Photo by Bobrowiec
We probably could have redeveloped the Polish capital in the 25 years since the end of communism, but to be honest we’ve been a bit too busy embodying the kind of mindless hedonism that capitalism encourages. In warehouses, on top of old hospitals, underneath huge rainbow sculptures covered in flowers—we took that End of History book seriously when the Berlin Wall came down and haven't done much to further ours since. Still, it's been fun. Here's our guide to Warsaw.
Jump to sections by using the index below:
– WHERE TO PARTY
– WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
– POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
– WHERE TO EAT
– WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
– WHERE TO DRINK
– WHERE TO STAY
– LGBT WARSAW
– WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
– HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
– PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
– TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
– A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
– VICE CITY MAP
WHERE TO PARTY
Say what you want about the decline of European industry, but at least it’s left us with plenty of empty warehouses to fill with vodka and soundsystems capable of destroying your cochlea.
The most popular one of these is 1500m2, which—as you might have guessed from its very literal name—is fucking massive. It's normally where people come to throw the big one-off parties that are definitely going to cement their name as 2014's Fantazia, or Raindance, or Sunrise—or whichever Second Summer of Love promoter they first became aware of—but it's built its reputation on consistently throwing the city's best nosebleed techno nights.
Nowa Jerozolima is another good spot, but it's not an easy sell. It used to be an abandoned children's hospital—i.e., the most haunted, terrifying places on the planet—and one of its regular events is called the "Surfin' Pussy Party," which admittedly sounds more like a pick-up artist mixer than the best club night you're likely to find in central Warsaw. But suck it up, burn some sage, forget what the night is called, and just pay attention to the three main stages, which play everything from euphoric Balearic house to the kind of dubstep that makes me understand why my dad refuses to listen to anything other than 19th century folk music.
Doors at both of those clubs are usually around 3 AM, so once the lights are up head over to Luzztro on Smolna Street. Locals say this basement club is where "the devil goes raving." The devil then keeps on raving till about 2 PM when he's kicked out and has to go home and tape cardboard over his windows.
Open-air clubs pop up along the banks of the Vistula during the summer, and Temat Rzeka, Pomost 511, BarKa, and Kurort are the ones worth checking out. If you're too drunk by the time you're looking for them to bash their names into your phone's keypad, just head to the river and walk towards the bass.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
Warsaw is not a druggy city. There are no street dealers, and anyone who does manage to get hold of a connect will usually end up with something that may well relieve them of their constipation, but is unlikely to provide them with whatever kind of serotonin upgrade they were hoping for. The police are zero-tolerance and love any chance to bump up their arrest stats, so anyone caught with drugs in Poland will definitely end up in court. Consider for a minute just how little you want to find yourself in a Polish court.
Instead, I suggest getting smashed on vodka like everybody else.
Photo by Henry Langston
POLITICS, PROTESTS, AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
We’ve been a democracy since 1989, but we still don't really give a shit about electing whoever's going to be calling the shots. When Lech Wałęsa became Poland's first president, the turnout was only around 60 percent, and in the 20 years since then it's dropped to an average of around 40 to 45 percent at most elections.
This country-wide apathy leaves room for extremists like Janusz Korwin Mikke, a man who somehow became a member of Parliament despite writing on his blog that there really isn't too much difference between rape and consensual sex; so we shouldn't bother with the Paralympics because we should only be watching the strongest athletes; and that maybe Hitler never realized the Holocaust was going on. He's one "9/11 was an inside job" blog post away from a full house of dickhead opinions, but support for his ultra-capitalist, far-right party seems to be growing anyway, and all the left-leaning parties are too hapless to do anything about it.
Weirdly, there was never a huge rush of migrants into the Soviet Union, so immigration in Poland has a relatively short history compared to the rest of the modern world. The introduction of democracy in 1989 spurred a few people into moving our way, but immigrants – most of them Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Chinese or Russian – still only make up about 0.1 percent of the population. I can understand why nobody's flocking here, though, because anyone who does ends up working all the menial jobs that have freed up here since a load of Polish people moved to the UK to work all the menial jobs there.
Photo by Henry Langston
Since liberating our country from the communist regime (thanks, in part, to widespread protests), we now live in a free democratic republic where everyone can demand their rights. So we do; protests come from every crevice along the political spectrum. One week it’s environmentalists protesting against the building of highways; the next it’s nurses and teachers demanding better pay; the next it's protesting against publicly funded rainbow sculptures covered in flowers; the next it's protesting in support of publicly funded rainbow sculptures covered in flowers. The problem is that the vast majority of these demos achieve literally fuck all.
