Scârț, Timișoara

Scârț
Timișoara
9.2/10

In Timișoara, a venue has appeared in the last 5 years which is entirely unlike anything you would expect to find in the West.

Strada Arhitect Laszlo Szekely 1
Timișoara
Romania

In Timișoara, a venue has appeared in the last 5 years which is entirely unlike anything you would expect to find in the West.

While Western Romania is hardly a hotbed of distinctive individual bars setting Europe alight, in a strange way, the cheaper rents, creative freedom and lack of corporate control make it much more likely that such a place may come into existence versus an expensive, tightly corporate trend-following city centre (eg. Leeds).

There is a twisted irony that Timișoara, birthplace of the Romanian revolution against communism would now host as one of its most popular attractions, Scârț, a bar and museum nostalgically smothered in its relics and ephemera and making money from them.

The name itself, “Scârț” translates to ‘Squeak’. Apparently there are extra layers of meaning to that (I haven’t managed to find out just what. Other suggestions seem to think it means Creaky door). Loc Lejer is more direct: ‘A chill place’. It was opened by a group of actors who were looking for a way to sustain themselves and their work.

The bar itself is located in a large old house in a quiet neighbourhood south of the city centre. It is not all that far away on foot, perhaps 15 minutes, also only a hundred metres away from a locally famous restaurant Casa Bunicii.

While the walk to Scârț may feel unsettling, entering the bar, even for the first time, feels almost like going to see an old friend.

Despite a Museum attraction on the premises, you won’t find too many huge signs nearby advertising its location.  However, as long as you stick to the address and follow your nose, you’ll be OK.

Like a lot of cities in the region, backstreet Timișoara during the evenings is dark. I mean really, really dark. With little signage or street lights to guide you, the strongest indicator of the bar is the rumbling of conversation around the back of the building. Enter through the front gate and you will see a number of large artworks fixed to the fence in the driveway. Carry on through and you’ll find a small garden terrace, and a set of steps leading up to the bar itself.

On entering, you will find the bar directly to your right. You will have quickly noticed the place is very nicely decorated, with an array of communist-era nostalgia among one or two new artworks, with a few tables directly opposite the bar top to sit around.

There is a wide choice of drinks – alcohol certainly does not dominate, although there is plenty of that should you wish. The cheapest (though certainly not nicest) beer, Ciuc, will set you back 7 lei, reasonably good value in a city which generally fluctuates between 8-13 lei for a basic half litre bottle. If you are simply looking for tea, that can be served in pints and I read that they make their own elderberry drinks. We also read that you can buy certain old time snacks like Pufuleti, Eugenia and Danut, which is thoughtful.

Once served, you can explore two backrooms, where the décor hits you from all angles, with any number of interesting and varied pieces of communist kitsch to cast your eyes on. The furnishing is eclectic, but thoughtful, with some chunky tables to sit around, some bench seats and some soft furnishings to laze around on.

They have also provided board games, books and musical instruments, great touches from a bar which has dedicated itself to becoming a social hub.

We visited Scârț several times during our visit, at different times of day too, and there always seemed to be people milling about and treating the place as a second home (in a positive way). The garden in particular seems to be an area for convalescence, almost.

Remember we mentioned a museum? Well here is where the experience becomes even more colourful. If you have already been identified as a tourist the staff at the bar will likely invite you to go down and see the museum at a time of your choosing.

You will experience more intense version of what can be found in the bar. The name is “The Communist Consumers’ Museum”, effectively a collection of childhood items, relative luxuries and day-to-day objects which inspire nostalgia for the era set out in the style of a small apartment.

I must admit, its basement location makes it feel more nuclear bunker-like than was probably intended, but they have put a lot of care into arranging the items in a homely way. The exhibition is also interactive to a point. You are free to play with stamps, blackboards, musical instruments, old radios and really get hands on with the items in front of you (providing you show respect, of course!)

At the end point you will find some piggy banks – the museum is free but donations are welcome (and well deserved).

Once you have exhausted yourself in their historical air raid shelter of nik-naks and nostalgia, it’s back up to the bar to take a seat and socialise.

