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 1st-6th – Austria & Slovenia – Trip #5 of 2023 🇦🇹🇸🇮

You are reading Part 1 of our Big Trip of 2023! 24 days, 7 countries. In just over 3 weeks we visited 80+ bars and discovered 50+ new venues worthy of The European Bar Guide!

The plan for the first 6 days was as follows:

Fly to Bratislava, Slovakia 🇸🇰 travel to Austria 🇦🇹: Vienna for 3 nights, Graz for 2, then cross the border by rail to explore Maribor and Ptuj in Slovenia 🇸🇮.

Day 1 – Bratislava 🇸🇰 to Vienna 🇦🇹

With only 50km between them, flying into Bratislava can be a cheap and convenient way to get to Vienna, with a simple direct train to Wien HBF (central station). Before that we had only a small time in Bratislava, getting a cheap lunch at U Sedliaka 🇸🇰, a historic venue that churns out retro charms like Zlatý Bažant ’73 on tap and hearty home cooking such as the national dishes Strapačky and Bryndzové halušky. They even offer a couple of vegan dishes, quite a surprise. While the venue does have heritage, they haven’t really made the best design choices and it lacks a layout that produces a pubby enough social atmosphere.

That was soon due to change as we visited Bernard pri lýceu 🇸🇰, somewhat of a pilgrimage site for us in Bratislava. Tiny, cheap and completely shorn of pretence, this is a holdout boozer that has perhaps a minor cult reputation around the city. We found an article recently where it features on a list of ‘Pubs in Bratislava you need a lot of courage to enter‘. Part of that is to do with the service which, it would seem, is equally unfriendly to locals as it is to the very few tourists who wander in. This is self-service, not table service though, so if you come armed with basic phrases, you’ll be fine. Select the beer of your choice from a generous selection (including seasonal specials, this time a strong red/amber lager, the Easter Velikonoční Speciál on tap, and find a seat. The locals are not hostile and the atmosphere feels tolerant. After a short while of being sussed as English, we had a friendly chat about football with a few of them.

The train then beckoned and this concentrated hit of Slovakia had to suffice. Off we went to the station and to Vienna.

Vienna 🇦🇹

Travelling with my partner, Vienna was a first time visit for her, something like 6th or 7th for myself. I had found the city a tough nut to crack for bars, most of the best venues spread out geographically, some hidden behind opaque terminology and formats. Plenty are too foody, some leaning overly towards café culture to qualify. This is not like Prague where in some districts you have a genuine chance of finding a nice pub on any street corner. Gradually though, Vienna’s top quality options reveal themselves.

After visiting the excellent Third Man Film museum, checking in and a bit of a rest, we ventured out for the evening and to our first pub, the best in the city – Känguruh 🇦🇹. One of those pubs that maintains low lighting throughout the day, once inside time appears to stand still. It could be 7pm, it could be 3am. A true refuge. It was also very busy, slightly taking us by surprise (though it was Saturday night, it tends to get going after 10pm) meaning the first 30 minutes were propped at the bar until a table became free. A compact space with muted lamp lighting, there’s a special atmosphere in the main and back rooms. A duo of servers go back and forth, the elder of which I remember from my first visit in 2015. There have been some changes though, with the Belgian beer bible cut back (although still extensive) allowing for a much bigger range of Austrian beers than previously. Tap options remain simple and straightforward, but the bottle range is among the best in the city. Accompanying this is topped toasties they cook themselves, and an Italian food connection which they ring in. After 20 minutes or so a delivery guy from the next door restaurant appears with your meal. It is a quietly quirky venue with bags of personality.

The plan was to work our way East towards the city centre and back to the apartment. A linear plan sometimes means you end up at bars at the wrong time. I thought our 1st visit to Tanzcafé Jenseits 🇦🇹 may have come too early in the evening, but it was reasonably busy when we appeared. This former brothel has deliberately maintained a tacky boudoir type operation – most successfully in its decor and atmosphere, but the drinks choices and prices could do with an adjustment. Still, as a cult Vienna late bar and one-off experience it was well worth a visit, and no doubt we’ll be back.

3rd venue of the evening, Stehbeisl 🇦🇹 was already busy when we arrived. Our 2nd visit, and we weren’t surprised as it is a small and intimate bar. The Viennese Beisl is a curious term and can mean anything from the most down-at-heel venue, to a family run pokey eatery to a silver-service restaurant. This bar is a long, narrow but social space designed for evening meetups and socialising at a reasonable tempo. The drinks offering is decent with plenty more draft beers than you’d expect for a small space, and a backbar that ably covers cocktails, mixers, and shots. It’s up there as one of the best in the city.

The final stop, Café Bendl 🇦🇹 was the big find of our trip to Vienna last September 2022. Merely yards from Vienna’s finest buildings, this bar has long since given up maintaining any sort of pretense of belonging to such high society, instead luxuriating and diving deep into becoming something else, a venue rich in nostalgia, characterful and peeling, the customers enamoured with the place not because of its sophistication but because of its survival, maintaining its operation in a welcoming, affordable way, weathering every challenge and hardship it faces. Perhaps people can see the truth of this reflected in their own lives. The kind of venue that some people will never understand but is immediately appealing to us. And that was that – away to bed!

