Around the world, small bookstores often become mini cultural centres and play a role in integrating local communities. Here are 12 places in Poland where excellent literature absorbs the aroma of coffee.
Czuły Barbarzyńca – Warsaw
A character in Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal remarks:
Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur.
In another book of his, The Gentle Barbarian, the Czech writer perfectly describes the life of cafés in Prague. And this is where the name of the café in Warsaw’s Powiśle district comes from. Czuły Barbarzyńca is said to be the first of this kind of club-bookstore in the capital.
Books are placed on shelves in artistic disorder and only the best literature is available. At Czuły Barbarzyńca, you can find novels by Polish and foreign authors, poetry, essays, reportage, books on art and books for children. Brand new books are put together with antiquarian ones, among which you can find unique rarities. Their menu refers to coffee and tea using book titles, e.g. Journey to the End of the Night, Life Without a Tuxedo and The Cherry Orchard. You can also drink hot chocolate and nibble sweet biscuits.
Slightly rustic interiors, dark red walls, discarded armchairs next to bookshelves and a strategically-placed swing provide a favourable atmosphere for creative thoughts. They have authors' evenings, as well as concerts and readings. Actors and directors come here regularly.
MiTo – Warsaw
An architect, an IT specialist and a literary scholar established what could be called an artistic-humanist bookstore, café and art gallery all in one, situated right next to Plac Konstutucji in the very centre of Warsaw. Their stripped-down interior is based on a juxtaposition of white, red and black where sophistication meets subtlety. The collection of books gathered by MiTo follows the same ethos – it includes all positions possible.
Among photo albums about design, architecture and fashion, you can find books about sexology, gender studies, psychoanalysis, philosophy, literature theory, film history, theatre and dance. Many magazines are available in English, German, French, and Italian.
Together with a book you can get freshly-roasted Arabica, fruit tea or alcoholic beverages. Apart from liquid refreshment, MiTo offers appetizers, breakfast, main meals and baked-on-site croissants, and weekend brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Instead of dessert, you can have either evening debates or literary meetings.
Wrzenie Świata – Warsaw
No non-fiction lover could ever pass this place by. Close to Nowy Świat Street but away from its noise is a café with books and a name referring to a series by Ryszard Kapuściński published in 1988 and 1990. Wrzenie Świata is an initiative of the Instytut Reportażu Foundation (Reportage Institute Foundation) where the word fact is put in all forms possible, starting from the Polish School of Reportage and finishing with the Dowody na Istnienie (“Proofs of Existence”) publishing house.
Photo albums, biographies, journals, letters, and, above all, reportages, make Wrzenie Świata the El Dorado for non-fiction enthusiasts. Readers love to sit on the wide window sills, while the tables placed close to each other help people integrate, and the deckchairs placed outside on warm days are absolute hits. With a bit of luck you'll even get to meet your favourite reporters. You can also leave a letter to Hanna Krall in a special box or a book to be signed by Mariusz Szczygieł.
You can not only sample the literature but also the coffee, tea and wine and try snacks or breakfasts on weekends (they have all-you-can-eat options!). During the week at the Faktyczny Dom Kultury (on the opposite side), there are publication day events, together with documentary screenings, meetings with photographers and even theatre plays. And all without a single drop of fiction.
De Revolutionibus – Kraków
If you dream about heated debates on quantum mechanics over coffee, you should visit 14 Bracka Street in Kraków. Run by the Copernicus Centre Foundation, De Revolutionibus is a place where philosophy meets maths and theology. It hosts regular literary meetings, as well as debates, art and philosophy workshops for children (yes, children), and a lecture series aimed at students called ‘The Frontiers of Science’.
The bookshop, affectionately titled ‘The Book Galaxy’, is divided into two rooms – ‘Sacrum’ is dominated by books in theology and cosmology, while ‘Profanum’ is devoted to business and economics. You can also read about psychology, sociology, and political science here. In addition, there are sections for fiction and non-fiction lovers, and a range of books for children also available in English. Your mind will remain active thanks to an aromatic espresso or glass of wine. And you can study while drinking cocktails and eating made-on-demand sandwiches, or cakes made from traditional Cracovian recipes.