The crowd hanging out at Scârț are down-to-earth. This isn’t a pretentious see-and-be-seen destination. There are no bouncers, no under-dressed teenagers and no one is trying to be someone they aren’t. It’s a place to be yourself, at ease with others.  Which is why we like it – a lot. This is also the recurring reason why thousands of people have rated it so highly on Google and TripAdvisor.

As if this wasn’t enough, the bar also has a theatrical connection, founded by members of the local Auăleu theatre group, who you can find more about during your visit.

Scârț does what nearly all the best bars in Europe achieve: it pits itself at the heart of a community, gives people multiple reasons to visit and exudes an identity that inspires loyalty.

What other bars find so difficult, this one seems to find easy. Where other venues have settled for less, this one has gone expressively explosive. As the website itself states – nothing has been left to chance. (Also, they haven’t removed the bath from the restroom, even more underlining that this really was someone’s house back in the day!)

Their sign-off is bold and confident: “you have got to be new, surprising, magical, young, warm, precise, inviting and everything else that Scârţ proves to be every single time.” We couldn’t agree more.

This mission statement is what all should have in mind when they create a bar. Sadly very few do, but at least we have places like this one to remind us what things could be like, and a website like ours to tell you where they exist! 🙂

Is it really that difficult?

Gas Lamp, Lviv

back to Ukraine

Virmens’ka St, 20, L’viv, L’vivs’ka oblast, Ukraine, 79000
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 7/10
  • Style and Decor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 8/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  9/10

As Lviv brought the kerosene fuelled gas lamp to the world in 1853, it is only fitting that this is expressed in the city on some level. You’d expect a museum to be the best place to exhibit this but slightly surprisingly it takes the form of a bar – Gas Lamp.

Although aspects of the display are museum-like, to all intents and purposes the gas lamps are for decorative purposes, with little information on their design or origin. I have visited some pubs and bars which featured information labels on their antique without making the venue too stuffy-feeling (U Veverky in Prague, for example), but in Gas Lamp, providing you are here for a drink over and above a history lesson, you don’t feel like you’re losing out for the lack of information too much. Besides, the venue holds one of the biggest collections of gas lamps in Europe, so there is a lot to look at.

On busy evenings, an old man in a top hat, holding his gas lamp will guide you past the ‘fathers of the lamp’; two bronze statues, one of Jan Zeh sitting at his table (by the front door) and another, if you look up, of Ignacy Lukasiewicz poking out of a third-storey window. Read about their place in history here.

You are then led downstairs into a cellar. Counter-intuitively you have to crouch under what appears to be blackened rock, only to ascend a spiral staircase into the ‘bottom’ floor, which is on the first storey of the building. When you reach it you will notice a traffic light system, which appears to be there to stop customers bumping into each other halfway down the stairs.

Gas Lamp is set across several small floors, which reminded me of De Garre in Bruges (in layout rather than design), one of which is dominated by a bar, and another which appears to be a penthouse apartment that has been converted into a covered roof terrace. There is a coherent theme but each floor has a slightly different feel so don’t leave without being nosy and having a look around.

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On the top floor you emerge level with what appears to be a sea of slanted rooftops which may well be impressive during the day as much as at night, but night time is a great opportunity to look at the Armenian and Russian churches lit up strikingly. There is a naturally rather rarified air to being on the top floor so it may appear a little more towny and flash in comparison to the cosier downstairs rooms. Regardless of this, it is well worth rubber-necking.

Outside of the eponymous gas lamps, décor is an interesting blend of chunky chalet-type wood, with rafters, beams, bannisters and communal tables, but the lighting is more modern, with yellows, pinks and purples spotlit and backlit among shelves with other assorted valves and measuring equipment. I would rather they lit the gas lamps to be honest, but it’s not a bad effect overall and is more impressive than the images you’ll find online.

Drinks wise, Gas Lamp offers  shots in a row of test tubes as a gimmick (make of that what you will), and a well stocked bar for cocktails and the like, but I opted for Pravda and Lvivske’s beer offerings which are still reasonably priced for such a central location. That’s not difficult however, as from a Western perspective nearly everywhere apart from the airport is reasonably priced.

Gas Lamp serve food, although I found the location to be far too dark to contemplate getting anything there other than emergency snacks to soak up the beer. I don’t really see the appeal of arriving here any sooner than sunset to be honest. Night time is the right time.