Day 2 – All Day In Vienna 🇦🇹

“We shall strike a balance between culture and fun”

Ken, In Bruges

On top of the endless bar going, there is of course the sightseeing, the museums, churches and palaces, the parks, the wacky one-offs, the ice-creams and the meals that lay you low. In Vienna, this means the Hofburg, the Imperial Crypt, Stephan’s Cathedral, Schönbrunn Palace, the Museum Quarter – to mention just a few.

After the trawl around the remnants of the dead empire, a 2nd ever trip to Café Hawelka 🇦🇹 felt appropriate. This almost deliberately dingy café remains largely unaltered since opening in 1939, attracting a literary and artistic scene in the 60s and 70s due to the bohemian atmosphere. These days it is firmly on the tourist circuit but its shape and rhythms are such that the Viennese still know when to pay a visit too. Service is jocular with some very well-dressed comedians popping back and forth. While it is clearly a Café, the atmosphere overall feels pub-like and social enough to qualify.

Combining bar and lunch at Kaffee Alt Wien 🇦🇹 came next, also our 2nd visit. Another historic Viennese café, this is hewn into a bar with appealing features such as the many cultural event posters plastered on the wall, the pool table, the racy oil painting (you’ll see it) and the rows of bench seating that make it feel casual enough to drop by for socialising. While they could go further, particularly in respect of drinks, it’s still pretty good.

The weather was pretty changeable to say the least, so after looking at some dead Hapsburgs for an hour, we dived into one of Vienna’s most famous – perhaps notorious too – venues, Loos American Bar. 🇦🇹 Unprepared for just how small it is, the design of this bar provides a false impression of space online. In fact, most of the space is above you with its high ceilings. The notoriety comes in two very different guises – the architect Herr Loos was later outed as a pederast, while the second is its dress code. Quite reasonably, they don’t allow customers wearing shorts/sandals and there is clear signage outside saying so. This doesn’t stop the hordes of entitled tourists moaning online that they were turned away. Their online score takes a hit as a result. A true one-off as a venue though, its modernist design decades ahead of time, well-preserved and never anything less than eye-catching and distinctive. Backlit tables contrast their cocktails in a quietly understated way, while a deliberately stripped back menu focusing on core components (for good reason, the bar literally does not have any space for more bottles) is creative in its sleight of hand. Expensive of course, possibly among the more expensive in the centre, but entirely worth it for what isn’t just a bar but a museum and experience.

The next stop was Trześniewski 🇦🇹 a famous Vienna institution dating back to 1902. Our first visit here, interest was piqued when hearing about the Pfiff, a tiny beer pour (even smaller than Cologne’s 0.2l Stange glass. As you’ll gather from the name, the founder was Polish, and the format feels somewhat similar, a tastefully retro snack bar with casual tables, the premise is simple. Choose a few finger sandwiches and a Pfiff (In this case Ottakringer Gold Fassl), enjoy a quick chat with your friends and head back. I enjoyed how, similar to a tapas bar, you can be here for a good time not a long time. A truly satisfactory experience here can last no longer than 10 minutes! Something about it is peculiarly addictive. It’s also directly opposite Café Hawelka, so you can stumble out of one and into another (and back again – those sandwiches are good).

Somewhat of a tradition, a trip to Gösser Bierklinik 🇦🇹 followed. A historic restaurant with a Schänke to the right as you enter. The best time to visit here is in the heart of winter, enjoying cosy surroundings in a natural atmosphere, with the occasional sound of horse clops hitting the cobbles outside. A rainy Spring day would have to do. Stiftsbräu Dunkel is the best beer on offer, a delicious rich dark lager.

It was time for a break after all that, and we took it easy in the evening, with food at Gürtelbräu 🇦🇹. This pleasant multitap pub is based in railway arches and a nice modern venue, dimly lit and using the natural ambience of the space, but it was disappointingly not boasting any of its own beers. A reminder to never assume in Austria or Germany a place brews its own beer just because ‘brau’ features in the title. That said, Vienna’s best mainstream beer, Ottakringer Rotes-Zwickl is permanently on tap, so we got over that news pretty quickly. They narrowly missed an inclusion to the guide as it was ridiculously short staffed and the food was pretty mediocre for the price.

The penultimate stop for the evening was a 2nd visit to Mel’s Craft Bar and Diner 🇦🇹. A central beer specialists in a modern, diner style room, we still found the environment oddly sterile despite the warm colours. Stuffy, overly lit, lacking charm and lacking an identity – something a large beer list can never compensate for. The fact we even returned was due to the unexpected closure on the day of Philosopher Bier Bar, an unpretentious little pub that adroitly drums up a comfortable, non-bland social atmosphere which we’d far preferred to have been in.

