You know what, it’s going to be best if I pretend I’ve never heard of Chłodna 25: none of its history, none of its trials, none of its tribulations and absolutely nothing about its place in Warsaw folklore. So there you go, assume if you will, that I’m visiting this address for the very first time.
I certainly like what I see. Outside, big supporting pillars carry and hold a curvy looking building that survived the war. Inside, it’s all creaking floorboards, retro armchairs and bookshelves that are in the process of slowly being filled. A furry creature – a hybrid between a corgi and an Ewok – snuffles under the table, posing for pictures and stopping to be petted. At the top, a sturdy wooden counter displays the offers of the day: ‘natural’ Polish cola (it’s delicious), baguettes, cakes and pastries. Close by, there’s a box of Lego and a pile of board games in battered-looking boxes. And, from above, dozens of overhead lamps cast a warm light on all that’s below. It feels welcome and familiar.
And it is familiar. There’s no use pretending it’s not: I can’t keep up that lie. For years, this was one of my cornerstone hangouts, and like many, I cried salt tears when it closed late last year. If you’re newly arrived to Warsaw, or have just completed a lengthy prison sentence, you might not appreciate just what Chłodna 25 is – if that’s the case, then a little background is required. Prior to its launch in 2004 there was no café culture in Warsaw – it was a flip-up between twee tearooms or spirit numbing coffee chains. There was no middle ground. Chłodna filled that void, and in doing so jumpstarted the capital’s love affair with cool, independent hangouts. Some, even, would go to say this was the original cradle of local hipsterdom.
Of course, their story is more turbulent than that – as their popularity swelled, so did their problems. The neighbors declared war on C25, and after years of battling finally succeeded in getting it closed down. Briefly, it did return, with a stark white look and an ill-advised incarnation as a comedy club. It didn’t work. It felt alien and unnatural. When it closed in July we assumed it was for good.
Fortunately, nobody told the new management team. In such cases, there’s always a risk the new lot won’t ‘get’ it, but here that’s not the case. Between the pair of them Katarzyna Munio and Jan Fusiecki have breathed life into this fallen hero. True, there are aspects I don’t like: for instance, the communal table: Chłodna used to set trends, not follow them, and I think it’s a cop-out that they’ve followed this path. Anything else I dislike? Actually, no, I think that’s about it. In fact, now they’ve got alcohol (Bojan, Lwowek) I’m pleased to give them my official thumbs up.
And one more thing I appreciate, and that’s how it feels a little more mature. The crowd is a bit older than before; not pipe and slippers old, but maybe more middle aged. It feels like it’s been reclaimed from hipsters with oversized skateboards and flamboyant piercings, and been returned to the emerging creative class: to the genuine intelligentsia. Most of all, the tweaks and subtle changes have been achieved at no cost to the venue’s soul. Enter, and you know you’re somewhere special. (AW)