Mention the neighborhood of Praga (and in this case, north Praga or Praga Północ) and you are likely to receive some playful but sober advice about what to expect on “that side of the river” of Warsaw. Mention the streets Ząbkowska or Brzeska and you may actually receive a warning. But despite its reputation that seems to span back decades, Praga Północ today has slowly developed into a genuinely hip area with great nightlife and a small, burgeoning food scene. And with Centrum Praskie Koneser recently opened, complete with the Polish Vodka Museum and the Google Campus for Startups, Praga Północ looks to be the next big thing in Warsaw. Yet, the neighborhood still retains some of its “colorful” past and continues to straddle its rough-around-the-edges identity with its evolving future.
Getting to this side of the river is easy. Just grab the #25 tram from Centrum that departs every 20 minutes and you will be in front of Ząbkowska street in less than 15 minutes.
Pyzy Flaki Gorące
This place is definitely not “off-the-beaten-path” as it is a stop with the OddUrbanThings’ “Warsaw Alternative Tour“, but I am surprised at how many people do not know about it. Regardless, Pyzy Flaki Gorące (or what my friends and I affectionately refer to as the “jar place”) is the number one restaurant I take anyone in Warsaw. It seems to be the perfect combination of a place that knows its “coolness” but remains unpretentious and real. You will find everyone here: the local drunk; the “in-the-know” expat (me); the hipster group with enough mustaches to make a Freddie Mercury party jealous; the incredibly loud Polish middle-age friends having a reunion. It is that type of place.
The husband and wife owners are incredibly patient and helpful despite being bombarded with a line that sometimes stretches out the door. Be prepared to wait and consider yourself lucky if you find a table, but once you get your canning “jars” of Polish Pyzy (potato dumplings) or the Francuski (butter noodles with dill), you will not regret either “inconvenience”. I tend to always go for the spinach with white cheese or forest mushroom pesto as my toppings but my meat-eating friends swear by the “Praga” style beef stewed in wine with onion and herbs.
This place alone is worth a journey to the “other side” of the Vistula.
Łysy Pingwin Bar
Poland’s beer scene, like much of the world, has exploded in the past few years with small breweries and new styles erupting all the time. The small and funky bar Pingwin retains multiple taps and plenty of bottles to represent this diversity. Some questionable cocktails are available, but I can honestly say I stick with the beer here. That said, the place is lively and fun with a great ambiance whether you sidle up to the bar or lounge on the low couches. Somebody will most likely buy you a shot here so be prepared.
W Oparach Absurdu
This place is all about the atmosphere with its moody, red-themed eloquence. But that doesn’t mean the decent selection of beers and drinks as well as the late-night perogis or steak tartare at W Oparach Absurdu are not also a draw. Come here on a weekend and you will certainly be treated to a unique band of some sort. Jazz, blues, or maybe something entirely experimental, the stage sits right in the thick of it all and no place is off limits to sit: the hallway, the stairs, or the funky little balcony that resides right above the bar and stage. Grab a beer or cocktail and enjoy the show. If you wind up in the back room, I have no idea what goes on there.
This is an experience. It may be open. It probably isn’t. But if it is, go in. Punk will be playing either live or on the stereo. You won’t fit in. Don’t worry, nobody really does. Just channel your inner Johnny Rotten and you’ll be fine.
If it is closed, head across to the street to the vegan and vegetarian friendly Praska for a drink or some late-night food. New on the scene and decidedly mellower, this is a good stop.
Warsaw is filled with clubs where you can glam it up with beefed-up dudes in tight shirts who still think tribal tattoos are in, overpay for “imported beer” (probably Heineken), and mix with women who seem to be always wearing heals. But if you want to head somewhere unique, you must go to Hydro.
Part concert venue and part club, this place is typically bumping every single night of the week but the highlight is the Retro Night or Old School Party. Think you have heard everything from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s? Think again. Unless you were on the eastern side of The Wall, half of the songs that everyone is singing along to will go right past you. But the vibe is as infectious and welcoming as any place I’ve danced. Grab a Perła or a Łomza and get into the groove. Everyone will help you mouth along.
Check out their website or FB page to find out what is happening. If Hydro isn’t jumping for some reason, the bars/cafes next door are a good option for a chill-out drink. In summer, the “patio” is pretty cool.