Warsaw’s a funny old city when it comes to the weather. You trudge through the winter months in the knowledge that, one day soon, spring will eventually arrive and everything will be rosy in the garden. That’s until you realise it’s actually already close to the middle of May and you're still venturing out in scarf, hat, layers and the heaviest coat in your armoury. Panic kicks in as you start worrying that Poland may well be suffering from some kind of never ending Game of Thrones style winter malaise. Then, one day, totally unannounced, you wake up in the morning to that lazy ol’ sun bursting through your curtains and the temperature rising into the mid to high 20’s. Spring seems to get a bum deal in this city as we regularly head dive straight out of winter into fine Warsaw summer weather almost overnight.
Within days of this miraculous change of climate, the city’s eating and drinking habits change as well – everyone wants to be outside and lapping up the rays while they’re doing nothing in particular, just lounging around, having a bite to eat, a cold drink and enjoying the simple things in life. In order to satisfy those cravings, the right of every man and woman, we’ll take you on a little journey around the beating heart of Warsaw’s summer nightlife – the banks of the much loved and majestic river Wisła as well as a few personal, off-beat favourites around town for those who prefer a somewhat more laid back but still trendy atmosphere minus the vast crowds and thumping music of the river area.
It was only a few years ago that the leisure culture along the banks of the river was simply groups of kids and yobs hanging out with a few shop bought cans of beer and bottles of vodka, a barrage of foul language that would make a sailor blush and the distinct possibility of heading home with a black eye...or worse. It was never viewed as a particularly pleasant place, nor as a place worthy of any tourism/nightlife potential. Boy, how things have changed! In the summer months, the banks of the Wisła turn into an amazing jungle of pop-up bars, open air clubs, moored vessels and pontoons converted into crazy discos and an endless traffic jam of funky, food trucks serving up grub from any country you care to mention.... the list is endless and it’s all fun, hip and a million miles away from what a stroll along the river at night would have meant five years ago! The weekend evening exodus from the city centre to the waterside is reminiscent of watching wildebeest migrate across the Serengeti on one of David Attenborough’s BBC shows.
Established favourites on the Praga side of the river include La Playa (ul. Wybrzeze Helskie 1/5) - best known for its tropical rhythms, sexy cocktails, beautiful crowds and stunning views over to the illuminated Old Town at night, or the laid back and chilled sandy beach right under the Poniatowski bridge with its minimal ‘sailing club’ style beach bars and the largest urban beach area in Poland – which, incidentally, tends to disappear off the map after any torrential downpour and the rising of the river – continue being great choices. During the day, the unselfconscious lie around in the skimpiest outfits, sizzling in the hot sun and in the evenings folks just lounge around chatting, playing beach sports or sipping drinks. The Urban Beach wins, hands down, as being the most easily accessible from the city centre; just hop on any tram from al. Jerozolimskie which is heading in the river/Praga direction and hop off at Rondo Waszyngtona. If you want to make the whole trip to the beach seem like more of an adventure, hop on the free ferry service from the city side in order to traverse the mighty waters of the river Wisła – actually, the trip only takes around 4 minutes but you may have to wait ages to cross as the vessel can only accommodate 12 people at a time. With its more natural and sandy riverbank, the Praga side is popular with folk who just want to sit on the sand, have a few beers, grill a few sausages and get away from it all - although ignored by the 'couldn't give a s*** brigade', remember that lighting fires or setting up barbeques outside of designated spaces is illegal and punishable by death (actually, it’s a hefty fine) and truly not worth the hassle, the authorities are very, VERY strict about this! The more isolated stretches are also popular with groups of underage kids, who have managed to procure a carrier bag of booze and need to stay a little incognito in order to prove they're all grown up.
It’s the city side of the river that has exploded into a well organised and head spinning boulevard of eaty/drinky/dancy mayhem. Hop of the tram, heading from al.Jerozolimskie at the Poniatowski bridge stop and follow the hordes down the steps to the river. It's now a simple matter of just following the boulevard on either side of the bridge.
We reckon it’s fair to say that it’s all a little bit quieter following the left side path, with its cool food trucks - which seem to come and go as they please, regular international food stands, a few casual bars and the near legendary Barka - a flat, wide barge, converted into a bar, concert and dance venue. Set up by the guys from the famous city centre Plan B club/bar, it was one of the first venues to push the cool, club potential of the river and has managed to maintain its immense popularity in the face of the increasing competition - they also run Plac Zabaw (located a little further along from Barka), a jolly playground of various events, workshops and entertainments centred around a shack-like bar/cafe.
Further up the river, you’ll pass the area which runs alongside the Old Town. It's been under reconstruction for a few years now and a series of glass and hardwood, container like structures have appeared on the boulevard. So far, the only one to be occupied has been taken over by the Green Cafe Nero chain of coffee shops, a worrying sign that the corporations are moving in.
