As a self-confessed creature of habit, my January’s have something of a repetitive look: without fail they begin with a croaked yawn, a splash of Alka Seltzer and the steely intention to never drink again. As a rule such promises last about a week, sometimes even longer, before ending, somewhat inevitably, with me falling out of a pub belting Bristol City songs about cider and beating Rovers – general prattery, basically.
This time round, however, I didn’t even manage a week of good behavior, and for that I blame Warsaw. Usually, come this opening month, the city settles into a post-party torpor: there’s a sluggish sense of suicide as everyone buckles down to grind out and survive until spring. But lo, the snow arrived behind schedule this time, meaning the year started off in a jaunty style: people were out, new places opened.
Count Polonez in that number, a compact bar whose discreet entrance opens into a room that mixes elements of raw industrialism with touches of milk bar chic: black and white Zbigniew Cybulski films project onto one wall, while on another, potted shrubs hang off rattling metal room dividers. The look is urban and sparse, yet maintains an intimacy and warmth that leads guests to settle. If you thought Beirut up the road was cool and quirky, then Polonez have gone the extra yard.
But there’s more. Further on, a separate bar area features added eccentricities, among them a pair of antlers and a horde of junkyard findings – everywhere one looks, new oddities are revealed. From a design perspective it impresses for both creativity and functionality, though in truth, the aesthetics are just a part of the story.
This is not a place that has gone for quick-fix sponsorship from the bland brand breweries. Instead, the fridge is a showcase of beers from Pinta and Ursa; other beverages arrive in the form of obscure nalewki, bio-drinks and regional tipples that have been carefully sourced. And this approach extends to the snacks and nibbles, which embrace the concept of home preparation and natural produce from the meadows of Poland.
And be in no doubt, Polonez is nothing if it is not a celebration of Poland. Yet for all that, you can’t box it off as a theme bar nor as a cliché. While there are heavy hints of nostalgia (the toilet, a clanky pull-chain affair, goes so far as to parp out golden oldie tunes from the PRL), it’s more a celebration of the good things Poland has to offer: both old and new, traditional and contemporary. In that it’s a bold, fresh project, and can’t be compared to any bar in town.
Most importantly, it preserves the spirit of Poznańska: their audience is open and internationally minded, and the staff likewise. If, in these thorny diplomatic times, a bar could represent Poland, I’d have no second thoughts about nominating Polonez to serve as its ambassador: it’s that good. (AW)