40. Keimling * – Fürth, Germany – 8.8/10
The ‘Seedling’ is an absolutely wonderful pub which occupies the strangely barren hinterland between bierhalle and working class smokey kneipe. You can find plenty of the former and the latter in Germany, but drinks-focused cosy pubs which have a distinctive ‘lived in’ identity and a mixed crowd, are strangely thin on the ground. Keimling proves there is no need for things to be that way.
Dark wood, a small bar area and perching posts near the entrance greet you upon arrival. Choose from a small but well-formed selection of Franconian beer, the best of which is a delicious house bier, the Dunkel. The cabinets, formerly used as seed banks have been repurposed into leading posts in a corner shape, which if you follow around guide you towards a snug set under the beams (featuring a round table – which to me suggests gambling!) and the main pub room with plenty of seating space surrounded by genteel but nevertheless homely features.
It’s the kind of venue you’d want to find in every town – which is precisely why we are taking this opportunity to promote it! Follow the link above to read our full write-up!
39. In De Wildeman – Amsterdam, Netherlands – 8.8/10
Amsterdam drinking holes all have their angle of appeal, be that history, peculiar drinks, format or décor, but In De Wildeman proves the virtue of being a strong all-rounder. Homely, cosy and friendly from the furnishings to the service, stocked with a fantastic selection of drinks and surrounded by a buzzing happy atmosphere in a venue with characterful flourishes in a typical Amsterdam town house, this is a pub you can visit for the first time and an hour later will make you feel like you’ve been frequenting it for years. Well-known about, this pub is no left-field suggestion of ours, but despite the central location and tourist churn, its character and cheer remain as bright as ever.
38. Hostinec Richtar Jakub – Bratislava, Slovakia – 8.8/10
While there are usually enough spots in the cultural centre of a popular European capital to keep one occupied, it sometimes pays to pick a venue in the suburbs to visit, in order to discover what the locals are doing. This becomes easier when the venue is close by to another decent looking bar, reducing the risk of a wasted journey. This is how we found Hostinec Richtar Jakub. With the very nice pub Omama only around the other side of the same building, you can be assured of a decent night in these two venues. However, HRJ is the standout for a few key reasons.
If you were ever looking for the definition of a Czech/Slovakian Hospoda, this is it. Set in a half step basement, drop down to find a series of communal tables with bench seatings. As usual, try to find one without a reservation or, at least, a reservation not due for an hour or more, otherwise you might get barked at.
HRJ’s multi-tap offerings of beer from small and regional Czech and Slovakian breweries blend modernity and tradition perfectly. They also brew their own beer too which focuses on flavour over quaffability.
The atmosphere when the place fills up is why you’re here – everyone from around the area knows and loves the pub, and that rubs off in the ambience of the venue, including the courtyard which becomes packed later on. The ritual and the social element makes this place special, and its just far enough from the centre to be clear of tourists and full of locals.
37. Singer – Kraków, Poland – 8.8/10
One of Kraków’s most venerable bars, the name is derived from the sewing machine tables recovered and repurposed in this bar. Outside they make an iconic pavement terrace, and inside you will find these machines decorating a blousey entrance room with thick curtains and detailed fabric everywhere. Dive further into the bar area to find a deep red boudoir with an all-female crew manning (see what I did there) the barricades. During the day you don’t be surprised to see the odd pram here and there, as middle class families share the space with old timers knocking back the hard liquor early doors. The staff deal with their inebriation with humour, while gently suggesting they go home for a rest. As the evening approaches you may think the bar stays in second gear, with brooding romantic corners and hidey holes where you can plot and laugh around candle-light. Then, just as you may expect it to tail off, the pace cranks up with live music performances and dancing. This is a Kazimierz institution, one of Kraków’s core bars, a candle that is still burning brightly within this special, surprisingly versatile venue.
36. U Poutnika * – Brno, Czechia – 8.8/10
Another bar saved from closure (how many times have we said that already?), U Poutnika is a loud, rough and ready pub with one fantastic beer on offer, which everybody happily commits to drinking. As with all great Czech pubs, a legendary tapster is in attendance desperately trying to have as little human interaction as possible, while a server is rushed off his feet replenishing empty mugs and suffering the ignominy of speaking with other members of the human race. U Poutnika typifies Brno, a city rampantly obsessed with drinking and pubgoing. We designed a bar crawl around Brno which you can find >>HERE<< while if you follow the link above it will take you to our full write-up of this pub!