The next port of call is Wild Beef, just next to the Gdański Bridge. It’s a great, ever so slightly more trad riverside grill bar, serving up a selection of whopping designer burgers, grilled sausages from their own smokehouse and a good selection of drinks. It's immensely popular with all kinds of folks and seems to attract a vast number of the 'serious cycling' crowd. The ordering system involves your order number being called into the garden via a speaker when your food is ready, even with a good knowledge of Polish it’s tricky, the voice sounds remarkably like Tom Hardy playing Bane in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. A few hundred metres beyond here, hidden in the trees and bushes, is one of our personal favourites – Boogaloo, a beach bar and Caribbean style eatery that lives and breathes reggae and dancehall. In the past they’ve managed to attract some big acts from the world of reggae for late night free performances by their riverside beach. Sadly, they don’t seem to have got their act together yet, we visited on 19th May and it was still closed but here’s hoping they open soon.
Zooming back to our starting point of the Poniatowski bridge, but from the perspective of turning right instead of left, and you’re straight into the major party zone. Stroll past The Tides – a huge modern office and apartment block – why on earth would anyone want an apartment here, with all the partying and mayhem going on around every summer? The originators like Cud nad Wisłą, Pomost 511 and Hocki Klocki are now joined by a myriad of new club venues. Over a kilometre of neighbouring riverside venues all vying for the best wooden structure buildings (many with various levels and terraces), hottest DJ's, hippest live performances (including theatre, concerts and film showings), sexiest cocktails and trendiest fast foods. From the new places, the stand-out ones for us are Grunt i Woda, with its fantastic eco-friendly and thoughtful design and Rejs, which has a large covered dancefloor, a great programme of arty/cultural/sporty events and is the only club on the stretch which aims to be open all year round.
We would also suggest that if you're hungry, particularly in the evenings, to get your eats from the separate fast food area towards the far end of the strip. Considering the number of people, it’s a major task to simply queue up for a drink in the bars! Thousands of people avoid the queueing, save money and still enjoy the music and atmosphere by simply buying a huge carry out of drinks and spending the evening lining the steps between the river and the boulevard. During the day and early evening the whole river idea is a wonderful place for all families and people of all ages with loads of attractions for kids, all organised by the clubs and cafes along the route. Late evenings into the early hours of the morning, the whole place becomes a true, outdoor clubbers paradise. Just remember to take anti-mosquito sprays with you, especially if, like me, you’re allergic to the little.............!
If the idea of sitting amongst thousands of people, nervously trying to disentangle the barrage of sounds blaring out of various speakers then we have a few other suggestions for you.
First up, it was with great sadness that earlier this year, one of our favourite bars and legendary avant-garde jazz clubs Pardon to tu on Pl. Grzybowski was forced to close down due to developers purchasing the whole block of buildings the club was based in. They have been given a temporary home in the grounds of the Nowy Teatr – a brilliant new theatre/arts complex at ul. Madalińskiego 10/16, which we will look at in the next issue. With their usual boho panache and style they have opened a really nice and casual garden with a slightly ramshackle looking bar. Best described by my mate Jimi as "a school bike shed with seating", due to the see-through corrugated overhead roofing. A great place with a fine mix of arty folks, families and dogs of all ages. Concerts are held in a separate, serious looking bunker-like building alongside the garden. Just a shame it’s only there until the end of the summer.
The cafe located in The Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute at ul. Jazdów 1 also has a great garden situated outside this fine old, modernised brick building. With its hammocks, colourful deckchairs and furniture on the grass, it's a great place to take the kids before heading down the steep and tree lined Agrykola for a stroll in Łazienki Park.
For more of a casual but hearty dining experience, the ever popular Aioli branch on Pl. Konstytucji with its Mediterranean based dishes, has secured a rather large outdoor dining area directly on the wide pavement outside the eatery. Sit yourselves down amongst some of the finest communist era architecture of Warsaw.
Cuda na Kiju ( Nowy Swiat 6/12), Warsaw’s original multitap bar, lays claim to having the largest garden area in the city centre. That may be partly true, the courtyard is a huge paved area within the former Communist Party HQ but the seating area itself isn't that huge. The bar being situated between two large gated entrances means you can follow the sun around and sit on either side of the building. Ideal hophead terrain on a sunny day! The garden is shared with their bespoke cocktail bar Zamieszanie which is located next door.
Across the river in the Saska Kępa district, Biała (ul. Francuska 2) have struck gold, not only with the stunning Le Corbusier-inspired 1930’s building they occupy but also for the very popular and large garden area surrounding the venue. Last year they successfully established their position by simply running the large garden area and bar, prior to restoring the interior of this landmark building.
If you’re an English speaker, the small and traditional style beer garden situated on the pavement outside Legends (ul. Emilii Plater 25) is also a good choice, particularly if you like the idea of being dragged into conversations of varying interest by members of Warsaw’s ex-pat community. Always fun and somehow the summer weather makes it even more fun and amiable.
Every place with the option of an outdoor space, from 2 rickety Ikea chairs and a plastic round table on the pavement outside a cafe, to complicated and hastily installed wood and metal designer structures at the river all help make Warsaw a great place for relaxing outdoors. Enjoy the summer! By all accounts, "it’s gonna be a scorcher!"