Staff are well used to tourists and speak decent English, however there were issues getting their attention. Sadly unless you go direct to the bar, you’re stuck with table service, an always retrograde format that slows everything down unnecessarily. That isn’t isolated to Gas Lamp however, but pretty much everywhere that also serves food.

The city of Lviv offers a night life replete with themes and gimmicks, and yet another rears its head when you pay the bill. A ‘bomb’ with a short fuse is lit when your bill is presented, and you can enjoy a puff of flame, cracker-type pop, then a mix of smoke and incense fills the room. Unnecessary of course, but characterful. European Bar Guide is after all very keen on places which don’t settle for mediocrity. Some places would never get away with this but it felt amusingly dorky.

Exciting, ever that little bit different, popular enough to have atmosphere but also spacious enough to give corners for quieter evenings, Gas Lamp is a very successful execution of its concept, and with one or two tweaks could really push towards being a 10/10 venue.

It comes highly recommended but as much as we bang on about it, we’d love to hear your stories from Gas Lamp and Lviv – please get in touch!

Senk Na Parkanu, Plzeň

back to Czechia

Veleslavínova 59/4, 301 00 Plzeň, Czechia
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –10/10
  • Style and Decor – 7/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 7/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 6/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10

Drink unfiltered unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell delivered in barrels via horse and cart from Plzensky Prazdroj brewery up the road.

It doesn’t get much better than that for beer drinking, and despite the relative expense (cost being £1.70 rather than £1 which is the usual price for a beer in Czechia) it still represents extraordinary good value by nearly all other Western measures for supping what still is, pound for pound, the nicest beer going.

The horse and cart service also goes around a few other Pilsner Urquell pubs in Plzen on a largely ceremonial journey (though a good quantity of beer is delivered), such as U Senku and U Mansfelda,which are also worth checking out, but Na Parkanu is really the cultural epicentre, located in the bailey in the city walls and features an adjoining brewing museum which is brief, and poorly signposted but comes with a pint thrown in.

Na Parkanu itself is a shiny new pub, albeit in a traditional cookie-cutter Pivnice style, with some nice traditional features and a few little quirky concessions to the local hockey and football teams, along with reliable, absolutely conventional Czech food. You can sit down and just have a beer anywhere, much in the way you can at a chain pub in England, but there is a dedicated bar area too if you want to sit away from diners.

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In the main, Na Parkanu is a fairly by-the-by venue and in local terms a tad expensive by virtue of self-awareness of its own importance.

Why the fuss then?

The place serves a special beer that is very difficult to obtain in both unfiltered + unpasteurised form in Czechia let alone anywhere else, so there is always a tinge of excitement at the prospect of drinking at the ‘place to be’, which, outside of the Plzensky Prazdroj tap itself, this pub pretty much is, and everyone knows it, and is excited by the fact, which alone elevates the experience of drinking there.

The 12° Pilsner Urquell Nefiltrovany has that classically thicker texture and sharper flavour you get with a lager pre-filtration, but that makes it no more difficult to drink. The reviews speak for themselves. The beer slips down with alarming alacrity, while the keen-eyed servers have their eyes trained on any near-empty glass, and are only a quick nod of the head away from providing you with a replacement.

That’s enough in itself on this occasion. The venue is otherwise ‘steady’, it doesn’t really have any weak points (other than failing to fulfil my desire for it to be wonderfully old, preserved and traditional), which is hardly its fault. If they keep the layout for the next 80 years they may achieve that. It’s a solid pub you’ll find around in many a place, just one that’s blessed with something nearly every other pub doesn’t have.

If you’re feeling brave, try some of the intimidatingly greasy ‘food to go with beer’ options on the menu, and wash it down with the gorgeous beer – you’ll soon be transported into a fatty, gristly, and delicious world of true Czech pub going – halitosis central but that’s just your body trying to communicate how satisfied you are!

A trip to Plzen that doesn’t include a pint of unfiltered ‘PU’ at Na Parkanu would feel strangely hollow and lacking. This is something that I and the other Google reviewers seem to agree on. Join the throng and drink the tastiest damn beer you’re ever going to have, right from the source.