35. Cross Club – Prague, Czechia – 8.8/10
The venue that jumped on steampunk and kinetic features a good decade before most of the others, this sprawling and gigantic bar/club/cafe/hangout spot has design features aplenty to draw you in, rusting cogs, spirals of metal and various other contortions that look like they’ll take your eye out if you get too close. This is why the bar features as one of our Top 10 Most Stylish Bars In Europe. The grim setting in Prague’s Holešovice district, replete with dilapidated tower blocks and The Warriors style Metro station seems to us the perfect location for such a place. You will find plenty to explore across the floors and rooms of the venue, which lurch from industrial club to prosaic cafe restaurant. Our favourite parts are the balcony, the beer garden and the core bar area, which is where the bulk of the artwork – and atmosphere – is to be found. While Cross Club is no secret, novelty is not the only provenance of quality – the place endures and thrives with every passing generation.
34. Ye Olde Black Boy – Hull, UK – 8.8/10
Few pubs live and breathe their history as much as Ye Olde Black Boy. First licensed in 1729 and reputedly named after a Moroccan boy who worked in the coffee shop before it, you don’t need the ‘Ye Olde’ part of the name to work out you’re in somewhere that’s lasted a long time. There is a beautifully detailed .pdf article about the pub >>HERE<< which goes into more detail on its history. But let’s get on to the pub itself. The first door to your right leads to a gloomy, sepulchral snug which is best enjoyed in the late hours of a cold winter evening, conversing over candlelight. The tarred black wooden panels and spatters of candle wax speak of a format that has truly lasted the course. A hatch through to the snug ensures that you never have to venture far for another pint. However, further enjoyment can be had in the main saloon area, with several sturdy tables, benches and stools. Ancient signage and old photos of long-gone drinking holes decorate the walls, while the tar-colour and vaulted beams remind you that you’re in the bowels of a true survivor of the ages. Given most bars come and go in a decade when either money or enthusiasm dries up, it never ceases to amaze me that somewhere like this can weather the storms of finance and fashion, making it out of the other side. Although pubs are usually not afforded the protected status they should be, Black Boy is a staple venue of Hull’s increasingly fantastic old town pub crawl, and – you would hope – comes under a certain umbrella of protection as a result. While here, it’s difficult not to choose a pint of bitter, invariably in pristine condition.
33. Café De Wetering – Amsterdam, Netherlands – 8.8/10
A truly atmospheric brown café in a 17th century corner house with some unique period features (especially the huge first floor fireplace) and a brooding late-night ambience which is both social and and intimate. The place is easy to spot, draped with ivy with candles and lamplight glowing through the large front window. With a pub cat, huge fireplace and communal seating you can guess it’s a cosy spot. This is a refuge from the soulless strip lighting and corporate templates infesting the European bar scene. We recommend it as a late night final stop before home while on a bar crawl in Amsterdam, as outlined in our special Days Out feature, Amsterdam: Brown Cafes & Jenever Houses. Remember to bring cash, as there’s no card payments.
32. Känguruh * – Vienna, Austria – 8.9/10
Between stuffy city centre Beisls and underground techno clubs, central Vienna doesn’t have the greatest bar scene going, so great credit must be given to Känguruh, a daftly- named, but in all other ways excellent beer bar. Stylish, with a curved central bar and candle-lit ledges, it’s both moody and friendly – you can dissolve into the scenery but just as find yourself being introduced to locals who are happy to share thoughts over a superb Belgian beer or three, even if you are an Einsler. We could go on, and indeed we did! – please follow the link above to discover more in our full write-up!
31. Rasputin – Florence, Italy – 8.9/10
A hidden, rather than secret bar (such a business wouldn’t get far if it really was secret), Rasputin combines the traditionally confusing Italian street/building address numbering system with an understated but nevertheless curiously enticing entrance set under the alley of an otherwise unremarkable building on a street parallel to the Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence’s Oltrarno – a district where locals still hang out. While you might walk past on a first attempt, what seems like a small chapel or shrine draws you back in – knock on the door and you’ll be greeted by a member of staff who will usher you down a ramp into a clandestine basement cocktail bar.
