Tainted somewhat by its unsavory reputation, you don’t need to go too far back in time to remember the days when Varsovians had this down as “the most dangerous street in Warsaw”. You’d be happy to visit, but only if you were carrying a handgun and helmet.
But though historically deprived and neglected, shoots of recovery can be noted and, even, something approaching step-by-step gentrification. Unlikely as this sounds, it’s a process that’s lent the street a hip and happening edge to go with its raw underbelly.
First established in the 19th century, it was at the start of the 20th century that Brzeska really took shape; tenements shot up, and so too small factories and textile businesses. After the war, however, the area found itself repopulated with ‘undesirables’ in a strategy that reeked of ‘containment’.
Wild days followed, but in line with Praga’s general renaissance, Brzeska too has begun to flourish anew.
This is particularly true coming in from the Ząbkowska side when one is immediately faced with remodeled tenements and a string of on-trend ventures: a tattoo parlor, the insanely incredible Pallone ice cream parlor, the cult Burger Bar and Pyzy Flaki Gorące – serving the best pyzy in town, find these little dumplings squashed into glass vessels then lathered with various toppings.
But hold your horses, for there is more! The grungy neo Berlin style so common of Praga is somewhat mimicked by Offside on Brzeska 16 – , this wreck announces its intention from the off with a piece of graffiti over the bar declaring that, “this is not a f***ing cocktail bar”.
Despite the somewhat threatening slogan, it’s a place of amiable anarchy and warm camaraderie, and the favored drinking hole of the supporters of Poland’s first democratic football team: AKS Zly.
Opposite, that feeling of gentle, welcoming chaos is repeated in Praska, a vegan bar / hangout that looks and feels like the kind of ‘ruin bar’ you’d find in Budapest. Great food, good beer and brilliant people, there’s nothing not to love about this eclectically furnished sanctuary.
And from there, you’re just steps away from Brzeska’s (and Warsaw’s) latest sensation: OFF Brzeska. Set amid the cracked puddles of Bazar Rozyckiego, this food hub feels far more Bohemian than anything in town.
Though relatively small in its size, the vibe is fab: drink craft beer under overhanging canvas sheets strung with colorful streamers that wave in the breeze.
Not short on vegan options, the alternative feeling is aided and abetted by DJs, local bands and a crowd determined to make it a night to remember – and that’s not to mention a backdrop featuring a bounty of weird discoveries.
Back onto Brzeska street, you’re not going to miss ‘the goose’ at 14A. Possibly the most upbeat out of all of Warsaw’s murals, Praga’s giant goose dates back from 2012. Added at a time when the city was counting down to the European Football Championships, Diego Miedo’s project aimed to show local kids that rather than loitering around the gates of the National Stadium, they could do something actually useful with their time.
Also hoping to illustrate that street art can go beyond vandalistic scrawls, Miedo was joined by dozens of schoolchildren who helped with the design and realization of this jaunty endeavor. Highlights include an upside monkey and a jolly-looking bear poised in mid-roar.
Moving deeper, it’s here that Brzeska’s character becomes a bit… tougher. Looking increasingly disheveled to the point of completely derelict, you move amid tenements that alternate between dark and threatening to bristling with random bits of street art.
And of course, this being Praga, courtyard shrines are prolific. Embellished with flowers, greenery, twinkly lights and assorted miscellaneous add-ons, the history of these so-called kapliczki is related to the country’s tortured past.
Principally appearing during the Nazi occupation, they were created at a time when courtyards were regarded safer places of worship than churches. Seen as a “public affirmation of faith,” they brought with them a sense of “security, solidarity and even freedom,” and while the overwhelming majority were born during WWII, some are said to date from the years that the city fell under Tsarist rule.
And finally, on reaching the end of Brzeska, take a moment to note the newly added mural that stares onto Kijowska. Paying a surreal homage to the people and landmarks of the Praga district, it’s the latest large format work by Tytus Brzozowski.
(Words & Photos: AW)