In fact, the largest recent protest was a complete anomaly in that it actually had some relative kind of success. The parents of disabled children, along with their kids, occupied the parliament building for more than two weeks, embarrassing the prime minister into promising that he would increase benefits for families with disabled children, while simultaneously admitting that he knew it was too little too late.
The protesters, unsatisfied with his response, have said they're going to continue protesting. And so it will continue, endlessly and pointlessly forever and ever.
(Photo by Kovvalsky)
WHERE TO EAT
ul. Nowogrodzka 10
Ever had Mex-Pole? Of course you haven’t, because it sounds ridiculous. But think about it properly: Poland knows how to do meat, Mexico knows how to do flavor, meaning lots of delicious dishes involving black beans, avocado, sausage and mushrooms. Plus there's a good range of local beers in case you do find it disgusting and need to wash your mouth out.
Hoża 42, 00-516
The perfect riposte to the endless stream of greasy burger joints you’ll find in every other European city, Krowarzywa is vegan, meaning none of the drippy stuff you get when you turn a cow into a patty. Ask for their burger of the week—they know their shit.
Rozbrat 44, 00-419
This pizza place is always open until well after midnight and located in a park near the Vistula. This means the owners can keep the music blasting till dawn as there are no neighbors to worry about, just a few doggers who probably appreciate the noise anyway.
Kraken Rum Bar and Beirut
Hands up who's forever falling out with their partner over the old "Lebanese or seafood" dinner debate? Well, that wouldn't happen if you were Polish because this place is actually two places in one. It's a seafood joint and a Lebanese restaurant. Why they didn't just serve Lebanese seafood, I have no idea. Whatever, the fish and octopus out of one kitchen is incredible, and the fresh hummus out of the other is basically just as good.
WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
Śledź w Oleju
One of Poland’s most popular appetizers is this dish of raw herring drenched in oil and sliced onions. You presumably think that sounds horrible, but several million Poles can't be wrong. It tastes even better after a shot of vodka. I know I keep mentioning vodka, but the stereotypes are true: We drink an awful lot of it.
These dumplings are boiled before being baked or fried. They can be filled with pretty much anything, from potato and cabbage to meat or fruit, meaning they can be a starter, a main course or a dessert. Mind you, I can't imagine you'd want to eat these all day, every day, unless you're into rapid weight gain and death-by-cholesterol.
Cooking meat to get rid of the harmful bacteria is for Westerners whose great wealth has convinced them that certain dietary magic tricks can make them live forever. Get yourself a nice slab of beef tartare, accompany it with some raw eggs and pickled cucumbers, and just shiver the Salmonella out in your concrete Soviet hostel.
We hear that people in other countries celebrate Easter by eating chocolate eggs. This is not an appropriate way to commemorate Christ's suffering on the cross. A more pious alternative is to eat a bowl of sour rye soup filled with chunks of sausage and hard-boiled eggs. It looks like the kind of watery vomit you'd choke up after being force-fed gruel for a week, but children here go crazy for it when our stern, Polish Easter Bunny spoons it out on Easter morning.
WHERE TO DRINK
Most people tend to congregate in Plac Zbawiciela—a square in the center of the city where that flowery rainbow we keep mentioning is located—because it's the best place in the city to get shit-faced. The first spot is normally Plan B, a perfectly ordinary bar serving perfectly ordinary beer, because do you really need craft beer? If you prefer wine, head next door to Charlotte or to the wine shop across the square. Just make sure to hide the bottle in a paper bag.
When you’re done with Plac Zbawiciela, head to Małe Piwo, which is tiny but stocked full of great Polish beer. If you want something harder, Kita Koguta—a wood-paneled bar with a great bartenders and a massive spirit selection—isn't too far away. You might roll your eyes at its affected quirkiness (the back of the menu has directions on how to turn it into an origami cockerel), but it's still the best place in Warsaw to get a margarita.
WHERE TO STAY
Warsaw is full of amazing old buildings, and conveniently you don’t have to pay exorbitant rates to stay in them. Hoza Hostel, the old home of Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto—the single least popular language in human history—does a dorm bed (and free WiFi) for €7 ($9.50) per night.
If you prefer your hostel rooms to look like the set of ancient communist propaganda movies denouncing the evils of Swinging London, check out the Tamka Hostel. It’s bang in the city centre and holds barbecues when the weather’s up to it, plus you can get a bed for around €12 ($16).
