Formerly left to rot, the disused factory spaces of Warsaw’s right side have been largely responsible for Warsaw’s cultural rejuvenation.
Ten years back something very strange happened: Warsaw’s Praga district, hitherto regarded as a decrepit badland of bums and booze hounds, found its mojo. Through a combination of circumstance, Praga was catapulted to cool: an on-edge bar scene took off, while artists and designers flocked to budget units in once derelict spaces. The foreign travel press lapped it up, drawing far-fetched comparisons to post-wall Berlin. As of now, some of the start-ups have thrived, some have died, while others just about survive. And in all of this, Praga’s factories have played a starring role in the areas oscillating fortunes.
ul. Otwocka 14, www.fabrykatrzciny.pl
Back when foreign journalists were gushing about Praga’s revival, one place was consistently cited as evidence of the districts rebirth: Fabryka Trzciny. Finished in 1916, the core of the building functioned as a marmalade factory and canning center, before being turned over to the rubber industry – for a while Pepegi sneakers, a cult must-have item during communism, were produced here. Following years of neglect, it was on the initiative of composer and producer Wojciech Trzciński that the building was turned into an ‘arts center’. Launched to much fanfare in 2003, that its opening roughly coincided with the creation of cult bars like W Oparach Absurdu was taken as a surefire sign of Praga’s resurrection.
But, to an extent, the bullish optimism was misplaced. Over time new districts found favor: places like Powiśle were equally gritty and low-rent but better connected to the city center. The artistic flight began. On Fabryka’s part, they themselves found a secondary HQ, in the shape of Skwer on Krakowskie Przedmieście 60A. With the lion’s share of events once held in Trzciny siphoned off to Skwer, this factory has once more slipped back into the shadows. But do keep an eye on the calendar, because those events that are held in Fabryka Trzciny are very special indeed.
ul. Ząbkowska 27/31, www.koneser.eu
Entered via a set of spooky neo-Gothic gates, the red brick Koneser complex was built in 1897, and for years housed Warsaw’s premier vodka distillery. Originally, part of its MO was specifically to keep the 120,000 Tsarist troops stationed in Warsaw supplied with their daily vodka allowance – but with German troops advancing on Warsaw, in October 1915 the decision was taken to pour ten million liters of vodka into the street outside to prevent the Hun from getting at it. It’s not recorded what happened next, but it sounds like the locals might have had one helluva’ street party.
Vodka production finally ceased this century, and since then Koneser’s future has been something of a hot potato. Currently home to a few artsy workshops (e.g. the Bocheńska Galery), the principal reason for visiting lies in the existence of two noteworthy bars: CzystaOjczysta (open hours: erratic) offer a remarkable array of vodka, while next door sits Sen Pszczoły. The latter is a place like no other – grungey, dark and industrial, décor elements involve steel-frame bunk beds, upturned crates and a dentist’s chair. After a night partying here, your head will never be the same again. But it’s not just about brain damage techno, look out for a varied schedule that includes such happenings as quirky Sunday flea markets.
Yet even with these distractions, swathes of Koneser lie empty, abandoned or wrapped under scaffolding; walking around, you ask yourself if you’ve happened on a nuclear fallout. But enjoy the ominous Bladerunner scenes while you can. Under the guidance of BBI Development, the long term plan is to turn Koneser into a mixed-use center comprising of luxury loft-style apartments, Class A offices, retail offerings not to mention social and cultural opportunities. Work, seemingly, has progressed at a snail’s pace, though press releases insist the completion of the project should be realized in 2016.
ul. Mińska 25, www.sohofactory.pl
There’s a feeling Praga has missed the boat, what with the artistic migration to Powiśle and beyond. But that’s not the whole picture, and it’d be remiss to suggest Praga’s ship has sailed. Proof, if any is needed, comes in the form of Soho Factory, a ‘creative community’ inspired by New York’s Soho. Under communism the factory workshops churned out nifty OSA scooters, today they’re on the map for different reasons.
Spread over an eight hectare space, find offices housing architects, think tanks and media companies. Peppered between them there’s the Neon Museum, a fabulous graveyard of communist signage; there’s Magazyn Praga, an edgy store that’s long been at the forefront of Polish home design; tour operators Adventure Warsaw also keep their HQ here, and their office is a peculiar museum of retro scrap. Foreigners, too, have chosen to settle here, among them the Italian-run Akademia Kulinarna Whirlpool. A luxury kitchen aside, they’ll be looking to utilize their vast space by welcoming the Le Targ urban food market to their warehouse anytime soon.
But part of the joy related to visiting Soho Factory lies in simply wandering around at a sedated pace. I mean, why not put a swing in your summer and spend the afternoon reading a book while swaying in a hammock. Afterwards, weaving past all the sculptures and installations, visit Warszawa Wschodnia: not the train station, but the 24hr restaurant run by Matteusz Gessler. It’s here local big shots gather after work, poring over plans for the weird Rebel One tower being constructed nearby. Alternatively, head to Gemo near the entrance for modern interpretations of Georgian food.