I thought it best to end the evening somewhere new. Perhaps not the most original choice, but we paid a visit to Delirium Café 🇦🇹 a sort of franchise that has spread across Europe. A curved bar with plenty of space, but lacking atmosphere and perhaps importantly for a Belgian café, short on satisfactory drinks options. The glass of Tremens ordered was also comfortably the worst I’ve had on the continent. Online reviews seem to confirm our suspicions that it was all a bit mediocre. This is an ongoing problem with the very centre of Vienna where a couple of beer bars like the above can prove popular simply due to the absence of competition. Perhaps we learnt something that evening – to not settle for mediocrity on account of convenience.

Day 3 – Final Day in Vienna 🇦🇹

After a dollop of morning culture followed by a dollop of mustard on some Vegan Würst, a 1st visit to Café Sperl 🇦🇹 kicked things off. A city institution, this was always likely to be more of a café than bar, and so it proved. We had hoped there may be a bar like atmosphere with the preserved 1880s interior, and its position as a social fixture, but the ceilings are too high, service is too formal, and the crowd too café like for it to be eligible. That is not to say I disliked it – an Einspänner (espresso with whipped cream) and slice of Sachertorte were delicious and the sense of institution was tangible. But it is a Café, not a bar, somewhere that feels rather like a treat to oneself, a private rather than a socially minded decision.

As we walked back into the city centre a quick search for potential bars uncovered a venue I had missed during cumulative hours of online trawling over the last 8 years. Amazed this slipped the net, Gutruf 🇦🇹 was a wonderful experience! Family-run, a cult Beisl, small informal and preserved venue with a 1970s era appearance. Homely, personalised and distinctive, with a hybrid menu of Chinese and Viennese cooking. The place even hides in plain sight, the street frontage suggesting a barbers or clothes shop that shuttered decades ago. A place you can go for a drink and a chat just as easily, there is an easy informality that belies all preconceptions and lived experience of Vienna’s stuffier pub-restaurants. We recommend.

There must have been 20 minutes to spare in the centre – ah yes, a wait to visit the Cathedral and climb the tower – because our notes confirm we were back in Trześniewski 🇦🇹 munching on sandwiches and sipping on the little Pfiff!

After a very active day out we went back for a rest to recover for the evening.

That evening we paid a 2nd visit of our trip to Känguruh 🇦🇹 . When one of the Top 100 Bars in Europe is on your doorstep, you can’t waste the opportunity!

There was time to try one more venue for the first time – and it was a big one – Jazzland 🇦🇹. A long-standing cult Jazz & Blues venue set in the basement of a 500 year old building, everything jumps out at you immediately to suggest this is going to work. And it does. Tucked around a side courtyard, descend stairs to a ticket counter and clothes room, paying the nominal fee (5 euros in our case) to enter a busy little theatre and basement bar in a warren of rooms. Brick vaults decorated with black & white photos of famous (and not so famous) performers that have appeared over the decades. Drinks are decent, all things considered, with Zwicklbier and Dunkel on tap – not the worst outcome for such a venue. The bar room does not allow for much viewing access, so try your luck in one of the niches or wait until a seat in the main room becomes free. An excitable crowd that sense they are part of the best thing going on in Vienna at that moment – a sensation that leaves a lasting impression. Mark this place on your map – we have.

Day 4 – Graz 🇦🇹

Graz in the southern Styria region is a pleasant 2 hour-something train journey from Vienna, passing by some steadily more scenic and hilly areas (still nothing like out West). With the highest peaks still snowcapped, there was plenty to look at on a pleasant sunny day.

Graz 🇦🇹

On arrival, the best way into the centre is via tram. Somewhat similar to Ghent 🇧🇪 in layout, the very centre is just distant enough from the station to warrant a ticket. The central Hauptplatz stop drops you off in the dead centre of town, with its beautiful pastel coloured buildings and the looming Schlossberg and clock tower overlooking the Altstadt.

Unlike Vienna and Linz, Graz’s old town is happy to wear its cracks and peeling plaster, adding to its sense of historic character, and is UNESCO-inscripted. A small centre, once there pretty much everything is walkable providing you’re relatively mobile.

Before our 3pm hotel check-in we started at Bierboutique 🇦🇹, a bottle shop with some space for drinking in. Service was friendly and helpful, the selection offering a decent range of regional beers and plenty of pricier specialist mixed fermentation stuff. A Witbier dedicated to the Bosniaks was an unexpected and rather random find, but also a good one! As for the venue, it isn’t somewhere you’d go for an evening drink really, with it feeling more like a spot for a quick tasting than a social venue.

Up through the old town and through the city park to one of Graz’s Bauzatslokale. Let’s address what that is first. These ‘kit bars’ are owned by the same company and dotted throughout the city. The concept is that your food – be that pizza, salad, burgers, etc is completely customisable, and you fill out your bingo card according to your needs. Reasonably priced and therefore popular with the University population in the city, these breathe life – pub life – into Graz’s cultural scene. Of those concerned, some are better than others, and in our opinion Grammophon 🇦🇹 qualifies as one of the most pubby, with a genuine ‘local’ feel, somewhere you could pop into to say Hi and relax with friends. A wooden interior natural communal seating around a central bar, and ‘worn-in’ feel that tells of many happy nights spent here. As with almost all pubs in Graz, the not-very-nice Puntigamer lager is available on tap, along with a host of other mid-brow options.