If you'd like to get a sense of the contemporary Polish art scene, but are so debilitatingly lazy that a flight and a cab to your hostel is as much as you can handle, rooms in the Oki Doki Hostel (€10 [$13.70] for a dorm bed) are decorated by various Warsaw-based artists, meaning you don't even have to get out of bed to fill your cultural quota.
Besides the hostels we have all the big luxury hotel chains in Warsaw, but you don't need us to tell you about them—that's what Google's for. Overall, you're better off finding somewhere on Airbnb; it feels like you have your own place and you can take holiday selfies with strangers' sex toys.
Warsaw is a relatively tolerant city compared to the rest of Poland. As long you're not hanging out with cunts, people have a pretty relaxed attitude towards homosexuality, with more and more gay bars and clubs opening here all time, the best of which are Galeria, Lodi Dodi, Utopia Club, Klub Toro, and Glam Club.
However, despite the growing gay scene there are sadly still places we'd recommend not holding hands after dark. Areas like Praga Północ and Wola being two particularly intolerant districts.
WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
Ulica Poznańska and Plac Konstytucji
This street and square in downtown Warsaw had to be almost completely rebuilt after World War II, but the area's now an example of the city’s architecture at its finest.
Sorry to keep banging on about the flowery rainbow, but it really is very nice. Plus, you're already in Plac Zbawiciela, meaning you're surrounded by bars as soon you've had enough of the rainbow and feel like having fun.
Warsaw's biggest park has a beautiful old palace where they host free concerts of Frédéric Chopin’s music every weekend. There’s also a statue of him nearby. Basically, Chopin is to Warsaw what T-Pain is to Tallahassee.
A stretch of river that's full of pubs and clubs. I can't imagine you'll stay sober for too long once you get here, but still, it's a nice thought.
The area around Ząbkowska Street used to be really dilapidated, but those cheap, cheap rents attracted a bunch of artists, and now pubs and art galleries are popping up everywhere. Gentrification gets a lot of shit elsewhere, but frankly, in Poland we've had enough of bleak nobility and are perfectly happy to put up with nice coffee and being called hipsters, even though the rest of the planet seems to have decided that it's some kind of atrocity.
HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
Pick-pocketing is still common on public transport, so keep your wits about you on buses and the Metro. That said, Warsaw has become a lot safer over the years, so as long as you keep an eye on your valuables nothing too shitty should happen to you.
There are quite a few drunken thugs knocking about, and we all know they're far tougher than you. So it’s probably best not to walk around like you’re a fucking badman.
PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
The Old Town
Absolutely full of tourists, despite the fact there’s absolutely nowhere decent to eat or drink. Admittedly, it is a bit older than other parts of Warsaw, but so what?
Polish soccer culture is completely different to that in the UK or France. It's a bit like it was in Britain in the 80s, except with more fascists. If you’re wearing the wrong colors on the wrong street here, for example, people won't leer and make wanker signs at you. They'll bypass that and punch you in the head. And if you're gay, black, or just not a fascist, you should probably just get into basketball. These guys fight each other in woods with knives and axes and turn kids' games into cauldrons of doom. So, even if you're Barney Ronay's number one fan back home, you probably shouldn't wander into any football pub and start a conversation about the death of tika-taka or the Belgian youth system. Tanked-up Legia Warszawa fans will ruin both your trip and your face.
Posh Clubs and Restaurants on Nowy Œwiat and Chmielna
These places are not for you. They’re for wealthy Russian sex tourists and people with so much plastic in their face that everything starts getting a bit droopy if you hold a cigarette too close.
TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
Ten percent is a welcome and acceptable minimum in restaurants. In smaller takeaway joints and coffee shops, there's often a special box you can drop your coins in.
Elo / siema: Hi
Chuj wie: I don't know
Chodź na szota: Let's have a shot of vodka
Bansować / potupać: To dance
Melanż: A party
Dobra dupa: A cute guy or a girl
Ale się najebałem: I am really drunk
Szlug / kiep: A cigarette
Fajna dupa z twarzy: A person who has a beautiful face, but nothing else going on for them
W chuj: A lot
Lubię Cię w chuj: I like you a lot
Taka sytuacja: Use this phrase to wrap up an awkward conversation
Ustawka: A meeting
Zioło / gibony: Weed
A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
This playlist kicks off with some Polish pop classics, segues into some Polish rap, and moves on to a rock 'n' roll number, in English, about how Poland is a "nation of losers." It then veers into the kind of tunes you might actually hear on the dancefloors of those clubs we told you about, before rounding off with some Polish reggae, which is just as terrible as it sounds. Enjoy!
VICE CITY MAP
We hope you enjoyed this insight into our lives.
– VICE Poland