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.

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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.

Gostilna Pri Planincu, Bled

gostilnapriplanincu

Grajska cesta 8, 4260 Bled, Slovenia

The offerings and special experience of the Slovenian ‘Gostilna’ have in recent years become the subject of sentimental revival in the country, partly due to a period of national reflection, but also in acknowledgement of their slow and gradual disappearance as international restaurants took their place and globalisation promoted chains over independent character. As a response the Slovenian government, with the aid of the EU have now trademarked the ‘Gostilna Slovenija’ in their ongoing attempt to promote and rationalise what is an important and distinct offering in an otherwise dinky and Slavic-influenced country.

The Gostilna is the nearest place you can think of to an English country inn, a large but very homely venue, predominantly serving food but also offering rustic pub-like elements that invite a longer stay or an evening visit purely for a pint or two. Originally these began through landlords inviting guests around to taste their local food and wine. In the countryside these venues offer a home away from home, roaring fires, hearty food and shelter from harsh weather. In addition to that Slovenia takes a break from the usual sullen Slavic service and in a Gostilna you can expect to be treated like a host treats a guest at their house.

As a small town in the foothills of the Julian Alps, Bled is well placed to offer a good Gostilna, and there are a few worthy venues in town. The greatest of all is Gostilna Pri Planincu, both a cracking country restaurant of true history (continually serving since 1903)  authenticity, and a to all intents a characterful local pub.

The service was efficient, ruthlessly polite and cheerful, and the food arrived in suitably mountainous portions, after a reassuringly lengthy wait. Our whole table were in approval at the flavour of the food and the way it seemed to tower over us at our seats. The dining occurs in evocative country surroundings that feel real, aged with time and use rather than kitsch and plastic. Little oddities such as the stuffed witch character hanging from the ceiling are precisely the sort of oddity you wouldn’t find in a chain or modern bar (perhaps a very affectatious one).

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Slovenia’s own beer options are still limited at the time of writing but Lasko Zlatorog is a bearable lager for the first pint, so long as you get it on tap, and you may find some Austrian and German offerings if that doesn’t float your boat. There are Primator parasols in the beer garden of late, so if they’ve brought along Primator for the ride, that will increase the rating above it’s current level.

The pub area is saloon bar style, typically countrified and has an obsession with car registration plates and bike ephemera that cover more of the walls and ceilings than you’d first expect. There is also a showpiece ceramic heater giving central heating of the kind you usually see in high medieval mansions which takes up a quarter of the room itself.

On a trip out into the countryside it would be difficult to create a venue more desirable to visit than this excellent Gostilna. A hike in the beautiful surroundings of Bled followed by a portion of hearty home cooking in a wonderful welcoming pub. The only improvements I can think of would be longer opening hours for the bar area and a physical extension to it, which would elevate the place to a 10/10. As it is, the place is well worth your while.

  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 6/10
  • Style and Decor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 6/10
  • F: The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10