The Warsaw Insider is a comprehensive monthly guide to good living and fast times in Poland’s capital. We provide essential and sought after information about entertainment, culture, travel, food and drink, all in a compact, well-organized, glossy magazine.
Looking to revise and rehabilitate the reputation of fried chicken, this cult spot has cool staff, a busy buzz and a tasty selection of strips, wings and burgers – the sauces, especially the mango-based ones, are to die for. Look on it as a chicken shop that’s right for the modern era millennial.
Arguably the No. 1 venue for alternative music, Pogłos checks all the requisite boxes: a divey, gritty look, a liberal atmosphere and an army of fans willing and eager to embrace the seamier side of the night. The packed program of events runs from spoken word performances and vegan BBQs, to sweaty tribute concerts celebrating The Smiths. At other times, you’ll be listening to touring Berlin-based bands, hardcore DJs or psychedelic soul from the likes of King Khan And The Shrines. If it’s weird, it’s on.
Set in the cool white cube that is the Museum of Modern Art, you’d think that Powidoki’s riverfront location would make it a highly seasonal destination. Not so. Though the menu’s brief and the background highly casual, the Korean choices feel more sophisticated and complex than anywhere else, a point that serves to keep business brisk. Served in a turmeric tomato sauce, the pork dumplings are a compulsory order.
Police have warned the public about an escaped snake thought to measure up to six-meters long. The news first broke last week after the skin of an Indian Python was discovered in the south west of Warsaw close to the Wisła River. Originally, skeptics had declared the whole charade an elaborate hoax, however, in the days since evidence has mounted to suggest that the capital is genuinely under threat from a giant serpent.
“Having spoken to an ophiologist,” stated Jarosław Sawicki, “we can confirm we are dealing with a snake on our territory.” Further, the police officer added that its estimated weight was somewhere in the region of 50 kilograms. Emphasizing the gravity of the situation, Sawicki said he couldn’t rule out if the snake posed a danger to residents of Warsaw.
With the story gaining global publicity, rumors have swirled thick and fast as to where the snake could have come from. Earlier in the week one eye witness – a hand glider, no less – came forward claiming to have spotted a man dumping the beast from the boot of his car. With emergency services no closer to solving the mystery, a celebrated private detective has now entered the fray. A popular fixture on TV shows, Krzysztof Rutkowski has announced he’s joined the hunt, adding his suspicion that the python is making its way northwards and possibly heading towards Żoliborz.
You could say it runs in the family. Harnessing her talent for design, the name of Ania Kruk (daughter of Wojciech, founder of the W. Kruk jewelry store chain) has become synonymous with high quality jewelry that’s both fun and affordable. Working with different materials ranging from silicone, leather, brass and assorted gemstones, her handcrafted designs set out to prove that you don’t need gold or diamonds to look top class.
ul. Mokotwska 46, aniakruk.pl
Re-energized following a magnificent six-year refit, the Europejski Hotel reopened in June to widespread acclaim…
Immediately installed as Poland’s most distinguished hotel, the June launch of the Raffles Europejski Warsaw was the culmination of a meticulous renovation that saw no expense spared. But so much more than just another sumptuous hotel, its inauguration marked the return of an iconic building that has often been at the forefront of the trials and triumphs experienced by Warsaw.
Originally opened in 1857, Henryk’s Marconi’s Neo-Renaissance design for the Europejski was complemented by lavish interior touches by his son, Karol, and his nephew, Ferrante. Impressing from its inception, people traveled from far and wide to enjoy the cooking of Józef Wysakowski, the former chef to Spain’s Queen Isabel, and the hotel was reputed to be among the most elegant in the Tsarist Empire. Refusing to stand still, further improvements were made to coincide with its 50th anniversary; partly goaded by the opening of the Bristol across the road, the upgrade included the introduction of sound-proofed doors, electric elevators and telephone booths.
The stars of the day flocked there (among them, the avant garde painter Witkacy and actress Helena Modrzejewska, a.k.a. Poland’s most beautiful woman), and the Europejski’s glittering New Year’s Eve parties found themselves immortalized in print having featured in The Doll, a 19th century classic that has come to be regarded as the greatest literary work in the history of Poland.