With good weather on our side, a walk up through the Schlossberg (yes, direct through the rock) to the clock tower with beautiful cities views followed, before dropping down back to the city centre.

Occasionally we will drop into businesses on a whim if they look good and today was one of them. Maggie’s Leberkas Stadl 🇦🇹 a venue we were hitherto entirely unaware of, was full of locals mid-afternoon and it looked as though they were having a great time. With a meatloaf counter and stools opposite a bar you may begin to wonder if this is some arch hipster venue – far from it. Decorated in a slightly camp – but very Germanic – way, full of friendly – rather drunk – middle aged folk, here is where pretense – and perhaps decorum – goes to die. We both enjoyed the refreshingly no f’s given environment and the fact a pub was actually busy during the typically dead hours of the day, but can’t really justify its inclusion.

The next stop before a break for a rest + dinner was the inverse to the previous place. Thirsty Heart 🇦🇹. Better beers, plenty of artifice and pretense, but no soul, and fewer people – sullen staff weren’t exactly filling the void either. A slate grey room, you look around for something to hold on to other than the glass of beer – and it isn’t there.

After a stomach-lining dinner we took a walk out to Graz’s University district, a pocket of nightlife around Zinzendorfgasse. Here, the best Bausatzlokale, Posaune 🇦🇹 can be found. Another bar with a natural social shape that invites mixing and encounters, producing a dynamic atmosphere. The place is also a worn-in, homely sort of pub that you can hang out in at quieter times. Our 2nd visit here and definitely not our last.

Our next selection, back in the centre was a bar I had mulled over going to in September 2022 until I walked into the middle of a Pub Quiz and a crowded room. This time however, there was ample room in Hops Craft Beer Pub 🇦🇹 which was a pleasant surprise – less of an ex-pat/tourist crowd than expected, and much less ‘crafty’. Instead a healthy mix of people that injected a good sense of social character in historic vaults that are tastefully decorated. It doesn’t hurt that there are several nice beers here – something that should never be taken for granted when you look around Europe.

Tiring but with enough in the tank for a nightcap, a 2nd stop at Brot & Spiele 🇦🇹 an unusual venue. Large, with a pub room and games area, on my first visit I found the environment fell well short, but this was because I was hanging around the games area, having walked past where I should have sat. Walk left into the pub itself which is a pleasant enough place decorated with some classic breweriana and furnished with communal booths. The beer selection is atypically excellent for a games pub. While perhaps not cutting edge, plenty of better traditional options are on offer on draft and tap. Would it feature on our guide – no, that would be a bit of a stretch, but it is good enough to have in your pocket as an option while in Graz.

Day 5 – Graz and Arnold Schwarzenegger 🇦🇹

Arnie’s childhood home is in Thal, a picturesque village that’s a short bus ride and pleasant country ramble from Graz. After morning coffee we took a literally last minute decision to attempt to visit. This was a little reckless given the buses out there are very infrequent. But, as normally happens, everything turned out fine. The museum is small and the entrance fee a little steep, but when were we next going there? (never) And when are we ever going back? (Also never). Underplaying Arnie’s Dad’s far-right leanings with some expert deployment of euphemism, overall it felt more appropriate that the experience emphasises the general cheese and gurning, simple-minded good vibes Schwarzenegger delivers.

Our first visit of the day was an adventurous and novel one. Before now we had only read about Heuriger culture in Austria. These taverns are often family affairs, wine producers with a hospitality focus, often putting on spreads and buffets to accompany their wines. Normally these are based in the hills but occasionally some pop up on the fringes of cities. We were fortunate it wasn’t too difficult to visit Lucky’s Heuriger 🇦🇹, a venue out in the suburbs but just about reachable via tram and bus after a walk. Completely local with a homely, pubby environment inside, full of personal touches that feels like being in someone’s lounge. Wines and the buffet were both simple but distractingly good quality and came in at good value. The cuts of meat were close to par with a meal I had paid over triple for the previous evening. Hospitality was as good as advertised, and the slight adrenalin rush of going somewhere largely untouched by tourists did the rest. An experience we will revisit as soon as we can.

Spring was finally arriving and we enjoyed spectacularly good ice cream from Die Eisperle in Jakobinplatz in the nearby Blumengarten, a little tulip-laden fountain square that begins the run from Herrengasse towards the Hauptplatz. The sugar rush sustained a trip around the Landeszeughaus, the biggest collection of Medieval European armor in the world. Afterwards, we took a walk up to Kaiser Ferdinand II’s mausoleum, a typically extravagant and hubristic affair, but at least such things are entertaining centuries on, better that than some dour alternative!

