Let's Party like it's 1999! 13 Kraków Bars that Refuse to Die

18 Jun 2024

The first edition of Kraków In Your Pocket was published in July 1999...

...a time when society genuinely wasn't sure if computers could count past the number 1999, when most Polish businesses did not have websites, and when the IYP office didn't have internet at all. The files for that first edition were delivered, by hand, to the printing house on a stack of floppy disks. Today, only one precious copy of this printed guide exists in our archives, miraculously preserved by a reader who used it way back then, kept it for the past quarter century, and delivered it to our office in winter 2023 (thank you!).

In honour of our 25-year anniversary, we are taking a look back at that historic first edition and highlighting some of those rare, remarkable venues that have stood the test of time. With its short, directory-style format, the first issue of Kraków In Your Pocket listed an incredible 50 bars and clubs on just 3 and a half printed pages. Of those 50 venues, exactly 11 remain open today - an impressive result, if you ask us, in a field with extremely high turnover. [Alongside those 11 veteran venues, we've included a couple others that were covered in other sections of the July 1999 edition (cafes, restaurants) that today profile more as bars.]

We're hardly suggesting that these are the best places for a drink in Kraków, in fact a couple of them are downright dreadful, but there is certainly comfort to their familiarity, and we've nothing but respect for any business that can survive as long (longer!) than we have. If anything, this exercise suggests how often we overlook some of the city's most authentic, well-loved venues in the effort to describe new places and chase down trends. It also emphasises the power of Kraków's student population, the main demographic keeping most of these storied venues in the green. Without further ado...


1. Piwnica Pod Baranami

Even 25 years ago we were writing about this establishment as "one of Kraków's oldest institutions," and indeed it is. In fact, Piwnica Pod Baranami first opened in 1956 and is one of the most legendary and historic places for a drink in town. Back then we were writing about it being an underground disco, but under this editor's tenure, Pod Baranami has been just the opposite - a cluttered, rickety dive bar full of theatre props and actor portraits, where the old vanguard of the city's art scene retreat to exchange ideas, discourse and inebriated barbs, and/or catch the cabaret or a jazz concert. Right on the market square, despite being ancient, this place really feels like a discovery, and is the perfect place to retreat from the elements into a quixotic vodka-fuelled flourish of brilliant ideas barely-remembered. One of Kraków's most timeless bars, and worth a visit now more than ever.

2. Dym

Listed under Cafes in the 1999 edition, this tiny Cracovian cult classic skirts the boundaries of cafe, bar and gallery, and has ably weathered the challenges of the smoking ban and the pandemic by consistently finding new generations of jaded artists and academics to cash in their chips at the bar. Home to a small, but perfectly-situated seasonal patio, inside the dark walls host changing art and photography exhibits, and the old school glow emitted from the few candlelit tables seems to attract a mix of modern-day hipsters and Raymond Chandler types, who depend on this stalwart venue to lend a romantic patina to their unhealthy habits. Still one of our favourite bars near the market square, Dym ('Smoke') is a Cracovian habit we never want to quit.

3. Singer

One of Kraków's most famous bars, and deservedly so, since Singer essentially established an entire aesthetic of moody candlelit cafes in Kazimierz that seamlessly transition into boozy fairground funhouses after midnight. The fact that this also the only Kazimierz venue on our list is indicative of the fact that in the '90s, Kazimierz was practically a no-go zone for tourists; in the 1999 edition of KIYP, only 2 of the 50 listed Nightlife venues were located in Kazimierz, the other being a long-defunct (and likely very dodgy) dance club. The success of Singer changed all that, while also spawning dozens of copycats. In the late '00s, Singer distinguished itself again, becoming legendary for wild Slavic danceparties on top of the rickety tables that lasted until dawn. With the turnover of the staff and clientele over the past decade, Singer has mellowed a bit; in fact the staff sometimes seem to take an antagonistic attitude towards the venue's reputation for out-of-control revelry, but hit it on a weekend and you can still have a long night here unlike any other. If this place ever closes its doors for good, we'll know it's time to stop publishing.

4. Irish Pub Pod Papugami

One of our most faithful supporters over the years, Pod Papugami takes everything good about a traditional Irish pub - namely Guinness, Murphy's, cider, sports, billiards, darts, good pub grub and a friendly atmosphere - and transplants it into a Cracovian cellar setting. In fact, this veteran dram-house is the kind of place you'll hear the Irish lamenting there aren't enough of back on the Emerald Isle any more. If you're looking for an English-speaking crowd and the comforts of home, look no further; of all the places on this list, Pod Papugami is certainly the most tourist-friendly.

5. Vis a Vis

If you're keen to have a drink on Kraków's market square, do it in this institution from the city's pre-tourism days. Already described as an 'old-timer' in 1999, Vis a Vis diligently preserves the integrity of the Rynek by making their beer prices the cheapest on the square, refusing to smile at out-of-towners and forcing an uncomfortable squirm out of foreigners doing their best to order at the counter. The only locals' bar left on the market square, rebuff the glances of the townies, snap a photo of yourself with Piotr Skrzynecki - whose monument honours the artistic legacy he left at nearby Piwnica Pod Baranami (see #1) - and enjoy the authentic atmosphere.

6. Harris Piano Jazz Bar

For over 25 years, Harris has hosted almost nightly concerts from their cellar beneath the market square between Vis a Vis (#5) and Pod Baranami (#1). [If there's one thing we've learned from this exercise, it's that real estate strongly contributes to longevity.] Though it's not our favourite concert venue, that's not a knock on the music itself; Harris is THE place in Kraków for a good live gig, and draws an even mix of older locals and tourists. If you're eager to hear talented local bands in a very intimate setting, check their calendar and make a table reservation; they also do decent food. Honestly, if you're wandering around the market square in the evening wondering what to do with yourself, Harris is a great option.