The style of decor is antiquey, brooding red and candlelit – usually a winning combination – and this isn’t a bar that positions its customers in rows. Each seating position is unique with its own furniture and scene, as though you are each physically inhabiting a work of art. Speaking of which, those cocktails. They may be among the most expensive you’ll drink, there’s no getting away from that fact, but they are expertly put together, and a trip to Florence is always worth dropping in here once. Sadly very few cocktail bars go to these lengths to provide such a distinctive experience.
30. Garden Henry – Varaždin, Croatia – 8.9/10
Varaždin, in Northern Croatia is a wonderful unexplored corner of Europe with a thriving summer scene that caught the attention of the New York Times a few years back in this article. In the courtyard of a two-story 18th-century building that’s surrounded by cobblestone streets is small garden where more than 50 open umbrellas in bright shades rest on thin metal crisscrossing wires, forming a canopy, and the mishmash of seating includes a white bathtub that the owner, Martin Kaminic, cut in half and fashioned into a bench.
This creates a ruin bar type space which Mr. Kaminic throws open to the public in the summer, attracting a bohemian crowd of arts, dropouts, cycle fanatics (don’t get anyone in the Varaždin started about cycling) and music lovers. While there is no formal bar, there is usually some alcohol kicking around, so if you’re after a can of beer or some of the local firewater rakija just ask.
The informality of the place is a delight; this is a triumph of creativity and love over money and profit. The sort of thing you dream about stumbling upon by accident, as we did.
29. Art Café Kalambur – Wrocław, Poland – 8.9/10
An Art Nouveau styled bar and café which transforms into a late night club/bar, the exterior itself draws the eye, with a distinctive exterior facade replete with giant dragonfly and crocodile. The doorway and entrance hall bring to mind an interwar cinema, and all signed point to something of interest being inside. Turn left to find a bar area with partitioned seats, elegant tall lights and mezzanine level overlooking the scene. The details, as with most effective Art Nouveau, intertwine harmoniously, feeding into one another. The desired – and achieved – effect is at all times Bohemian and off-beat rather than any stuffy or blousey pretence at splendour. This helps explain the rampant popularity of the place for students and post-grads.
The long opening hours provide the necessary latitude for people to use it for a range of needs. The right side of the venue is its café area, providing for usual boring daytime needs, the bar area on the left for an atmospheric early evening drink, or both later on as the place overflows, gathering pace as it goes. It’s difficult to know whether to dance, mill about, stay seated, as everyone is choosing each equally, but the important thing is that is all excellent fun.
Wrocław is receiving some deserved and long overdue attention lately. Poles have been trying to point out to anyone who will listen, that it rivals Kraków for the scale of architecture, range of attractions and historical significance. Furthermore, what may not be said in the conversation, is that you get to visit great bars like these which are packed full of local residents rather than braying Americans.
28. U Jelinku * – Prague, Czechia – 8.9/10
A vanishing format of pubgoing, U Jelinku contains a backroom with seating, but if you’re just here for a drink and a chat, then congregate around the výčep, where a rotating cast of staff (including the magnificently moustachioed ‘legend tapster‘ Bohouš Kundert!) dispense Pilsner Urquell to a thirsty crowd.
The taproom format is similar to the old style German and Prussian ‘knajpe‘, a simple room where there are more coat hooks (many) than there are stools (none), and more shelves than tables (also none). Simply designed and cabin-like, you’re here to loiter rather than sit. They really, really don’t make them like this anymore.
This spot is fiercely protected by Prague locals who have seen many a city centre pub ruined or rent-scalped out of business by the influx of tourists since the 1990s. They therefore may not thank me for broadcasting this information. But the feeling of being among the throng, having a chat and a lean is a special experience not to be missed, and there is no reason why anyone of any other nationality should miss out. Although guidebooks will urge you towards a touristy (albeit historic) bierhalle like U Fleku or traditional pivnice like U Zlateho Tygra, U Jelinku comes more highly recommended by us, especially for those more adventurous pub-goers seeking a traditional experience with an unfamiliar twist.
Be polite, be respectful and say a few words in Czech – likewise, take any remarks or conversation in good humour, and you’ll be welcomed.