Rechristened the Europäisches in 1939, the Nazi occupation saw it designated as Nur für Deutsche and for the following five years its corridors clicked to the jackboots of visiting officers. Heavily damaged during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, it reopened as a hotel in 1962, a pale shadow of what it once was. Nonetheless, the lack of competition saw it maintain its reputation as the city’s top hotel, and as such the big names continued to check-in.
Of the ‘slebs that lodged at the post-war Europejski, Marlene Dietrich was one of the first with the chanteuse snootily complaining that the lift wasn’t large enough for her four-meter fur – something of a calamitous trip, her visit was to get even worse when a cat strayed onto the stage during her performance at the Palace of Culture, an event that led to the singer promising never to return to Poland.
Next came The Rolling Stones, with their landmark gigs prompting riots around town. According to legend, their press conference at the Europejski only went ahead following a last-minute bribe, while other anecdotes claim they finished their first night in Poland drinking vodka alone but for three prostitutes for company in the hotel bar.
Of course, not all high-profile visits were as chaotic, and one of the hotel’s prouder moments came in 1970 when Willy Brandt signed a declaration officially normalizing relations between Poland and Germany. Soon after, the West German Chancellor would send further shockwaves across the world by dropping to his knees in front of the Jewish Uprising Monument in Muranów.
For the Europejski, however, the years that followed brought only gloom, a decline finally halted when a 2005 court ruling returned it to its rightful pre-war owners. Working in tandem with Raffles, the resulting restoration has seen the hotel become a benchmark in luxury and a showcase of the finest Polish art and craftsmanship. At long last, the next chapter in the glorious history of the Europejski is ready to be written.
Conducting a headcount of new or emerging skyscrapers is one way to judge Warsaw’s progress. But on ground level, there’s just as much action occurring in the old pre-war factories that stud the town…
Entered via a set of hyper spooky Neo Gothic gates, the exciting surrounding Praga’s Koneser complex is palpable. Built in 1897, for years it housed Warsaw’s premier vodka distillery. Originally, its remit was to keep the 120,000 Tsarist troops stationed in Warsaw supplied with their daily vodka ration, but with German troops advancing on the city, in October 1915 the nuclear option was taken and over ten million liters of vodka were poured into the street outside to prevent the Germans from getting their claws on it.
Construction and renovation work has hit hardcore levels, with the first stage already delivered this year: opened last month, find the world’s first large format vodka museum as well as a fancy 24hr cocktail bar and a restaurant bossed by Insider favorite Aleksander Baron.
Forming a key cornerstone of Wola’s renaissance is the development of Art N, a two hectare space formerly occupied by the 19th century Norblin Factory.
Once considered a hallmark for quality, for decades Norblin produced world renowned silverware and, later, top quality rifle ammunition. Abandoned in 1981, the last few years saw its deserted outbuildings put to use as a sprawling eco-market (a.k.a the BioBazar). Now, the developers have moved in promising to keep the historic integrity of the complex and “make stories, not stores.”
“The concept,” reads an official statement, “is based on the assumption that retail space has evolved past simple points of sale: today it is a destination, a place where people go share unique brand-related experiences or look for emotional and inspirational commitment.”
By integrating eleven existing pre-war buildings into an overall design that envisages over 40,000 sq/m of new office space, and 24,000 sq/m handed to service and commercial areas, the aim is to create a one-of-a-kind project.
Aiding this will be the reintroduction of the BioBazar once work is finished, a museum telling the story of the site’s previous life, and an atmospheric social space complete with wellness center, food court and vendors that value the concept of ‘slow retail’.
Back in those early days when everyone was gushing about how Powiśle was the heart of Warsaw cool, it would have been hard to imagine how quickly the gentrification process would set in. One minute the cool kids were playing board games in shabby Solec 44, the next a new wave or residents were roaring round the streets in pimped-up jeeps and beamers bought on credit.
Amid the area’s new found affluence and luxury apartments, one element stood out like a poisonous rotten mushroom: the Powiśle power plant. When it opened in 1904, it was one of the largest facilities of its type, and it continued feeding Warsaw with power for a nearly unbroken stint of 97 years. That break in service came during the 1944 Uprising.
A key target for the insurgents, it was seized by the Polish Home Army in the first hours of the battle, only to be recaptured by the Germans a month later. Serving both Powiśle and the city center with electricity, its loss was seen as a catastrophic blow. Subsequently disabled by the Germans, Polish and Soviet engineers set to work on repairing the behemoth the day after Warsaw was liberated. Within three months, the first generator had sputtered back to life.
