A Hipster Guide To Warsaw


Wojciech Oleksiak
Plac Zbawiciela / Saviour Square, photo: Grzegorz CzaplickiPlac Zbawiciela / Saviour Square, photo: courtesy of author Grzegorz Czaplicki

Forget the Old Town and the National Museum. Here are directions to the hotspots of counter-culture where you will encounter the laid-back yet edgy lifestyle and the rich underground scene that makes Warsaw the ultimate hipster destination.

The role of independent culture is becoming more and more important in Poland these days. And so, in recent years, Warsaw has become filled with a vast number of venues and clubs which, apart from selling coffee and a wide range of spirits, decided to form groups of their regulars by binding to a specific genre of art or group of art creators. Moreover, the popularity of ‘underground’ cultural institutions, presenting exhibitions, plays, music and performances which are out of the mainstream has never been so large or significant before.

Young Varsovians with intellectual aspirations are willing to identify themselves by becoming devoted followers of a certain genre of art. An in-depth knowledge of totally unknown, promising and uncompromising artists is key to being widely respected and regarded as an expert.

On one hand, such an attitude is marked with snobbery but on the other it can be also considered as an idealistic manifestation of firm opposition to the mediocre ‘mainstream’ (which is as bad in Poland as everywhere else). This pursuit of being ‘arty’, or ‘sophisticated’ in every aspect of life may seem to be to some point clownish, but it certainly does make Warsaw a city full of intriguing places and events. 

Starting point: central station area

Whether you arrived in Warsaw by plane, car, or train, sooner or later you will find yourself looking at the incomprehensible architecture of Central Station. Don’t get stuck there: it's better to leave this place as soon as possible and go to the nearby Café Kulturalna, located on the ground floor of the Palace of Culture and Science.

Grab the image to take a 3D  look around the Palace of Culture and Science

Cafe Kulturalna is located on the left side of the court in front of you. 

This venue's programme is very broad: concerts by remarkable bands from all around the world (just in recent years, amongst others: Konono no.1 (Democratic Republic of Congo), Balmorhea (Austin, US) and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (Chicago, US), parties with carefully selected DJs as well as discussions, workshops, and so on during the day.

On the other side of the palace's courtyard you will find Bar Studio – probably the best place for weekend parties, social debates and interesting, casual lectures and meetings. Teatr Studio (Studio Theatre) is located just above Bar Studio – a place you should definitely check out. Not only is it a very active and original theatre but hosts all other kinds of high-profile cultural events (such as a Flying Lotus show in 2015). 

The Palace itself, being the biggest souvenir of the so-called Polish–Soviet friendship, despite being rather ugly from outside, has quite an original interior, with strange columns, solid wooden floors, stuccoes and other accessories ‘made in the USSR’. Taking a walk inside might not be easy (some corridors are locked and under surveillance) but it is definitely worth the risk. Have you already heard legends of its five-level basement and rooms literally filled with mannequins or of its fallout shelter, hidden deep underground? You can never be sure if they are true or not until you check it out on your own…

If you’re done penetrating the mysterious interiors of the Palace or if you find that Kulturalna’s and Bar Studio’s offerings are not sufficiently avant-garde for you, direct your feet to Pardon, To Tu, home of Warsaw’s improvisational musicians, where nothing is too complicated or niche to be presented. Recently Mats Gustafsson (a world-famous Swedish tenor saxophonist and composer) said of it:

I have to say, it’s simply one of the best places in Europe, there is something absolutely unique about it. (…) Unlike in other clubs, people would stay in the club until late hours and discuss what they’ve just heard. The reception I got at Pardon, To Tu was simply stunning!

If you don’t dig jazz and would prefer a smaller café, try Café Próżna, located on the nearby beautifully renovated Próżna street, which has two cosy floors, a very intimate atmosphere, great coffee and friendly bar staff.

The next step: north of downtown

Even though avoiding well-known places is the main goal of this off-the-beaten-track guide, there's no shame in showing your face at the Zachęta National Gallery Of Art – it's just that good. As proof, here is a list of a few artists who have presented their works here in recent years: Tadeusz Kantor, Paweł Althamer, Wilhelm Sasnal, Zbigniew Libera, and Jan Lebenstein, as well as foreign artists like Daniel Liebeskind, Luca Tuymans, Anette Messager, Wolfgang Tillmans, and many more.