7. Albo Tak

Hidden above a new age bookstore, this is definitely one of those places you don't find on your own, but are lead to by an enchanting local student you've just met, whose friend works behind the bar and can get you free drinks. Its staying power is due to the fact that it feels a bit like a private party in a stranger's apartment, you can still smoke inside (smoking ban be damned), and everyone feels safely obscured from the unwanted gaze of their parents. Apparently passed down from class to graduating class, though Albo Tak is essentially a student dive bar, there's nothing sloppy about it. The crowd is mostly art and humanities majors who just want a warm place to hang out with their friends where no one will bother them (ie, chastise them for smoking). For many years running they've hosted screenings of classic films at 20:30 on Mondays. Worth dropping in if you want to connect with local students.

8. Klub Kulturalny

This large cellar bar is another veteran venue where smoking seems to have been grandfathered in. A favourite of students (who smoke), Culture Club features groovy art, cheap drinks, a rock soundtrack and a haze of smoke hemmed in by the rough-hewn stone caverns of this difficult-to-escape underground maze. One of the last places to close for the night, Klub Kulturalny is the place to go when you've been kicked out of a couple bars already, but don't want to go to a dance club. The karaoke nights are super popular and the hangovers are made easier by the fact that neither you, nor anyone else, will remember a damn thing about the night.

9. Jazz Rock Cafe

One of Kraków's oldest, most enduring clubs, this place has been partying hard since 1995. Like Klub Kulturalny and Albo Tak, JRC isn't easy to find, but it's consistently packed out with drunk students after midnight. A cult institution, don't let the name fool you, this cellar club profiles as a dark-hearted, hardcore haven for students who are ready to hit the dancefloor to The Prodigy, Rammstein and Iron Maiden, and might make out with you while slow dancing to Nine Inch Nails. The formula works, appealing to metalheads, goths, emo kids, punks and pretty much any rebellious youth culture group. Self-described as 'hellmade', JRC tries hard to be nightmarish, but it's actually hella fun.

From the 1999 edition: "There is a feeling of dropsy amongst the tightly packed young crowd, gasping for air in rather claustrophobic surroundings. Or groping for something firm and fleshy to hang onto."

10. Klub Pod Jaszczurami

One of the longest-running venues in all of Poland, 'Under the Lizards' opened way, way back in 1960! A 'student club' in the sense that it is integral to the cultural life of Kraków's universities, Pod Jaszczurami has hosted many historic events and personalities over the decades, and continues to be the site of a wide variety of regularly occurring events, including concerts, dance parties, cabarets, stand-up comedy, karaoke, poetry nights and student meetings. Essentially a college campus student centre that's been grandfathered into Kraków's market square, it operates every day as a bar with Gothic arches on the inside and patio seating directly on the Rynek. A great place to mingle with young folks, have a look to see what's happening on stage as you inevitably stroll by.

11. C.K. Browar

Predating the craft beer craze by decades, Kraków's first microbrewery dates back to 1996 and has changed little since. With a great location at the top of now-pedestrianised Krupnicza Street, the 'Imperial-Royal Brewery' (Cesarsko-Królewski Browar) pays homage to Austrian and Polish traditions of the 19th century, serving classic Polish dishes in an underground beer hall full of stained glass, wood furnishings and copper brewing vats, while outlying banquet rooms feature an array of hunting trophies and other medieval trappings. Uniquely, their beers can be ordered to your table in 5-litre pipes that have their own tap - a gimmick that can result in a rather laddish, loutish atmosphere, particularly when matches are streamed in the main bar area. Although Poland's obsession with craft beer has overshadowed this old stalwart, it's also resulted in their improvement of their beers, and CK Browar also participates in local food and drink fairs, showing off their versatility. Ironically this might be the most modern business on our list, and certainly continues to serve a role as a place where visitors can taste quality local beer and Polish cuisine.

12. Non Iron

Though smack in the middle of the Old Town, Non Iron has managed to remain an obscure dive bar that's strictly for locals, despite the fact that they frequently stream football, rugby, boxing and other matches, and have a good selection of Czech beer. In our assessment, this is one of the most underrated bars in town, and also one of the most surprising entries on this list. The fact that they endure is entirely due to their loyalty of their clients. If you're a rugby fan, check it out. If not, leave this one to the locals.

13. Feniks

Have we saved the best for last? No, but it is definitely the oldest. Forget 1999, the 'Phoenix' dance club dates back to 1933, and has essentially been frozen in time since the early 90s. As we said in our first guide, "If your idea of a great night out is grazing at a buffet whilst a band in spangled waistcoats belt out phonetically remembered covers of oldies like Dr. Hook's 'Twenty-four Years I've Been Living Next Door to Alice,' then this is the place for you." Essentially a Polish wedding party, without the bride and groom, buy your vodka by the bottle, dance to dreadful disco polo hits, smoke butts in the hallway by the bathrooms, and mingle with the mixed crowd of older people who came in from the surrounding villages just to be here, and drunk students who claim they're only here for a lark. A lark indeed, but there's nothing ironic about Feniks for most of the people inside. Dancing to casiotone covers of old Polish pop songs is their idea of entertainment and fun, and you have to admire the absolute lack of awareness it requires to make that choice. If you're longing for the old days after reading this article, take yourself to Feniks and try not to break a hip.

Nightlife venues listed in the July 1999 edition of Kraków IYP that are Still Open Today


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