comfortable standing or leaning spot, do take a moment to glance around at people entering the bar for the first time; enjoy the shocked and intimidated looks on people’s faces as though they’ve opened the wrong door into something truly disturbing and smily wryly as they reverse back out.

The old geezer running the bar wouldn’t want it any other way – indeed you’ll notice many stickers behind the bar area pointedly directing Erasmus students to an eff marked off.

So what’s this all about then?

Well, despite its diminutive size Bar Pastis could mostly call itself something of a music venue. It seems silly, even then, considering the place most likely fits 25 people in at a push (including any performers) but as true as day, there’s a small stage at the back of the bar that might allow 3 musicians at most, a table by the door that seems to become ever more useless and in the way as the night progresses (you can’t see the stage properly from there) and a few bar stools. If you’re desperate to sit down then prepare to be patient or prepare to leave – it took us around half an hour last time.

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The musical offerings vary between folk and jazz, and my last visit involved a maudlin French folk duo which despite being in Spain seemed perfectly appropriate for the location. Rather than recoiling in disappointment by what we found, the sound of live music was just the ticket as we thrust ourselves inside, and leaned over a few bodies to order some drinks.

Although it is a pastis/absinthe bar, strictly speaking, you’ll find a beer/wine easily enough. These are perfunctory efforts, really, slight concessions to what the bar would really rather sell, and merely passable. In addition to the drinks expect to pay a little surcharge for when there’s music on, though this doesn’t run to much more than a few euro. It’s all done informally by way of your first drinks order, which providing you’re not scared yet and wanting to flee, will prove very good value when the music starts.

The owner Angél has a typical René type look, slick back balding hair, roman nose and paunch, and is very much master of his domain.

While the music is playing you’ll find yourself drifting off into the surroundings which are some of the most crusty, ramshackle and amazing I’ve ever visited. The crimson painted walls of this tiny drinking den ran out of space some time ago, taken up with an unmistakably gothic and ever darkening set of paintings, yellowing newspaper clippings and various cultural ephemera from decades past. There is a slight bordello theme with some vaguely erotic stockings gestures and the centre piece on the ceiling, almost certainly a remnant from a Mardi Gras type festival is a suitably macabre mascot for a bar of rich, unflinching, uncompromising character. None of these items appear counterfeit, but inherited, and as a consequence you feel smothered in its history and the gradual accumulation of its importance.

No matter how many tourists attempt a pilgrimage to Bar Pastis, there is always a core fanbase who could be clearly identified from the tourists, while the transient custom of couples and folk music aficionados is only fitting for a bar of its kind.

Although I could suggest a few changes to the drinks roster and seating situation, it seems almost rude in the circumstances to do so, when so much of the place lavishes you with new things to look at, new music and revelry to enjoy, or that bleary eyed soulful haze at the end of a night. The place has a tendency to stay open into the small hours. Rejoining the street and heading down the relative normalcy of La Rambla (2017 terror attack excepted) feels like you just stepped back from a window into another universe, both real and yet unreal. How many bars come close to this?

It is for this reason Bar Pastis gets such a thumbs up from me. One of those places where an average score on Google fails to tell the true story. It’s brilliant – even if you go there once just to say I was there, good on you. You were there.