Travel

Belly of the Beast: Warsaw

There’s two kinds of cities it seems: One where the people on the streets are far more stylish and chic than those in raucous nightclubs and another where the naughty nightclub crowd emerges from the drab flats and musty buildings to light up the raucous nights. We prefer the latter, the Berlins, Moscows and Warsaws over the gemutlich Amsterdams and Pragues. The uglier a city, the edgier its nightlife is a general rule of thumb.

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Warsaw, 95 percent of which was destroyed by both the Nazis and the Red Army during WWII, makes Moscow seem quaint and pretty. Yet its clubs recall both the heydey of Berlin in the early 90s and the high-octane New Russian extravagance of late 90s Russia. Bright flashy spaces with besuited bankers jostling with uber-babes compete with divey industrial venues where speedy Poles coming down from meth sprawl on the floor in underground bunkers. And, unlike the more passive Czechs, Poles are crazy, smart, and almost too friendly: Just being a foreigner is still a passport into their Slavic souls.

NIGHTWATCH

Cinnamon

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We started our Friday night here with sashimi and spicy Thai soup washed down by tropical mojitos, heaters keeping the outer canvas-covered dining area warm. Slick and trendy Moscow-like scene with molls dancing on the bar to mainstream club hits, and men in suits lighting up Cohibas as the night progresses. Door policy so snotty that a six foot tall model sitting near us couldn’t get her friends inside! That was our first real insight into Warsaw: Like Russia, the babe factor is so high that beauty isn’t sufficient to get past the door.

Ul Pilsudskiego 1. Opposite the National Opera.
Tel. (48) 22 3237600

Organza

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Warsaw’s restaurant/club is in the Cinnamon category, popular with flush foreigners and local fat cats. The upscale place tries to imitate London’s Grouchos or SoHo club with its rich velvet drapes, Edwardian furniture and clubhouse room upstairs where patrons can play chess and other board games. The basement has a small dance floor where hipsters groove to classy progressive house and dancey soul music spun by resident Djs. Strict face control.

Ul. Sienkewicza 4. Tel. (48) 22 828 2525.

Utopia

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Shiny, high-energy gay club with pink walls, leather couches, high-backed sofas in the chill-out room; and butch Polish hairdressers and flirty gay boys grooving to YMCA. Plenty of girls come here for the cheesy, funny disco music and metrosexual vibes. Strict face control. Speak in iour best London English and make sure you come in your Pumas

Ulice Jasna 1. Tel. (48) 22 827 15 40. Open till 5 am on weekends

Klubo Kawiarnia
Every city gotta’s have one club like this for when you’re just off your head and want to go all the way: Second-hand furniture, whorehouse lighting, unisex toilets, speedy Poles & smart opinionated clubbing. Our Aussie financier had his Danish train driver hat ripped off his head by a trashy ‘Little Vera’ from the outskirts of Warsaw. Later he sucked face with a screenwriter chick that was soaked in beer. This is not a place for Slavic virgins or teetotalers; stop over when you’re in the mood for some extreme sport.

ul. Czackiego (first gate from ul. Swietokrzyska).

Piekarnaya
This granddaddy of Warsaw’s clubbing scene now feels dated with its early 90s Love Parade techno beats, Tresor-style spray-painted walls and cheap aluminum chairs. Shunned by the cool crowd, it can be a welcome escape from the strict face control and snobbishness of the trendier venues. Still has the heft to fly in big-name Djs like Berlin’s Westbam and Frankfurt’s Sven Väth.

Ul. Mlocinska 11 Tel. (48) 22 6364979. Open till 6 am on weekends.

Kwai
A modernist pan-Asian eatery with a retro bar downstairs (Bar Below) and sassy waitresses, this Thai/Korean restaurant is where the city’s real estate movers and glamour crowd fill up on spring rolls, spicy Thai curries and steamed dumplings before heading out into the city. The large, airy restaurant with its windows looking onto the city’s main artery seems to feed on the bustle and energy of the city outside. Ask for their house special – the Bridge Over the River Kwai

ul. Marszałkowska 64. Tel. (4822) 621 21 81
Open daily: 12-24
www.kwai.pl

Sense
What is it with Warsaw and slick Asian restaurants? While Prague thrives on its low-budget Chinese and Vietnamese eateries, Poland’s capital has a thirst for dumplings, spicy Asian sauces and bright, minimalist interiors. Perhaps the Polish fondness for ‘dumplings’ might be a clue here. Although not as Wallpaper*-designed as Kwai, its location on Warsaw’s stylish Nowy Swiat, loungey vibes, courtyard out back for summer brunches and cleverly-named dishes (pillows of joy, hurry curry, some like it hot) mark it out as a local favorite.