After a break from these cultural exertions it was time to venture out for the evening beginning with Bier Baron 🇦🇹, our 2nd visit and the 3rd of these Bauzatslokale. This visit really showed off the pub’s charms versus a quieter afternoon last September. While it may be too mainstream for some, a simple versatile format shows why it’s a hit. A DIY pizza and Zwicklbier later, and we were fuelled for the evening ahead.

Our next stop was an intriguing cocktail bar named The Churchill 🇦🇹, which fell somewhere in between student hangout and gentleman’s club (Oi – not that kind). Despite pretensions to exclusivity, the atmosphere was pretty informal and cordial with a mix of people, while the cocktail menu offered classics on top of their house specials. While there is some amusingly dodgy framed art, taking a balanced appraisal of the bar’s appeal overall, it deserves an inclusion to our guide.

Further down the hill in Graz’s attractive moneyed suburbs of Geidorf is Humboldtkeller 🇦🇹, a surviving old family-run Beisl. Longstanding but with very little presence and recent reviews to suggest it was still open. We are glad to confirm it is going strong. Friendly service, Yugoslav pub grub (which is very much not the focus), candlelit tables and attractive curved ceiling is a flavour of what to expect at this quaint, atmospheric little hideaway that has deservedly become a cult hit in Graz over the decades for Jazz & Rock, and cosy atmosphere. We liked it.

Our last stop was back in town, a basement cocktail bar that was locked up on a previous attempt. Caffe Hallo Josephine, 🇦🇹 was a little short on online presence but with plenty of glowing reviews. In the end our experience fell below that hype. Kindly service in a tiny little basement, it was not without charm but lacking a few flourishes in the décor, while the cocktails appeared to be constructed without much assurance.

So there is Graz. Our 2nd visit to the city, this is not a place lacking in decent options for both beers, cocktails, music or community events. It lacks that one killer venue I suppose, though that is no great crime. After a night’s sleep it was time to move on and visit Slovenia for the 1st time since 2014!

Day 6 – Slovenia 🇸🇮 – Maribor & Ptuj

The journey to Slovenia from Graz is about as straightforward an international crossing as you can find, without much delay or bureaucracy, you will land in Maribor train straight around an hour after departure.

Maribor 🇸🇮

Maribor is a nice little town – particularly its unheralded central square and riverside – and will make an acceptable half day/evening for tourists interested. After a look at its modest, vaguely unwelcoming cathedral, we were quickly en route to Pub Gambrinus 🇸🇮, a little place that specialises in Czech 🇨🇿 ales and lagers. Noticing our conversation in English, the owner introduced himself and explained his connection to a roster of beers that are frankly extraordinary to find outside Czechia – and would be pretty damn good to find in Czechia too. Aside of that aspect, it’s a characterful little knajpa, clearly inherited from a previous operation, worn wood, raised seating area and street terrace. While some of the signage veers towards those inane beer sayings and even worse, ‘Live Laugh Love’ type stuff, that is ignorable.

Before moving onto Ptuj there was time to visit Kavarnica Rokaj 🇸🇮, a very down to earth Caffe Bar by the river, currently engulfed in building work. With a surprisingly good beer selection – including local craft, I couldn’t fault the produce, or the soundtrack, but unfortunately the venue is the typical awful Balkans café bar mess.

Following a minor train delay, we even had time in a 3rd Maribor venue, Shakespeare Pub 🇸🇮. A battered old theme pub with wood fittings, it at least vaguely resembled a pub. Staff who appeared to be about 16 years old churned out the typical rubbish lagers, so it was time to get a bottle of Laško, as vile as I remembered.

The journey to Ptuj takes a frustrating L-shape, and a delay backing our of Praguersko ended any prospect of reaching Ptuj castle before closing time. This just left us with a wander around, and it is a very pretty little town.

Ptuj 🇸🇮

A wine producing region, we had hoped to go somewhere to try local wines, but unfortunately none of the cellars were open. We were invited to have some wine at the bar at Hotel Mitra, 🇸🇮 one of the potential wine tasting venues in lieu of their cellar tastings, but it was a drab experience and one of the real wastes of time of the trip.

Ptuj is home to the Kurent, a mystical character who chases away winter to beckon in spring, and it certainly felt like they had paid Slovenia their annual visit on this warm sunny April day. One of Ptuj’s cultural centres is Muzikafe 🇸🇮, a historic building and one that enjoys minor national fame. The interior is a warren of rooms in a café lounge style, warm 1990s type hues with sofas you can sink into and large books to lose yourself in. So far so normal – but the venue is brought into interest with its courtyard area with creative metal art installations and seating niches, which comes alive in the summer months – it is worth mentioning a few superior beer options in the fridge too. Certainly in a small town like Ptuj it shouldn’t be overlooked.