Visual art is not the only thing to see in Zachęta. The gallery offers a wide range of accompanying events, such as meetings with artists, film screenings, concerts, workshops, etc. 


Zachęta National Gallery Of Art

Before you cross the river: Powiśle

Before it gets dark, a visit to Praga district – once almost deserted and treated as 'the wrong side of the tracks' – is definitely a good idea. However, just before you cross the river, you reach Powiśle, a beautiful district on the riverbank. If you happen to visit Warsaw in summer, don't hesitate to check out our summer edition of this guide for some more ideas of what to do in the area: 

Hipsters, as well as almost everybody else, change their habits when it is getting hot, and instead... Read more »

By going downhill on the beautiful Tamka Street you’ll quickly reach Powiśle.  On your way you might want to have a coffee at OSiR, a tiny cycle culture café. Even though the club is pint-sized, it organises concerts, parties and exhibitions, and besides, it's just very cosy and friendly.

If you’re just passing by and can’t afford to check out more than one place at Powiśle, Solec 44 is a must-see. It offers a perfectly relaxed atmosphere, experimental cuisine and unique beverages, as well as the broadest variety of board games – a perfect place for late-night talks.

If you have an hour or two to spare, stay a bit longer and visit the area enclosed within Sowia, Radna, Browarna and Lipowa streets. 

This small area has some of the Powiśle's best spots . We strongly recommend SAM (fusion cuisine), Veg Deli (the best veggie restaurant in Warsaw?) and Dziurka od Klucza (great home-made pasta).  If you want to rest on a lounger, you can pop in Kafka located a few steps away, a nice and spacious café on the steep Oboźna street. During the summer they deploy blankets, loungers and little tables on the neighbouring lawn, making it a perfect place to chill out and get some sun.

Another venue in Powiśle that is worth popping into is a whiskey and cocktail bar –  Syreni Śpiew (Siren Song). The interior design is the best part of it. It is truly captivating, mixing aesthetics from the 1960s with sophisticated elegance. If you are craving a taste of Warsaw's high life you shouldn't miss it. If you want to spend time in a relaxed and casual atmosphere, it's probably not the place for you.

The right side of the river: Praga

Praga remains terra incognita for most people from the left part of the city. Even though the district is undergoing an intense process of revitalisation and is being willingly inhabited by artists and all kind of adventurers, its huge size and number of places to visit may seem quite overwhelming.

To start, go to Soho FactoryIt is a resurrected post-industrial zone, now home to art galleries, boutique designers and stylists, restaurants, food and fashion markets, and lofts. The idea the founders of Soho Factory had was to create a space that would evoke the atmosphere of the New York SoHo and so far, it is working surprisingly well. There are a lot of things to explore, just like the one and only Neon Museum (an absolute must-see, Warsaw has been long famous for its outstanding neons and now you can see almost all of them in one place), Warsaw Cut– one of a very few barber shops in the town or Warsaw Adventure – a company that gives time-travelling tours around Warsaw, showing you relics of Communist Poland.

In Praga, places where interesting things happen are usually grouped together – like islands of culture in a sea of dreary apartment blocks and scruffy streets. One of these oases can be found at 11 Listopada Street where, behind gate no. 22, you will find no less than three decent music clubs: Hydrozagadka (A title of a popular Polish movie)Skład Butelek (Bottle's Store), and Chmury (Clouds).

Similarly, you can stroll along Ząbkowska and discover one of the following: Łysy Pingwin (Bald Penguin), W Oparach Absurdu (In the Fumes of Absurdity), Mucha Nie Siada (the name goes beyond translation, it literally  means that ‘a fly wouldn’t sit on it’ and means that it is so good and elegant that a fly wouldn’t dare to sit on it) or the antique-furnished Caffee&Bistro Galeria Sztuki.


Famous courtyard no. 22, 11 listopada street.