We wrote a full article about Jelinkova Plzenska Pivnice (a.k.a U Jelinku) here!
27. In De Olofspoort – Amsterdam, Netherlands – 9/10
Among the brown cafés and coffeeshops, you can also find a Dutch peculiarity, the Proeflokaal or tasting house. These specialise in jenevers and brandewijns served in small glasses. Often when served at the counter the taster is obliged to sip the top of these before taking it away to drink. These tasting houses vary hugely, from standing-room only to full pub venues. In De Olofspoort is a pub offering comfortable seating among the most beautiful golden-brown hues and homely furnishings imaginable. Hatched window frames, a piano, a bicycle, a cabinet displaying the stash of private jenevers. It’s wonderful. The building dates from the 17th century, though the current usage as a bar is relatively recent. Except for the inscriptions outside which refer to a bakery, you would never tell once inside. Expect a typically friendly welcome, a brief introduction to jenever and an altogether fantastic experience. If the weather is hostile outside – often the case in Amsterdam – you could hardly find a more welcoming refuge. In De Olofspoort makes a mockery of the struggles of other bars. One of our favourite places in Europe.
26. Pivnice U Lva – Tábor, Czechia – 9/10
Not to be confused with the boring Budvarka pub restaurant U Zlateho Lva situated merely 50 metres away Pivnice U Lva is situated around the back of Tábor’s main square rather than on the square itself and is a totally different kettle of Lva. (Editors Note: if you end up in the wrong place after I’ve told you this, I will hunt you down, I swear it!)
Be assured you won’t find anywhere like this recommended in most other overly middle-aged, middle-class guides you may choose to look at. (not that they would bother going to Tábor either). The reason we include this place is because we know what constitutes a proper pub.
U Lva won’t win any design awards, nor does it contain 36 taps of craft beer. A cocktail may never been prepared here. The toilets aren’t very nice. It’s smokey. Some of the patrons look like they’ve seen better days, and act like it too. The younger ones look like they’re rushing to join them. And so on, and so on.
What renders all this irrelevant? The atmosphere. For U Lva is a cult venue filled with people from a relatively small town who all know each other. The community feel is intensely strong and U Lva is their Base Camp.
Down and dirty, this is the kind of place they call a pajzl in Czechia – half-insult, half-term of endearment. Once inside only dim light manages to filter in, which, when combined with the smoke-stained walls creates a clandestine feel of a kind thousands of craft beer bar owners are scratching their heads to work out why their bar doesn’t possess.
There are lots of nice touches – the fish tank is particular a key feature, as is a life-ring, there are plenty of pub games going on and there is a natural space for live music underneath classically curved, but high ceilings. This makes it feel like the revolutionaries have taken over the meeting hall (IE – Pretty good if you aren’t the one being guillotined).
It’s the sort of place where locals will reminisce on their nights there for decades to come, where relationships and friendships are made, and broken, a bar that inspires loyalty and comradeship. Some people don’t have this level of connection to places so will never understand this – their loss.
25. Domkeller * – Aachen, Germany – 9/10
After reading our full profile write-up (follow the above link), the owner’s reaction was to say they had felt drunk on praise. We only published our article about Aachen’s central pub Domkeller a couple of months before writing this one, so we won’t repeat ourselves again in case it embarrasses them. Simply click the link above to find out why this is one of Europe’s special pubs.
24. Eszeweria – Kraków, Poland – 9/10
A core destination on our recommended Day Trip around Kazimierz: The Jewish Quarter, Eszeweria offers a heady dive into the old-world antiquey, artsy bars for which Poland – though particularly Kazimierz is becoming famous for. These bars create a frozen-in-time window into fragments of the past; a distorted, incongruous milieu serving as a base for brooding late night drinking among candlelight, shady figures coming and going as you sink deeper into the worn-out springs of an old chair, or in the case of this place, cinema stalls. On a warm summer evening, the night extends exponentially without recognition, you lose track of time, both relaxed and engaged.
There have certainly been bars with a better selection of drinks and better value for them (try Strefa Piwa across the road for that), but these shortcomings hardly seem to matter in a bar that cements for us the value and necessity of creating a bar which has a distinct identity. So good is Kazimierz that it merely ranks among many other quality options, but placed in virtually any other city would render it the best venue by a country mile.
