Retro Craze: Nightlife in Krakow
Your city guide to Krakow Poland
My new hometown of Krakow, Poland, is famous for its beautiful medieval squares and gorgeous Renaissance churches. But it also has wonderfully old-school nightlife; places to party range from communist hangouts to geeky vintage venues. So here’s my guide to the city’s different types of ridiculously retro and uber-cool evenings out, and where you can find them.
Vintage shop or communist scrapyard? There’s certainly no shortage of socialist memorabilia, from hacked-at Lenin posters to vintage bikes, at this pub. I love spending time here just browsing the bric-a-brac. As you test their own-label beer, it’s an ideal moment to mull over whether it’s a celebration or parody of bygone times.
Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa
Calling all vodka fans! This take on the traditional vodka lounge offers a whole menu dedicated to the timeless tipple. I’d suggest a Mad Dog (or two); a shot with homemade raspberry syrup and a hit of tabasco may sound ‘unusual’, but one sip will have you totally hooked. In Pijalnia drink in hand, you can then admire the ‘70s ads on the walls and the old movies on the black and white TVs.
For an unforgettable slice of socialist life, let’s do lunch at one of Krakow’s many milk bars. Once workers’ canteens that dished up government-subsidized food, they now offer comforting classics from steaming bowls of beetroot soup to potato-pancake mountains topped with mushrooms. For other best deals in the city check out Everytap app which was designed to help travelers find the coolest and most affordable places in various Polish cities. Dig in!
Go underground – literally – to this buzzy cellar club. Whether you hit the dancefloor to ‘60s swing or join me for ‘80s-cheese karaoke, there really is something from all eras and for all musical preferences. To complete the picture, the DJ’s booth is an adapted retro van that will soon have you stepping back in time.
Inspired by a traditional tailor’s workshop, this trendy cafe is a special spot for any fashionista to knock back a gutsy espresso or glass of mulled wine. It’s beautifully dressed up, with accessories ranging from mannequins to changing room-style curtains. I love to peer out of the window and see twinkling lights appear as the day draws to close.
Dancing on the table is served with a twist at this super-stylish hangout. Here, antique Singer sewing machines are converted to quirky bar tables, and as the joint fills up, I find that the only space left to spin around to lively Latin beats is right on top of one. It gives spinning around a whole new meaning and it will be a charming addition of your Krakow holidays!
When I fancy a break from the city’s bustling streets, I drop by Eszeweria, a seriously relaxed café/sanctuary. Incense burning? Yep. Candles flickering? Sure. Hammocks slung outside? Of course. Sit back with your rich hot chocolate and absorb the unique vibe.
The green fairy definitely waved her wand over this Belle Époque-style bar; from the ceremonial absinthe spoons to the vast mirrors, I always find the atmosphere here almost as intoxicating as the delicious absinthes. And with 20 varieties, plus a great selection of cocktails, to sample, you’ll soon fall under the spell too.
A terrific mix of cultural events and live music, from experimental acts to the blues, are what keep me coming back to this club. You can even walk through giant wardrobe doors (to the smoking room) for a real-life Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe moment. So what are you waiting for?
Mleczarnia may just be the ultimate beer garden; I chill out with a cold drink in the dappled shade of the courtyard’s tree on a scorching summer’s night. And if the scene is familiar, you’d be right – Spielberg filmed pivotal moments of Schindler’s List right here. Just don’t forget your own camera!
You’ll definitely reach your destination when you arrive at this former tram terminus. I get together with friends to catch a live sports game on the vast screens at the UNESCO-listed site (next to Krakow Old Town); and, since it is also a microbrewery, it would be wrong to pass on the apple and honey beers to celebrate your team’s triumph.
All aboard this gorgeous 19th-century barge! Meticulously updated with every 21-century luxury, I’m often tempted to indulge in a decadent cocktail on the deck or venture into the cabin to soak up one of their justifiably famous electronic DJ nights; it gives the impression of being an irresistible entrance into high society, so all wannabe-IT girls need look no further.
An abandoned Soviet-era hotel may not seem the quintessential tropical paradise; I really appreciate grabbing a beach chair and feeling sand between my toes here on a balmy evening though. As an added bonus, you’ll gasp at the spectacular views over the river to Wawel castle as the sun sets.
Proudly waving a rainbow flag from behind a multi-coloured and vividly illuminated bar, this is one of Krakow’s most fun and most gay friendly spots. Their smoothies – brightened up with a cheering shot – are one of my favourite starts to an unforgettable night on the tiles. Dance floor, here we come…
Harris Piano Jazz
If you’re after an evening of excellent jazz, look no further than Harris Bar. I drop by for the weekly jam sessions, but there’s something on most nights. Will it be easy listening or blues? It’s well worth finding out. Do check out the musician mannequins as you join the crowd in the intimate concert room.
It’s game on at Cybermachina; even the glass block bar of this games-themed pub is straight out of Mario Bros. Whether you fancy an epic Xbox battle or a nostalgic round of Scrabble, you’ll have a complete blast with this visit to virtual reality. Like other prices in Krakow it’s very affordable.
The Herring Embassy
OK, I know that pickled herring is an acquired taste; this dedicated herring bar (yes, it’s a thing) really isn’t as fishy as it sounds, though. It not only offers herring with dill, sour cream or mustard but also enables you to wash it down with vodka aplenty. Brilliantly unique or plain bizarre? Either way, it’s my kind of catch of the day.