Ul. Nowy Swiat 19. Tel. (4822) 826 6570

Sekret
You’re in Warsaw, with all its skyscrapers, bustling avenues and American-style Coffee Heavens and you’re looking for some old skool Polish atmosphere—a warren of underground chambers and vodka and heavy meat dishes to chase the winter blues away. Go no further than Sekret, an ornate underground culinary paradise offering Baltic herring, roast pork, beef on skillets, stuffed dumplings and more Wyborowa vodka than even a Russkie could handle. Feed your beast at this restaurant in the Old Town, reasonably priced despite its Romanesque interior and heavy food.

ul. Jezuicka 1/3. Tel. (4822) 635 74 74

Kulturaina
This is truly an amazing space, right inside PkiN, Warsaw’s infamous Palace of Culture: a smoky, divey place where the artsy types spend hours drinking vodka and chewing at dumpling to chase away their inner demons. Although the food is basic Polish, the late 30s jazzy atmosphere, surrealistic paintings on the wall, and the funky crowd lend it a raffish bohemianism.

pl. Defilad 1 (PKiN). Tel. (4822) 656 62 81
www.kulturaina.pl

SNOOZE

Hotel Rialto
We closed our ‘Little Beasts’ issue in the dining room of Warsaw’s swank and friendly boutique hotel a few blocks away from the city’s buzzing business district. Located on a quiet street though, the place has an old-world, Art Deco charm (the retro elevator has been dubbed the ‘Orient Express’ by its staff) that recalls pre-war Warsaw. Yet, the rooms itself are quite hi-tech, with Wi-Fi, flat-screen televisions, temperature-control panels and dimmer lighting. Although other design hotels have opened recently, Rialto’s still a favorite with progressive businessmen, advertising execs and even the occasional performance artist! Don’t miss the sleek dining room and bar downstairs run by one of the country’s leading chefs, Kurt Scheller.

73 Wilcza Street. Tel. +48 22 58 48 700
MORNING AFTER

Uprising Museum
We’ve all heard of the Warsaw uprising, when the Poles rose up against the Germans in the dying days of WWII. ( Unlike the Czechs, who mostly stayed passive and saved their city, as most Poles will point out.) In a former tramway station, this 2000 m2 space is fitting enough for a memorial to such a tragic event in the city’s history. It evokes the horror of that time through soundtracks of Stuka bombers, rattle of machine guns and palpitating heart beats. Quite somber, but worth the trip out there.

ul. Przyokopowa 28. Tel (4822) 626 95 06
www.1944.pl

Lazienki Park & Palace

We’re not getting all soft and Romantic on you, but Warsaw’s Lazienki Park is not just a park. OK, well it is, but for Central Europe, parks of such scale and grandeur are pretty rare. It’s precisely this passion for parks (no wonder the Poles and the English have a thing for each other!) that sets Poland apart from Czech or Hungary. Polish cities are usually grotty in comparison with Czech or Hungarian towns; grimier and more industrial than their counterparts. Yet most still have lush, well-tended parks, which appear out of nowhere and make up for the rest of the blottage. Warsaw is no exception. Heading to Lazienki on a hot summer day, after having spent the night in sweaty, grungy spaces, is like discovering the hard city’s soft & cute underbelly. Peacocks preen near the fountains; there is a palace on the water; an orangerie; landscaped gardens; and an up-to-scratch Modern Art Museum. Wonderful.

ul. Agrykola 1

Nowy Swiat
Lets face it: Most of us Beasts are not very motivated on a day off, with the thought of wandering bleary-eyed through a museum or crowded market not appealing. So, while natives have been spelling out the wonders of the chaotic Russian market for years now, I prefer to sit out on my Sunday afternoons on Nowy Swiat, Warsaw’s most fashionable street, with its cheery, modern cafes (all greens, oranges and blacks), cool mags and bookish-sexy (not an easy thing to find, but plentier in Poland than elsewhere) chicks lolling by the windows, while perusing a tome by someone serious, Stanislaw Lem or John Fowles. Ok, they’re also flipping through Exklusiv or A4 Mags, but we’re fans of both. Once struck up a conversation with a real estate broker there who loved B EAST so much he bought ten and sent them to his friends in London!

Of Special Note:

Sofia Strip Bar
This is Central Europe’s raunchiest, funniest, smartest—even most atmospheric in its kitschy Warsaw Pact interior—strip club. Spread out over two large halls in a classic Commie-era glam interior of high ceilings, Doric columns and red velvet, Sofia still has the naughty air of the Cold War. Gorgeous girls strip on two stages, and simultaneously weave through the punters offering lap dances. For just 50 zl (a little over €10) these are some of the best deals in Warsaw. And, unlike at some other dives in the region, Sofia’s babes are fun to be around: smart, sassy, and geniunely friendly.

For us though, Sofia brings back memories of wild, generous Nick, who’d play the King during his visits, ordering bottles of Veuve Cliquot and chatting with the girls, most of whom knew him on a first name basis. With Nick, Sofia was our living room, a cosy erotic playground, where we were the champions. The girls fought over trying to impress us with their acrobatic table dances and friendly vibes. Unfortunately, Nick is not with us anymore, having died of a heart attack after a night at Sofia!, but his memory lingers, wafts like sexy perfume through its booths.

Pl. Powstancow
www.sofia.net.pl

MORE HOT PLACES TO BE…

BUCHAREST

KIEV

MOSCOW

PRAGUE

RIGA

TALLINN

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