23. Robin Hood Inn – Cragg Vale, UK – 9.1/10
Based halfway up the longest continual uphill stretch of road in England (Yorkshire folk have a sick sense of humour) the Robin Hood Inn shot back to prominence during the Tour De France’s Grand Depart in Yorkshire a few years ago. However, even prior to this the pub had a fine reputation among hikers as a worthwhile stopping point, and an evening venue for nearby campers to enjoy.
As small local villages are hollowed out and turned into a collection of holiday homes, Yorkshire’s communities have been dying a death, but there are examples such as this pub which show the way forward.
As for what they offer, they make it seem so simple. Enormous hearty portions of food designed to fill the stomachs of hikers and cyclists (including some pretty interesting and distinctly non-Yorkshire dishes from time to time), a completely down-to-earth, ungentrified venue with simple seats to sit and chat; surroundings that allow you to enjoy the buildings natural age and character. There’s a small corner bar with a surprising choice of beers on top of the cask selection (though it is difficult to see past a cask ale in such a pub) and a host of community activities that make the pub the heart of the village, as well as enticing people from nearby.
This is not a dining room for pensioners to sit eating their Sunday lunch surrounded by beige retirement home-bound armchairs and crying babies. It’s a proper pub.
While Robin Hood Inn has some natural advantages which ensure passing trade, its rather remote uphill location is not one, so instead of moaning they do their all to mitigate for it. Perhaps the increasingly tenuous grip on survival generates that determination to do well. Many less competent landlords would have let this place fold some time ago, but instead Robin Hood Inn shows a blueprint for success for an unvarnished country pub in the 21st century.
22. U Sadu – Prague, Czechia – 9.1/10
As an outsider, running a successful bar in Prague’s Žižkov district looks like shooting fish in a barrel. The chief occupation of residents and tourists in this working class district is drinking. So much so, we could hardly leave this district out from such a list. However, the more places open, the harder it becomes to keep people’s attention.
U Sadu has effectively safeguarded itself from being forgotten about by offering one of the widest ranges of reasons people come to the pub. As a result, the answer to ‘where should we go’, is in so many situations: U Sadu.
Want to watch sport? You’re sorted. Want to not watch sport? Fine, there is plenty of space where you can completely ignore it. Want to try interesting beer? They serve a rotating range of tapped Czech beers including their own label beer, and a bottle selection of Belgian ale for less money than you’d pay either at a craft venue in the centre or in Brussels itself. Want a meal? Again, sorted. Want to play games? Darts, pool, table football? – yep, all sorted. Seeking a bar with interesting décor? The main room is a treasure trove of nik-naks and bric-a-brac that will have you scouring the room for hours. Seeking a quiet corner for a chat? Even that can be arranged – especially during the day. Beer garden? Sorted. Want to pay by bitcoin, litecoin, want to go to the pub to buy ice cream? Even this is possible here. You get the picture.
Although we are huge fans of minimalist less-is-more drinking, we also admire places that throw the kitchen sink at a task, when so many bars have a ‘this’ll do’ attitude. Whether you’re based upstairs, downstairs or in the little niches in between, U Sadu is fun and energetic, lived-in and characterful, the result of blood, sweat and tears, a pub many people would love to have as their local, us included!
21. Bar Pastis * – Barcelona, Spain – 9.1/10
With a touch of the macabre about it, the walls and ceilings of Bar Pastis are caked in history and that extra lacquer only time can apply. The framed artwork seems to have been augmented by years of age, fug and abuse, the models swinging from the ceiling are contorted and otherworldly, while a small crowd of those who have been frightened and run away gather around a small stage and side bar to enjoy live music in a raw and yet entirely complete atmosphere. This is an expression of humanity, not corporate money, which makes it all the better to be located so centrally in Barcelona. Its rough edges keep the middle classes, the emotionally stunted – and Erasmus students – out. Pastis doesn’t care how you feel about it, it probably doesn’t care how we feel about it. It isn’t going to change, it is not subject to your demands. You pay the main man a small cover charge, you ask for your drink nicely, and you deal with what’s going on.
We love Bar Pastis. Follow the link above to our full profile to find out more!