Bo-no-bo – Kraków
From the Mały Rynek in Kraków, you can go any place in the world. A new bookshop and travel café has opened within one of the rooms of Elite, the Spanish bookshop. At Bo-no-bo, you can find guidebooks for every continent, maps of the most inaccessible places in the world, globetrotters' reportages and things for hiking enthusiasts. This bookshop within a bookshop is the perfect place to meet famous travellers, who present their voyages together with slideshows.
There are small concerts on that you can enjoy while drinking brewed or dripped coffee made from select beans such as Colombia Finca Tamana, Salvador Buena Vista and Ethiopia Bokasso. You can also take part in poetry evenings over a glass of wine from Bodegas Santa Rufina. Bo-no-bo offers cascara, a stimulating tea from dried coffee berries that tastes like tea with lemon, with dried plum, apple or elderberry flavouring. You can also gorge yourself on their appetizers, biscuits, and vegan cakes.
Bookarest – Poznań
Now over 10 years old, stylish is the word that best describes the atmosphere of this bookshop and café. Bookarest was established for those who think books and design are the ultimate pairing. The bookshop focuses on publishers specialising in architecture, fashion, design and photography, and features brand new books (not just about art) as well as some which aren't readily available. Moments of complete relaxation are provided by comfortable sofas, pleasant music and eco-friendly coffee. Elle Decoration named Bookarest as the best designed café in Europe.
People who like company and want to share their artistic passions can take part in meetings with authors, exhibitions, slide shows and films screenings. The foundation pays a lot of attention to organising cultural life and supporting reading. Besides literature you can also find design items here: porcelain MOLE (moths) supporting books on shelves (Bookarest Design series), products by Vitry and Seletti, and popular calendars by Moleskine. Bookarest is part of the Stary Browar trade, art and business centre in Poznań.
Kafka Kulturalna – Szczecin
There is a place on cultural map of Szczecin which lets you look at the world through children's eyes. Kafka Kulturalna focuses on education both through literature (as its selection of books develop the brain and activate the imagination) and through entertainment. It hosts regular workshops – Kafka artystyczna mała for children aged 3 and half to 5 years old and Kafka artystyczna duża for children aged from 6 to 9 years – where they learn art through all the senses.
The youngest can experiment with matter and spatial forms, paint, glue, sew or take part in mini-lessons on the history of architecture, painting and sculpture. For teenagers, there are academic courses in drawing, and their parents can take part in calligraphy and design lessons. Whilst the children develop artistic passions, their parents can relax with a mug of Lavazza coffee in hand or try some delicious cakes.
The thing that distinguishes Kafka Kulturalna from other places for children is its concept store with clothes for children (teens and women's collections also available). The shop has high-quality Polish clothes on offer, by Kids on the Moon, Pola&Frank, Booso, and Nosweet, as well as products by designers from Szczecin that will give a touch of individuality to your home.
Nalanda – Wrocław
At Placu Kościuszki in Wrocław there is a place which feeds both body and mind. Nalanda took its name from one of the oldest universities and the most popular Buddhist monastery in India. The oriental atmosphere of this two-storey establishment comes from its colourful paintings and decorations on the walls, and vintage cupboards filled with jars containing many kinds of tea: from Chinese pu-erh, and African rooibos to mate and teas with fruit or spices.
True coffee enthusiasts can find coffee from fair-trade plantations. They also serve refreshing cocktails and lemonades during summer. Vegedajnia prepares meals based on the Chinese philosophy of the Five Phases. On the bookshelves, you can find literature concerning good nutrition (for both adults and kids) and natural healing methods, psychological and motivational handbooks, and shamanistic and esoteric books, as well as books about religion, philosophy, yoga, tai-chi and meditation.
