With the party period upon us, the Insider rediscovers the highs and lows of an Old Town pub crawl…
By Alex Webber | Photographs by Ed Wight
Bar & Books (Wąski Dunaj 20)
Acutely aware that there’s a small risk the night might end with us picking our way through a sea of smashed barstools, there’s a team decision to get the classy joint out of the way first. That place is Bar & Books, an immaculate gatehouse reprised as a colonial-style cocktail bar. Ringing the buzzer for entry, we’re ushered inside by a flawless host who is a throwback to the time bar staff were dapper gentlemen as opposed to hipster bozos with DJ aspirations. A place of twinkling candles and spooling Bond films, we ease our way into the evening with elaborate orders of fancy alcohols. It feels convivial and classic but most of all adult: the kind of bar where conversation is valued over carnage. The geniality of it all hangs in the air like the wisps of cigar smoke that weave gently past. We don’t want to leave this cocoon of sophistication.
Piwna Kompania (Podwale 25)
But the crawl must begin. The restaurant / beer hall Kompania Piwna comes next, and along with it the realization there’s a queue to get in. A pleasant manager allows us straight past the huddled masses, but only to scope out the place. What we see is bad news: big it might be, but every single guest looks comfortably embedded for a long night ahead. Schnitzels the shape of bicycle wheels and outsized beers threaten to tip the tables, and the atmosphere of merry chaos is further augmented by a circulating oom-pah band. Realizing that not one square inch is free we wave the white flag and continue the trail.
Elephant Belgian Pub (Freta 19)
Most people love Belgian beer, just like most people resent forking out 30 odd złoty for the cheapest tapped pint. With one beer downed I corral the others while repeating the importance of the need to keep moving. In fact, the next round of beers is on me and this is merely a deceitful maneuver to save on some coins. Great place this, but not if you’re buying for everyone else.
Same Krafty (Nowomiejska 10)
Finally, everything goes to plan in Same Krafty. In design, it looks like a rundown pizza restaurant (and in part it is), but the place is heaving and everyone’s having fun. It’s a tight squeeze but we make it into the tap bar at the back and quickly fall in with a group of holidaying window cleaners – there’s spicy stories aplenty and it’s a great few hours spent inside a lively little bar that’s happy in its skin.
Shamrocks (Rynek Starego Miasto 29/31)
A Polish-run Irish pub presents the biggest gamble of the night. A subterranean spider’s web of tunnels, customers are out in force tonight to listen to what appears to be a Status Quo tribute act. “More like Status Q-woeful,” grumbles one of the lads. We look on the bright side: maybe the Guinness will be great, we think, but it turns out it isn’t. One sip and we’re out.
Karmnik (Piwna 4A)
An old favorite with a new look. A bit of tinkering with the interior has lent a new impetus to the place: we slug on artisan cocktails while a DJ entertains a pre-club crowd you can tell might not actually make it to the club part of the night.
Bar Warszawa De Luxe (Krakowskie Przedmieście 79)
Woah. What we enter reminds me of a Polish wedding disco. All the requisite characters appear in this spinning vortex of Boney M: vodka-fuelled Incredible Hulks, groping granddads, svelte students and everyone else in between. Somehow, the formula works without a hitch. There are Poles who’d be mortified by this representation of their country, but the truth is, it’s a rip-roaring time that’s enjoyed by most.
Bar Warszawa (Miodowa 2)
The last hurrah! For that we wobble our way to De Luxe’s sister joint around the corner, a small split-level bar with squelching floors and lots of bang and clacker. It’s that awkward stage of the night where strangers either want to be your best friend forever or kick your nose off, so thankfully, here it’s the former: at one point, even the bouncer joins the random carousel of pidgin conversation. None of us remember why, but then it doesn’t really matter. All that does is that Old Town has proven itself to be more than just a daylight collection of Disney-esque spires and buskers on bongos.