Back on the bright side: downtown

Back on the bright side: Downtown

After coming back to the left side of Warsaw, you will probably end up on Charles de Gaulle roundabout (that one with a palm tree in the middle). Nearby, you will find Zamieszanie and Cuda na Kiju, two of the most interesting cocktail bars in this part of Europe, located in the refurbished stairway of the former headquarters of the (now vanished) communist party. 

On the other side of the touristy Nowy Świat, you can (preferably late at night) lurk in Pawilony, where you will not find much culture but you can test some local beers and enjoy the darker side of the city. Whatever happens in Pawilony stays in Pawilony so if you wish to have an adventurous night full of unexpected events and acquaintances give it a chance, at your own risk.

Before you reach the final destination – the hipster Olympus (details are soon to be revealed) – seize the opportunity to fill up your stomach at Poznańska Street, which is in the very centre of city centre but still has a backstreet vibe. You’ll find a few great, affordably priced restaurants there. Our recommendations are: Leniviec, Tel Aviv (gluten-free Israeli dishes and more) and Kraken & Beirut. The latter comprises two separate restaurants, one offering delicious Middle Eastern food; the other is one of the best places for seafood and rum.

If you are in a hurry and are craving a takeaway, go straight to Krowarzywa – the best place to have a delicious eco-friendly vegan burger. Krowarzywa’s burgers are tasty, huge, healthy, and reasonably priced. Once you are full, look for Mokotowska Street to do some window-shopping on your way to…


Walk straight ahead to reach Plac Zbawiciela

Olympus!

So now, once you made a tour of Warsaw you are eligible for the honour of climbing the Hipster Mount Olympus – Plac Zbawiciela (Saviour Square). Here, on the edges of the roundabout where the famous and controversial rainbow stood until 2015, you will find the cornerstone of the hipster scene – Plan B. It is not clear why it all started here, and of course, many claim that it started elsewhere, but it is an undeniable fact that Plan B was a driving force behind big changes in Plac Zbawiciela, which was not a very attractive destination a few years ago. The New York Times confirmed the status of this place by shooting its reportage about Warsaw’s hipsters here.

Soon after Plan B’s success, several other venues sprung up here and Plac Zbawiciela got its nickname: Plac Hipstera (Hipster’s Square). What else do we have here? Next door to Plan B is a café/bakery, Bistro Charlotte, (with more of a posh ambiance). On the other side of the roundabout there are oriental restaurants – Que Huong and tuk tuk, along with the French Bastylia and many more places to discover.


Plac Zbawiciela / Plac Hipstera

So that is your hipster guide to Warsaw. Put on your vintage clothes, grab your iPhone, launch Instagram and explore the city. Or maybe listen to this song before you go…

Dr.Misio Lyrics: Krzysztof Varga. Music: Dr Misio

Na Placu Zbawiciela // On the Saviour Square

Zbawiciela w Warszawie // The Saviour’s, in Warsaw

Są takie fajne knajpy // The venues are so cool

I ja też strasznie chciałbym być fajny // And I’m trying to be as cool so hard

 

Kupuje wszystkie ciuchy // I buy all of my clothes

Tylko w second handzie// Exclusively in second hand shop

I oczywiście tylko w Berlinie //  in Berlin obviously

Gdzie nabywam też stare vinyle //where I buy vintage vinyls

 

Jestem za gruby na hipstera // But I am too fat to be a hipster

A niech to jasna cholera! // Bloody hell!

I kocham Teatr Rozmaitości // And I love Teatr Rozmaitości

I wszystko co zrobił Krzysztof Warlikowski // And all the works of Krzysztof Warlikowski

 

Lubię offowe gallerie // I am keen on off - galleries

Sztukę, gender i queer // Art, gender and queer

Kilkam fotki na flikrze // I snap photos on Flickr

I książki wszystkie znam Żiżka // I know all the book by Żiżek

 

Jestem za gruby na hipstera// But I am too fat to be a hipster

A niech to jasna cholera // Bloody hell,

I kocham Teatr Rozmaitości // And I love Teatr Rozmaitości

I wszystko co zrobił Krzysztof Warlikowski // And all the works of Krzysztof Warlikowski