The Rise of the Ruin Bar

Spend five minutes in any of Eastern Europe’s capital cities and you’re likely to run across a ruin bar. Gloomy but gorgeous, ruin bars are usually found in eclectic, historical buildings that have been recycled into some seriously spectacular spaces.

Spend five minutes in Eastern Europe’s capital cities and you’re likely to run across a ruin bar.

These slightly spooky-chic establishments are adored by locals and travelers alike. Characterized by funky, non-matching furnishings, these derelict buildings and neglected outdoor spaces have been transformed into cozy, chaotic bars that, oftentimes, are almost exclusively candlelit.

These derelict spaces have been transformed into cozy, chaotic bars that, oftentimes, are almost exclusively candlelit.

Self-service counter at Alchemia.

Krakow’s nightlife, in my opinion, is unlike nightlife anywhere else in Europe. While its gorgeous architecture and the glow from Wawel Castle give this city a true fairy-tale feel, the bars in Krakow are anything but textbook. Yes, you can easily find a few riverside bars and rooftop restaurants that offer great cocktails, but the best bars in Krakow aren’t quite so obvious.

Gloomy but gorgeous, whiling away my day at a ruin bar is one of my favorite things!

During my holiday in Krakow this time, I’m staying in Kazimierz, better known as the Jewish Quarter. Well-known for its associations with Schindler’s List and Spielberg, Kazimierz has not only survived but thrived! And part of its incredible charm is owed to the rise of the ruin bar.  Think exposed brick, recycled wood, forgotten photographs, sumptuous seating, antique mirrors, and dripping candles everywhere!

Ruin bars are characterized by funky, non-matching furnishings.

And, in the case of Alchemia, a vintage wardrobe!

Walk through the wardrobe at Alchemia.

Boasting decadent, dramatic decor, Alchemia has earned its reputation as a staple of Kazimierz nightlife — and, for that matter, day life. Opening at 10:00 a.m. for breakfast, it’s a great place to kickstart your day. Four incredible candlelit spaces combine into one super-cool venue for food, music and some seriously spectacular drinks. Inspired by the owner’s travels, Alchemia’s food menu is small but extremely delicious (and cooked to order).  The so-called ‘Plank of Debauchery’ really lives up its name — and, at the time of this writing, only cost $12!  Cocktails are, of course, handcrafted and an absolute must.

Alchemia’s so-called ‘Plank of Debachery’ really lives up to its name!

And then just a few minutes’ walk away there’s Cafe Camelot:  Quite possibly my favorite cafe in the world!

Cafe Camelot is, quite possibly, my favorite cafe in the world!

Bistro table seating is scattered around Cafe Camelot. Perfect for a cozy brunch or romantic lunch.

Spread over three rooms, its warm carnation pink walls are covered with cross-eyed angels and vintage watercolor paintings.  Antique wooden statues stand guard in various nooks and crannies.

Cross-eyed angles watch over you at Cafe Camelot.

Antique wooden statues stand guard at Cafe Camelot.

Bistro tables are scattered all about and, when the weather cooperates, outdoor seating is mandatory.  An upstairs gallery covers two floors and its thirteenth-century cellar contains a small theater.  My must-haves: Raspberry tea and the strawberry basil martini.

One of my two must-haves at Cafe Camelot: Strawberry Basil Martini.

One of my two must-haves at Cafe Camelot: Raspberry tea with cinnamon sticks and orange slices.

So, there you have it: The rundown on the ruin bar. Inextricably linked to the soul of the city, whiling away a day at a ruin bar is one of my most favorite things. And keep in mind that ruin bars aren’t always about drinking. Whether you’re looking for a place to enjoy a cozy brunch, a romantic lunch, or a wild night out on the town, there’s a ruin bar for you!

Sandy Nelson, owner of The Sandy Papers, a boutique travel agency specializing in Europe and the Exotics.

Ready to book YOUR next adventure?   Hit me up!  Europe and the Exotics are my speciality and I’m very good at what I do.   Warmly, Sandy (703) 975-1747


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