You can also meditate in the mezzanine's mini-temple, especially designed for relaxation and massage. It is easy to show up and take part in Tantra workshops, culinary shows or meetings with authors. The café also has a shelf of natural cosmetics and fragrances – all created in harmony with nature and the world.
Speakeasy – Wrocław
A café (during the day), a club (at night) and a bookshop (all the time), like something from a detective story. Speakeasy is a place with an atmosphere even Al Capone would like. This famous gangster is the godfather of this place, in a way. Beside his image on the wall are copies of his arrest warrant and his death records. Subdued colours reign here – black leather sofas, dim lighting, and red details (curtains, lamps).
To get to the main room, you need to walk through the corridor where the bookshop is situated. Its bookshelves are loaded down with brand new detective stories, action books and old bestsellers. You can buy books here, or borrow older books and take them home for a while, or read them at the café over a cup of coffee. The atmosphere of espionage and organised crime is reinforced by quotes written on the floor and walls and taken from classic gangster stories.
The interior and name of the place refer to the American clubs of the prohibition era in the 1920s. Speakeasies were illegal bars, organised in complete secrecy. Stronger alcohols were sold only to particular clientèle. Today, you can experience the atmosphere of those times at Wrocławs' main square while listening to jazz and sipping a drink (which are highly appreciated by the locals).
Sztuka Wyboru – Gdańsk
Art, design and fashion have taken up permanent residence in the Garnizon Kultury in Gdańsk, an old complex of former military barracks converted into cultural buildings. Re-opened in October 2015, the revitalised Neo-Renaissance buildings house many facilities, including a music club with a stage, exhibition, fair, gastronomic and office areas, and a sports centre.
Sztuka Wyboru shares its location with architectural and ceramics workshops, film and photography schools and a dormitory for art students. A glass hall on the ground floor is filled with books and albums mostly devoted to non-fiction literature, children's books, and lifestyle magazines.
The bookstore is joined with a café that offers hot and cold beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), sandwiches, focaccias, salads, desserts, and cakes. There is a shop on the upper floor devoted to fashion and applied arts. The corridors on both floors are an exhibition space where illustrations, graphics, drawings, photographs and design are displayed. The choice is easy – here culture always wins.
Tarabuk – Warsaw
Tarabuk was a family-run place combining a bookshop and café situated halfway between the main campus of the University of Warsaw and the BUW university library. Students loved to go there to study or simply read a book over a cup of coffee, and it was also very popular among university staff. The old furniture and bookshelves filled with (mostly academic) books and albums gave off such a cosy atmosphere that it was the kind of place you immediately fall in love with. The owners are now trying to recreate that same beloved atmosphere in their new location in the city centre, 7 Marszalkowska Street, after moving in November 2015.
The bookshop offers an ever-changing menu depending on the chef's mood. However, you can be sure that there are always soup and delicious pastries waiting, as well as a great selection of excellent tea and coffee. Tarabuk is a great place for a nice evening out as it hosts many different events such as book promotions or meetings of the Stoic club. Sunday is a family day when you can play board games or listen to fairy-tales with your children.
Massolit – Kraków
Massolit at 4 Felicjanek Street in the old town of Kraków is one of the favourite haunts of the city’s expats. This cosy café filled with the aroma of coffee is a most pleasant place to spend the afternoon. Moreover, Massolit is an independent English-language bookshop that specialises in popular and academic books. Photo albums and non-fiction can also be found here. One of the most important aspects is that they sell both new and used books, most at significantly discounted prices, so cost should not stop you from visiting.
Everybody is welcome to browse for the right book or periodical and sit back in the café in the furnished back rooms. Besides tea and coffee, the café offers delicious home-made cakes, pies and cookies.
Massolit Books and Cafe is also fitted with a corner for children where they encourage kids to curl up in an armchair and spend the afternoon reading books from their special collection of children's classics, making the bookshop a great choice for a visit with the whole family.
Written by Agnieszka Warnke, translated by ND, November 2015