Finally deactivated in 2001, for the next few years it was allowed to silently rot, its derelict maze of buildings supposedly overrun by giant house martens. But not any longer.
A bold program of renovation will see the Powiśle return as a mixed-use center offering 26,000 sq/m of Class A office space and a retail / service area covering 8,000 sq/m. Within that, we’re likely to see a Koszyki-style food hall with over 40 restaurants and bars.
By no means is ArtN the only large-scale project that will transform the area. A stone’s throw away sits Browary Warszawskie, a one-time brewery that kept Warsaw jolly.
Founded in 1846 as Haberbusch and Schiele, at the time it was one of 40 breweries supplying the city – it was still brewing right up until the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. Nationalized after the war, it resumed the production of beer in 1954 and in 1972 it rolled out Poland’s first bottles of Coca Cola made under license.
Liquidated in 2004, it’s stood as an empty, disintegrating plot ever since. Passed into the care of Echo Investment, today work is underway to revive it.
While much will be given to new build, historic elements will be kept – among them, the 170-year old cellars will house restaurants, cafes, and, of course, a microbrewery.
Due for completion next year, a former cosmetics factory that once produced hairspray and deodorant during communism will be reprised as Bohema, a 4.3 hectare premises with approximately 900 apartments, exhibition spaces, an outdoor theater and co-working spaces.
The focal point will be a soaring red brick chimney under and around which will be bars and restaurants and public space for special events.
The Cool Cat Proving something other than just a faddish flash in the fire, The Cool Cat has caught the zeitgeist by the horns and come to represent the hip Powiśle style; casual and convivial and absent of aloofness, it’s a place in which all life seems to gather for a taste of good times. Refusing to take themselves too seriously, the angle is fun and forward-thinking, something that’s evidenced by way of an occasionally wacky menu of Americanized Asian food. ul. Solec 38, fb.com/thecoolcatbar
Fest Port Czerniakowski Bring out the clichés: at Fest quality rules over quantity. Food-wise, there’s not much to choose from, but it’s doubtful you’ll find better ribs for a few hundred miles. Cooked outdoors on a beast of a smoker, these are glorious things of atavistic joy. Improving the mood yet further is the backdrop, a timber cabin in a wooded part of Warsaw. There’s nowhere else like it. ul. Zaruskiego 8, fb.com/festportczerniakowski
Rusiko Rusiko’s credentials couldn’t get any stronger. Having scooped Gazeta Wyborcza’s Knajpa Roku award in 2015, this Georgian venture has come to stand for everything good about the local restaurant scene. Informal and spontaneous, the ambiance is twinned with food that’s all life, spice and big-hearted tastes. You will find restaurants that offer better hospitality, you just won’t find them in Warsaw. Al. Ujazdowskie 22, rusiko.pl
Talerzyki It sounds a little absurd, but Talerzyki manage the implausible by Polonizing the concept of tapas and coming up trumps. Fiercely Polish in spirit, the menu looks to revive the essence of inter-war Warsaw with its selection of classic recipes presented in scaled-down form: blood pudding with apple and cinnamon; beef tongue and horseradish; and white sausage with fermented flour sauce. It sounds glum and gory but its anything but – our jury agree and so, clearly, do the style mavens of Mokotowska. ul. Mokotowska 33/35, talerzyki.eu
Vietnamka The emphatic winner of our ‘casual’ category feels divey but lively with first timers stepping tentatively into a cheapish subterranean chamber of mint green walls and wobbly wooden tables. Imbued with a gentle sense of chaos (drinks after mains, mains before starters), you get the idea that they’re winging it a bit. “The chef,” admits the waitress, “hasn’t really done this before.” But it’s good – ’nam good – so much so that it proved the runaway victor in this usually tight category. Then again, expectations naturally rise the moment you see TV chef Kurt Scheller wandering in for a take-out. As convincing and authentic as you’re likely to find in Poland, standouts in this Vietnamese joint include perfect spring rolls, steamed goat in lemongrass, and giant bowls of life-affirming pho (“Pho-midable,” says our photographer). ul. Poznańska 7, fb.com/VietnamkaPoznanska
Poland’s biggest tourist trap? Certainly! But there’s a reason Kraków’s cobbled streets sink each summer under the collective weight of the visiting planet. A city of bewitching beauty and intriguing history, few places on earth possess the same magic potion that makes Kraków so special…
BY ALEX WEBBER | PHOTOS BY ED WIGHT
Home & Away
Trains run frequently with the Pendolino whizzing to Kraków in just under two and a half hours. Bought on the day, first class is a whopping zł. 230 though ample discounts are there to be had when booked in advance. Alternatively, there’s a few older trains that aren’t that much slower but a hell of a lot cheaper – scout about on pkp.pl for the option that suits.