After a meal and a rest we ventured out to a pub we were confident would deliver – we had researched it in advance but it was also mentioned by the bar guy at Gambrinus in Maribor. In the commercial centre of Ptuj you’ll find Kavarna Bodi 🇸🇮 occupying a tall Austrian-era building. This cultural centre, bar and café similarly lays on the amenities for the public, but has more of an edge and relevance. On arrival we were nearly turned away after the limited seating at the main bar was taken. Staff explained a live performance was ongoing in the main room with a 15 euro entry fee, however after some negotiation we were allowed to enter, and enjoyed the last half hour or so. The main room with its tall ceilings and eclectic furniture and installations is cosy, instantly likeable and obviously one of the region’s best social spaces. The experience was accentuated with a very decent beer selection that will keep most tastes satisfied. After the gig and a little exploring of the premises we returned to the bar room to find an available table, and had a 2nd drink in the fairylit surroundings of the bar – a nice place indeed.

A drunken walk home allowed just enough time to visit local’s bar Orfej. While the other venues have their particular charms and audience, this was clearly the pub where the Ptuj residents, those with a stake in proceedings perhaps, hang out. We got the predictable few looks on our entry and were almost caught out by their closing time. Busy and bustling, it had plenty of atmosphere but overall was lacking a little in a distinctive appearance, and perhaps a little in terms of hospitality. We were ushered out pretty promptly at last orders.

Conclusions – and the road ahead!

Visiting Graz and Vienna relatively soon after our last visits in September 2022 was a good opportunity to reaffirm some initial impressions and build on our exploration of their bar scene. Vienna ended up being a success with some excellent bars added to the guide, whereas with Graz we mainly built on breadth rather than depth.

Slovenia is, as always, strikingly beautiful and it is nice to see most venues we visited going beyond the Union and Laško beer options. It feels like we missed out on some of Ptuj’s best bits, which is a source of regret when you may not return for 10 years, but at its bar scene was certainly not neglected.

In the next 6 days we would cross over to Croatia 🇭🇷, visiting Varaždin for a night and the capital Zagreb for 5 nights, both places we had not visited for 10 years. Would they yield the next great inscription on The European Bar Guide? Watch this space!

A Weekend In Seville – Trip #4 of 2023 🇪🇸 

A Weekend In Seville

Hot on the heels of November’s trip to Andalusia covering Malaga, Cordoba and Granada, the glaring omission was of course the region’s capital, Seville! An opportunity came to meet friends (including a Seville resident) for 5 days.

Seville in southern Spain 🇪🇸 experiences only 50 rainy days a year. Rolling snake-eyes, 10% of their annual precipitation coincided with our 5 day visit. They say if March comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb, and sod’s law, once we returned to the UK, Andalusia has reverted back to warm sunny days.

However, poor weather drives you indoors, not such a bad thing when you’re out here exploring Seville’s bars!

Day 1 – Malaga & Seville 🇪🇸 

We arrived and departed via Malaga, which allowed for a quick stop and meeting with friends at Antigua Casa De Guardia 🇪🇸, a frankly terrific bar on Malaga’s main boulevard into the city centre. It used to operate as the old police station before a conversion into a bodega of sorts. With huge original barrels lining the walls filled with various fortified wines and sherries the place is very  distinctive – even in a region that’s partial to an ostentatiously displayed barrel. That old word – institution – springs to mind, but here there is not only the bar’s history to admire but its rhythm of service, with smartly dressed men of various ages dashing up and down a long bar, writing the bill in chalk on the wooden counter and occasionally ringing a bell loudly – for a reason that wasn’t immediately apparent, but from researching happens whenever someone leaves a tip – which I find rather jolly!

Just don’t peer at the ground as the place couldn’t be described as occupying the height of hygienic standards. Several vermouths, sherries and pajaretes later you’re unleashed, buzzing, onto the bright streets of Malaga, in our case en route to the train station.

On arrival in Seville (approx.. 2hrs 30 journey) we did the necessary check-in and had a rest before meeting friends in town at El Comercio 🇪🇸, a bar which closes unintuitively early, in fact it seemed to only be getting busier and busier as 9pm approached. Apparently it operates as a breakfast bar with churros being particularly popular. A classic bodega with striking black and gold frontage and an open front directly onto a shopping street, it really is an inviting view. Inside past a long bar with the usual haunches of meet hanging above the counter, you’ll find a tiled pub room with typical, familiar bodega surroundings. A twist here is that they serve their cañas of Cruzcampo (a beer we would swing from detesting to tolerating to surprisingly enjoying, all the way back to detesting several times around during our visit) in glazed pots kept in the freezer until they were frosted. Did it improve the beer? No.

Moving on, we visited Ajoblanco 🇪🇸 a little way north east of the centre. This tapas bar leans in a musical direction (Jazz and Blues specifically) with large posters decorating the wall and a selection of records on sale near the back. The proprietor is front of house and runs the place with charisma. Underneath these characterful twists, the nuts and bolts of the place worked. The tapas – unpromising at first – was good, the atmosphere was pleasantly local with a cast of regulars and while we were there it slowly, almost imperceptibly got busier and busier to the point where when we left, it was really getting going.

The hubris of attempting to get in Seville’s most famous bodega, El Rinconcillo 🇪🇸 at 10pm on a Saturday night wasn’t lost on us, but as Michael Jordan said (before presumably tucking into a delicious tapa of Pringá) you lose 100% of the shots you don’t take. We didn’t get in and it would have to wait until later in the trip.

We then moved to Urbano Comix 🇪🇸, for a change of speed, a late bar with quirky, frequently fluorescent décor and comic book stylings but also quite dark and broody. Like the last place, we arrived a little early and it became quite lively as it went along. A late bar and hangout space, this is somewhere you can go to play pool, shoot the breeze and enjoy a drink that isn’t Cruzcampo or wine based. In many cities other than Seville the beer selection wouldn’t be particularly notable, which underlines the extent of the problem here. In a place like Seville this really stands out. Fans of the likes of Klapper33 🇩🇪 in Frankfurt will get on with this place.

The evening moved on apace and the next stop was the heaving Bicicleteria 🇪🇸, a place with more admirers than seats, but somehow, stomping our size tens around, we managed to cleave space for 4 around a table while the other 3 of us marked time until some chairs became available. Most cities have this kind of faux-shop kooky café bar with a bike or two stapled to the wall or ceiling, and this one didn’t do too much new, but couldn’t fault the execution or the atmosphere, as it really did feel like being at the core of the social scene. The nightlife around Plaza de Monte-Sion is well worth checking out.

As a few of peeled off to go to bed, there was time for a final drink and where better than the venue I had at the top of my list – Garlochi 🇪🇸. There are bars and there are bars – and this one is something really quite different. Decorated with the most kitsch Catholic iconography, this makes something like Cofrade Las Merchanas 🇪🇸 in Malaga look tastefully understated. Adding to the consuming intoxicating colours is burning incense which in quite a small venue feels truly transporting. We were made to wait for the experience though, arriving around 1AM to find a line waiting outside. Part of the charm of the character is some elderly front of house dressed like a Yorkshire farmer who attends to proceeding, being seemingly attentively involved and totally redundant all at once. Garlochi 🇪🇸 surprised by offering a bottled Spanish craft beer, a welcome break from Cruzcampo, but its stock and trade is cocktails and mixers.

An aside: Andalusia bars seem to enjoy concealing their menu from customers which slowly becomes irritating when you enter a bar and find staff assuming you must have all the information stored in your head.

We went to bed having had one of the best bar experiences of our travels, not a bad way to begin the trip!

Day 2 – Ruins, Towers & Flamenco

The day began with a trip to Italica, ruins of a Roman city near Santiponce, a village on the outskirts of Seville. Trajan/Hadrian era, the amphitheatre alone is extremely impressive and worth the cheap 30 minute bus ride to see.

On return, the bad weather setting in so we switched to indoor activities (Clue: not knitting). A historic tapas bar Casa Morales 🇪🇸 made sense to visit but, perhaps owing to the rain, was too crowded to be worthwhile. After a quick look we backtracked to Bodega Diaz Salazar 🇪🇸 50 metres back down the road. This bar was not on our initial hit list but its appearance was tempting and it also has a history. This now upright, stylish bodega has attractive frontage and a classical interior. A refurbishment has smartened the place up without losing its soul. This place is a fixture of central Seville and during the mid-20th centuries became a fashionable meeting spot for the political and cultural set. These days there is a mix of old stagers, some tourists and that unmistakeable ‘city centre’ rhythm to it, even when quieter. One of the eye-catching elements of the pub is its enormous urns at the back of the room. Try those baby aubergines pickled in chilli and garlic oil – unreal.

In between here and the next venue, we visited the cathedral, a monument to Catholic excess – minimalist it is not – and climbed La Giralda, its bell tower for spectacular views even in the pouring rain.

Time to put our feet up – we visited Bodega Santa Cruz 🇪🇸, another central tapas fixture. Unlike the previous place this venue is content to get ever more ramshackle and informal with wobbly seats, locals yelling banter across the counter and a large menu that slowly vanishes as the day progresses. Here the tapas was not great first time around, but it has largely excellent reviews and did impress on a 2nd visit.

After a rest back at the apartment, we ventured out for the evening. For a change of format and scenery we looked to visit a first explicitly craft beer slanted venue Lartesana 🇪🇸, a short walk east. Unfortunately we didn’t have a great time here, being deserted and cold, the doors unnecessarily flung open on a cold wet evening. The draft beer options were also pretty mediocre, though there were one or two interesting bottles available. While we didn’t eat our friends reported the food was particularly poor. Not a good start to the evening!

To make up for that we had another try at getting into El Rinconcillo 🇪🇸 – successfully this time! There is a front-of-house whose job is managing the limited space and ensuring the room doesn’t get overfilled – if only more tapas bars had that philosophy! Luckily we were able to squeeze in a leaning post at the bar and enjoyed a few cañas with salted cod, delicious. The bar itself in an interesting old thing, the space on the left belonging to a fin de siècle type school of design with ornate frames and a lighter appearance, while the main bodega with its upturned barrels, urns and gnarled ceiling features a more ancient appearance. 