Bed & Board
There are times you suspect that Kraków has more hotels than the rest of the world put together: frankly, the choice is immense and covers every angle. For this trip, the Insider hit the bull’s eye and stayed at Kanonicza 22, an extravagant residence that climbs the highest peak of special.
For wallets that are a little lighter, the Indigo is the definition of on-trend, eclectic luxury: all yours for less than zł. 500. Inching down the scale, the new Puro Kazimierz is a chic, design-forward spot that’s a great deal for under 300 zeds. For more independent travelers, Parkside Apartments have a host of modern, high-end flats with some going as far to feature a roof-top jacuzzi and private sauna.
Hit or Miss?
We risk being charged with treason for saying so, but save Wawel Castle & Cathedral for another time. The ancient home of Poland’s monarchs, this magisterial complex is as spellbinding inside as it is out – but the height of summer is not the right time to visit. Look, it’s not going anywhere: save it for the low-season.
Having chalked off the Old Town, visitors gravitate towards Kazimierz, the atmospheric former Jewish district which was at the center of the city’s post-communist creative resurgence. Riddled with independent galleries, antique stores and cafes, it represents the very essence of Kraków’s arty soul.
Illuminated to showstopping effect, the Bernatek Footbridge connects Kazimierz to Podgórze, an upcoming area that’s best-known as the one-time home of the Jewish Ghetto. Here, life under the Nazis is remembered at the Pharmacy Under the Eagle and the Schindler Museum.
State of the Art
There’s said to be around 2.5 million works of art in the city, with the most famous found in the National Museum: with only five other cities in the world touting their own Leonardo da Vinci, it’s no surprise to learn that the museum’s Lady With An Ermine is regarded as one Kraków’s biggest boasts.
A complete departure from traditional forms, MOCAK is by far the most captivating contemporary gallery in the country: even those with an aversion to art are thrilled by its utterly madcap exhibitions. Street art, meanwhile, has boomed; to know where to go, check the interactive map at: click here!
Top of the Pile
Kraków has five man-made hills to conquer, the eldest (and tallest) of which is the 16-meter high Krakus Mound. Thought to mark the final resting spot of the city’s mythical founder, sunsets here are a strangely spiritual experience.
Close by, head deep into the Liban Quarry to find the rotting vestiges of Spielberg’s set for Schindler’s List. With filming banned at Płaszów, the director used this spot to build a replica of the concentration camp. Though eaten away by nature, remnants have survived, including a pathway made from fake Jewish tombstones. It’s a must for urban explorers.
The Ugly Duckling
Built on the instruction of Stalin, Nowa Huta became one of only two cities in the world constructed entirely from scratch. Using the socialist realist style sanctioned at the time, the results were more dystopian than utopian. Now absorbed into Kraków, a walk through its colonnaded boulevards teleports you to the times Big Brother meant something even worse than reality TV.
At Nowa Huta’s heart, the Museum of Poland Under Communism does a cracking job of capturing the paranoia of the time. For a more personal approach, book Crazy Guides to burp around town in a Trabant whilst listening to anecdotes from the time. Tours conclude by poking around a grisly, old apartment preserved in time.
The Big Buy
If you’re a bookworm, it’s worth heading to Kraków for no other reason that to browse the shelves of Massolit, a used English-language bookstore whose shelves creak under the weight of over 20,000 tomes – intelligent titles focusing on gender issues, Jewish history and political studies are a forte, though lighter reads are available.
For upscale fashion, Kraków’s version of Vitkac is Pasaż 13 (it’s owned by the same family, in fact), a stunning department store set in a restored tenement featuring uncovered frescoes and excavated finds. As for something alcoholic? Head thee to Szambelan, an enchanting little shop selling homemade elixirs and tinctures inside a space that looks like Dumbledore’s workshop. The ‘try before your buy’ philosophy ensures shopping ain’t never been this fun.