After a core Seville bar experience it was time to dip into the wider culture and experience some Flamenco! La Carboneria 🇪🇸 is an atypical venue for Seville. Large, airy, a little off-beat and folksy too. It used to be the old coal warehouse, now it is a performance venue with bits and pieces of old tapas bar stuck on it like mosaic pieces, and an attractive leafy courtyard. This is where to go for a rawer, less slick folk performance than the lavish corporate dance shows put on for wealthier tourists. Despite the size of venue it is a rather intimate experience with the place hushed during the music performances. With a decently stocked bar and effectively a free show, this is good value and one of the best choices to experience this on a budget.

After that, we took a risk to visit Bodeguita La Chicotá 🇪🇸, but no luck – it was closed on arrival, leaving us in a bit of a nothing area without too many bars nearby. La Jara Tienda 🇪🇸 was a decent stop-gap with a nice selection of beers including Founders Porter on tap, but we dug into the Spanish craft beer in the fridge. The venue itself was overly lit and indistinct, but anyone who is happy to drink good beer in any old venue should probably make a note of it.

Last up, Bodega La Aurora 🇪🇸 near our apartment was continually busy every time we walked past, so we thought we’d give it a go. A really nice atmosphere is to be found inside, a tapas place that has been brought into the 21st century through some careful tasteful adjustments, but still retaining the essential informality that is the key to their charm. The only aspect that remained firmly in the past was a breathtakingly narrow toilet that comprised one urinal and barely enough space to park your anatomy between the door and the porcelain. Welcome to Seville!

Day 3 – The rain in Spain…

Day 3 was supposed to involve a trip to Cadiz but with more alarming bad weather particularly near the coast, we aborted the trip, instead making do with what turned into a long, enjoyable day out around the bars.

We began with some sightseeing at Plaza España, the beautiful square that is normally not far from Seville’s postcards and promotional material. It is spectacular – odd that it is detached from the centre in a park though. Imagine if the Piazza Del Campo was somewhere near Siena’s football stadium, it wouldn’t make sense. But there you are. The scenes themselves are well worth it.

After lunch to line our stomach we moved to Casa Morales 🇪🇸 which you may remember was a strike out on Day 1. This time we explored the venue a bit more, locating a 2nd room to the rear, arguably superior with more of those huge urns (10 ft tall or more) in the corner. The quality shone through this time, and after sharing a bottle of Ribera among us we moved on to a second visit to Bodega Diaz Salazar 🇪🇸 which provided a reliable repeat experience.

The next stop however, Casa Moreno 🇪🇸 was to prove a real standout. Not just for Seville but for Andalusia itself. A surviving ultramarino from 1940, this grocery store also serves as a bar. With a beautiful black and gold frontage the closed door and wares near the window don’t give off the flung-open Mediterranean welcome of some tapas bars, and perhaps this helps keep tourism to an acceptable minimum. On entrance you’ll see a few old-stagers chatting with the shopkeeper behind a large corner counter and plenty of tinned fish etc on the shelves. Peer around to the doorway on the right though and you’ll find a tiny characterful bar! This little space with its aluminium counter, Semanta Santa photographs and bullfighting memorabilia is a concentrated shot of Sevillano life. The regulars on the few tables at the back of the room look like they never really leave. Even spending 20 minutes here is enough to get a strong, lasting flavour of the place, an operation within an operation, clandestine, bunker-like, unaltered and fantastic.

We moved back to the centre of the Casco Antiguo to La Teresas 🇪🇸 which was recommended for food. Although reviews online were variable our food was notably superior with a few dishes a notch or two higher than their equivalents we’d tried elsewhere. The venue has outgrown its original little bar to adjacent buildings so it feels almost like 3 businesses in one. Café bar with high ceilings and large posters, tiny bodega with hanging haunches and a mounted tribute to the carving knives noting their period of service going back decades.

From there, the socialising continued into the early hours. La Goleta 🇪🇸 is a tiny little drop in place, perfect for a chat out of the rain. Small and yet personalised, no overbearing music or annoying crowds either.

A return to Bodega Santa Cruz 🇪🇸 almost next door was successful, less so our first visit to El Chiringuito 🇪🇸, not because the bar was bad, but because it was simply far too early in the day to get the most out of. The place has less of a traditional character and more of a late night hangout feel to it.

Uptown to our next destination Bodega Soto 🇪🇸 near the limits of the old city to what was a lovely authentic neighbourhood pub with a purely local crowd. A little larger than the tiddly central places, here is where you can host gatherings of families or friends. The décor is still traditional and the atmosphere can be absorbed pleasantly. It is really quite an approachable option.

Keeping it local, we visited Casa Vizcaino 🇪🇸, a well rated neighbourhood Bodega in the district of Feria. You’re unlikely to find a more typical example of a classical tapas bar. Set directly off the Plaza Monte Zion in their heart of the local action, there’s a good spread of generations to be found here which adds to its social quality, the venue itself broad enough to accommodate differing needs.