The Food Front
Improving. The Old Town is still heavily rigged with restaurants aimed with one-time visitors in mind, but there are diamonds in the rough. Recommended by the Michelin guide, Pod Nosem has a modern Polish-European menu with cleverly adorned plates served in an atmospheric dual-level space: if it’s raining, head to the medieval cellars to dine amid tapestries and devilish statues.
On the opposite end of the scale, the Irish-run Milk Bar Tomasza serves hearty, budget Polish classics (and a British breakfast to be reckoned with!) with ingredients sourced daily from the local farmers’ market. Atavistic urges can be satisfied at the Ed Red steakhouse and Rzeźnia, with the latter specializing in boards of ribs that max out at 2.5 kilos.
Elsewhere, Kazimierz has a wealth of neo-hipster inspired spots such as Zazie Bistro and Zenit Miodowa 19. Pushed to name a fave, that’ll be Hamsa, a self-styled ‘hummus and happiness restobar’ with an enclosed garden clad in greenery. Most of all, don’t miss Tytano and its multifarious range of ethnic options.
Stick to the Old Town and you’ll end up drinking shoulder-to-shoulder with Brits leering about “the tits on that barmaid”. Instead, look a little further afield. Despite its ongoing gentrification, the former Jewish district of Kazimierz is honeycombed with great evening options.
Some are superior to others, and while Singer, Esweria and Alchemia have been well and truly outed by the guidebooks, they retain a creaky, cobwebbed charisma that’s representative of the area’s Bohemian heyday. Housed in a prayer hall decorated with peeling frescoes and glam chandeliers, Hevre has emerged as one of the livelier nights in the district.
A riverfront legend, Forum Przestrzenie is noted for long summer parties and a quirky location inside an abandoned Soviet-era hotel, while Mercy Brown frequently features in polls that rank the country’s best cocktails: marketed as an inter-war speakeasy (book your table ahead of time), our visit saw the coolest kids in town knocking elbows with blue-rinse oldies and ‘larger than your average mammoth’ transatlantic tourists. Seemingly democratic in their door policy, the curious mix of drinkers does wonders for the overall ambiance (Warsaw door selectors: take note).
Miss It & We’ll Kill You!
If, likes us, you revel in the capital’s superiority over Poland’s second city, then prepare to feast on humble pie. In the shape of Tytano, Kraków has what’s hand’s down the most epic example of the nation’s ‘going out’ revolution.
Housed in a derelict factory complex, find a maze of bars, restaurants, clubs and hangouts that operate way into the night. Hallmarked by its good-natured pandemonium, let an evening here include a trip to Veganic for fab vegan dishes, craft beer at the 25-tap Weźże Krafta, and cocktails at Lastriko – but that’s the tip of the iceberg.
Think Nocny Market, Poznańska and the Wisła, then multiply the atmosphere and choice by the power of a hundred. Seeing is believing: go there.
Over fifty years since they first played in Warsaw, the Rolling Stones returned to the capital to leave crowds stunned with an electrifying performance at the National Stadium. Marking the end of their No Filter tour, Mick Jagger took time to address the crowd in Polish and back dissenters protesting against the judicial reforms engineered by the ruling government.
Reacting to a personal appeal by Solidarity hero Lech Wałęsa, the legendary front man announced: “I’m too old to be a judge, but I’m young enough to sing.” His comments were a direct barb at so-called reforms that have sought to dismantle the judicial system: just last week, thousands of Poles took to the streets to march against a new law that has ousted a number of judge on account of their age.
Reverting to English, Jagger continued: “We were here in 1967, think about how much you’ve achieved since then – may God be with you.” Met with wild cheers of approval, his outburst looks to have cemented his status as one of the most controversial musicians to have ever visited Poland.
Understood by many to be the band’s last ever gig in Poland, it feels like the perfect bookend to the Stones’ tumultuously rock’n’roll relationship with the country. Having first performed in 1967, their original gigs – inside the Palace of Culture – sparked a wave of rioting as the country’s youth sought to cast off the shackles of communism and act like their western counterparts: to this day, their 60s gigs are seen as a cultural watermark in Poland’s history.